Gay, Bisexual, Sexually Abused Male Inmates More Fearful of Prison Rape, More Open to Therapy

There is nowhere to escape in what often is referred to as a “sexual jungle,” especially for the most vulnerable. However, “Zero tolerance” toward prison rape is now national policy thanks to the Prison Rape Elimination Act passed by the United States Congress in 2003. Although this law changed how Americans think about prison rape, few studies have examined how inmates perceive rape and if they feel safe in prison. Even less is known about how their perceptions influence whether or not they ask for mental health treatment while incarcerated.

The most recent National Inmate Survey of 2011-12 of 92,449 inmates age 18 or older shows that among non-heterosexual prison inmates, more than 12 percent reported sexual victimization by another inmate and almost 5.5 percent were victimized by a prison staff member within the past 12 months. In comparison, 1.2 percent of heterosexual prisoners were sexually victimized by an inmate and 2.1 percent were victimized by a prison staff member. These rates are even higher for those with mental illness. About one in 12 inmates with a mental disorder report at least one incident of sexual victimization by another inmate over a six-month period, compared to one in 33 male inmates without a mental disorder.

Using data from more than 400 male inmates housed in 23 maximum-security prisons across the U.S., researchers from Florida Atlantic University conducted a novel study to examine the factors related to fear of rape in prison and the likelihood of male inmates requesting mental health treatment while incarcerated. They focused specifically on prisoners at risk of being sexually victimized in prison: gay or bisexual inmates and those with a history of childhood sexual abuse.

A key finding from the study, published in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence, is that sexual orientation and a history of childhood sexual abuse are significant predictors of male inmates fearing rape as a big threat in prison and voluntarily requesting mental health treatment. Findings from the study reveal that nearly 38 percent of gay and bisexual inmates and 37 percent of inmates with childhood sexual abuse fear rape as a big threat.

Compared with straight inmates, gay and bisexual inmates are approximately two times more likely to perceive rape as a threat and three times more likely to voluntarily request mental health treatment in prison. Inmates with a history of childhood sexual abuse are more than twice as likely to perceive rape as a threat and almost four times more likely to request mental health treatment than inmates who did not report a history of childhood sexual abuse. Notably, this finding is inconsistent with previous research that has shown that there is no significant relationship between childhood sexual abuse and feelings of safety among male inmates.

“The consequences of perceiving rape to be a threat in prison are vast and could contribute to violence among inmates as well as negative mental health ramifications such as increased fear, psychological distress, chronic anxiety, depression and thoughts of suicide,” said Cassandra A. Atkin-Plunk, Ph.D., co-author and an assistant professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice within FAU’s College for Design and Social Inquiry.

Inmates incarcerated for two to five years are nearly three times more likely to perceive that rape is a big threat compared with inmates incarcerated for less than two years. Inmates in prison longer than 18 years are nearly four times more likely to voluntarily request mental health treatment in prison. The researchers also found that Black inmates are twice as likely to seek mental health treatment in prison compared to White inmates.

“Knowing that gay and bisexual inmates and inmates with a history of childhood sexual abuse are more likely to fear rape and seek mental health treatment, prison staff can target outreach and treatment efforts for this vulnerable sub-population,” said Mina Ratkalkar, LCSW, MS, lead author and a licensed clinical social worker pursuing a Ph.D. who conducted the study while she was a graduate student at FAU. “Our study shows that these sub-groups of inmates are receptive to treatment, and our findings have implications for both practice and policy in the United States.”

The sample consisted of a nearly equal number of men in their 20s, 30s and 40s. Black inmates made up about half of the sample, with White inmates comprising about one-third of the sample. Nearly one-third of the sample had previously been in juvenile detention and about one-quarter were incarcerated for the first time in the adult criminal justice system at age 18 or younger.

About 16.4 percent of the sample identified as gay or bisexual. About one-fifth of the men (73) reported a history of childhood sexual abuse, and about one-third of the men reported having received mental health treatment outside of prison.

Trauma Informed Practice: Better Late Than Never

I was 21 years old, fresh out of University and had taken a position as a Child and Youth Worker at a boys group home. After my first day on the job, my roommates were shocked to hear that I had spent the better part of my day protecting myself from being stabbed with a protractor and dodging flying bricks from a wildly out of control 13 year old. I had physically restrained him over a dozen times and at the end of the day, I left exhausted and doubtful that I had a future in this field.

The training I had received focused on behavioral management techniques as many group homes at that time operated as token economies. In reality, this meant that a great deal of focus from staff was connected to the behaviors that the children/adolescents exhibited. If they presented with positive, desirable behaviors, they would be rewarded by moving up a level, or receiving some form of token reinforcement. In turn, if they exhibited undesirable or negative behaviors, they would lose tokens, privileges, control, and status.

It wasn’t until several years later that I began to understand the shortcomings of this model when used in isolation. I was working in the Yukon Territory in a similar setting but had now been trained in ‘Trauma Informed Care’. The children/adolescents in both settings had many similarities despite ethnic, geographical and social differences. They presented with a pervasive pattern of emotional dysregulation, they had problems with attention, concentration, and impulse control, and for the most part, they struggled with getting along with themselves and others.

Most importantly, they were all survivors of some form of childhood trauma. As brain science and studies such the ACE study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are showing, childhood abuse and neglect is the most costly public health issue to date. One look at the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) study and you can see that traumatic life experiences such as physical, emotional or sexual abuse, neglect, and other household issues during childhood/adolescents leads to an increased likelihood of developing mental health disorders, addictions, learning & behavioral problems as well as coming in contact with the criminal justice system, along with countless other social issues.

This study and others have also connected early trauma to workplace absenteeism, financial problems, drug use, unintended pregnancies, prescription painkiller use and even a higher chance of developing COPD, heart disease, liver disease and cancer due to the ongoing stress in the body. Despite this study and countless others, we live in a health care system that often ignores trauma and it’s impact on brain and body development.

In some cases, the ongoing practices and policies even further traumatized and victimize those who touch foot into the system. For those that have worked in agencies and organizations that aren’t ‘trauma informed’, you are not alone, and it is not too late. As I reflect back on the shift to becoming ‘trauma-informed’, I began seeing that the client’s behaviors were really a unique language that provided a glimpse into how childhood abuse, neglect and adverse experiences had impacted their physical, emotional, social and mental well-being.

Providing trauma-informed practice means that creating a safe and non-judgmental environment is one of the most important aspects of working with vulnerable populations. As such, building relationships with our clients are the entry point into their healing, and ruptures in relationships (i.e. being attacked with a protractor) can be opportunities to teach emotional regulation, demonstrate how to repair relationships and develop meaningful connections.

As a result, clients begin to feel more empowered, have more control, and have more predictability in their environment. For staff, this means less energy is spent on managing behaviors and more focus is on creating an environment where clients have a chance to heal their broken attachment systems and learn how to calm their physiological responses that were so prone to living in fear and danger. Trauma informed practice is strengths based. It means safety and trust over obedience. For clients, it means that having an emotional or aggressive episode is met by support,

For clients, it means that having an emotional or aggressive episode is met by support, comfort, and learning rather than fewer privileges, shame, and isolation. As health care professionals, we have to turn our focus to the early attachment issues and traumatic experiences that many of our clients have faced.

We have to view behaviors as a language and not as the root problem. We have to become trauma-informed to truly create a safer, healthier and balanced society for future generations to come.

The Case of ‘Mary’: Further Reflections on Child Protection in Ireland

On 29th March 2017, the publication of yet another report was released examining the operation of our child protection and wider safeguarding structures in Ireland. The Case Review for Mary involved a child left in a foster care placement where the foster father had prior allegations of sexual abuse. Despite other children being removed from the home, Mary was left under his care for almost two years even though the allegations had been deemed credible by TULSA within months of the original report in 2014.

The review was undertaken by an independent reviewer, Dr Cathleen Callanan, a former Child Care Manager within the HSE, and was assisted by two senior staff nominees from the HSE and Tusla. The purpose of the review was to (i) establish the facts of the case, (ii) consider, in particular, the issues of safeguarding and risk assessment in respect of the case, (iii) set out findings in this case with regard to risk, safeguarding and best practice and (iv) identify specific and general issues to inform any necessary learning, having regard to best practice in managing risk and interagency engagement.

The Review, is defined at the outset of the report as:

“A review jointly commissioned by the HSE and Tusla into the circumstances whereby a vulnerable young adult (“Mary”) with an intellectual disability, in receipt of services from both agencies, continued to reside with a former foster family following a report being received of a retrospective allegation of abuse, which did not relate to residents in the foster home.”

The Report was commissioned in May 2016 and completed in July 2016 and the Reviewer should be commended on this timeframe. However, in respect of the delay in publication, the reviewer notes that:

“…the commissioners (Tusla and HSE) made submissions to the independent reviewer, in the period between October 2016 and January 2017. These (separate) submissions were concerned with addressing matters of factual accuracy and seeking clarity around some of the findings of the report. In particular, the Tusla submission was concerned with what it perceived to be an imbalance in the review, insofar as it did not adequately acknowledge attempts made by Tusla to refer the case to the HSE, and focused attention on the activity of Tusla in the case, without giving due regard to the responsibility of the HSE Disability Services. The reviewer responded to the submissions and this document constitutes the final report.”

Report Analysis

The reviewer ultimately notes in respect of the report’s limitations that “The reviewer is not aware of the circumstances that allowed for the lapse of time until the final submission of the report.”

Whatever the reasons for delay the Government discussed the report during a cabinet meeting with some strong, but unfortunately, all too familiar recommendations; namely, interagency cooperation and record keeping.

As a child ‘Mary’ had been placed, by Tusla, in foster care with ‘Mr & Mrs. A’. Due to the level of her intellectual disability, it was agreed that Mary would remain in this setting after turning 18, which she did only a few months prior to the allegation being made. The allegation at the centre of the concern was that “In January 2014 (by which time Mary was an adult), information was received anonymously by the social work department of Tusla in Mary’s locality, alleging that Mr. A had, around fifteen years previously, sexually abused two young teenage girls within his extended family.”

This information was classed as a ‘Retrospective Disclosure’, in other words, a referral made by an adult relating to abuse which they experienced as a child. Retrospective referrals and inefficiencies in respect of their assessment by Tusla formed the basis of the recent controversy surrounding the allegations against Sgt. Maurice McCabe and Tusla’s handling of same.

Unfortunately, we see some inefficiencies in respect of these referrals again here in this case; from the Chronology in the Review:

“an anonymous allegation was received by Tusla on January 10th in the locality where Mary was living. This information was not passed on by the duty team to Team Leader1 for a further five weeks; it came to the attention of Team Leader1 because there was another child in that placement who had an allocated social worker. There was no suggestion that this or any other child in the placement had been harmed and the allegation did not concern any child who had lived in this home. At interview Team Leader1 acknowledged that given the level of demand on the service, the delay was regrettable but understandable.”

Despite the delay in assessing this matter it must be, and is in the review, noted that Tusla acted appropriately in respect of the children in the foster home:

“Two team leaders, one from Tusla child protection and one from Tusla foster care services, were nominated to conduct an enquiry into these allegations. They found the allegations credible and acknowledged in their subsequent report that Mr. A had denied the allegations, and had been supported by his wife in doing so.”

The children were removed from the home and the foster carers were removed from the register of foster carers later that year. However, ‘Mary’ remained in the home despite this ‘credible’ risk being determined and the removal of children being deemed necessary.

This also highlights the fact that a credible referral of sexual abuse lay unassessed on a retrospective wait-list for five weeks before action being taken. I have argued previously, and continue to do so, that it is time to treat retrospective allegations like all other referrals to social work departments and seek to discharge our ‘proactive duty’ to care for and protect children and vulnerable adults alike.

“On foot of the information passed on to her in February [2014], Team Leader1, having sought legal advice, agreed on the need to inform Mr. A that such information was now on record.” Again, this is a delay that we don’t consistently encounter with ‘so-called’ current child protection concerns. Social Workers, rightly, use their authority under Section 3 of the Child Care Act 1991 to ensure safety and protection, they contact parents, they call out to houses if no response or as follow-up to phone calls and they, in a relatively short space of time, put the concerns to the alleged offender. This doesn’t happen with retrospective disclosures and in all my years of researching this issue I have yet to receive an adequate answer as to why not! Other than staffing and resources there is no legitimate reason why retrospective referrals of abuse should be treated any differently than those deemed to be current concerns.

While the Review highlights that there should have been a clear written referral from Tusla to the HSE Disability Service regarding the potential risk posed by Mr. A to ‘Mary’ the receipt of this information in any form at any level should trigger an appropriate response. If the protection of children and vulnerable adults is to be everybody’s business, then the sharing of soft information or conducting of ‘informal’ conversations between professionals regarding risk need to have consequences and effect an appropriate response.

And this is where the main body of the Review places its focus; inter-agency communication and response between Tusla and the HSE Disability Services. The Review does state that Tusla attempted on a number of occasions in 2014 to have the relevant voluntary services assess risk in respect of Mary given Tusla’s own lack of legal remit in respect of those over the age of 18. Despite this, Tusla still had an ongoing input into Mary’s life in terms of provision of Aftercare services and the extent of a legal duty of care attached to provision of these services needs to be fully examined following this the publication of this review. In fact, it was the input of a specific Tusla Aftercare staff member that triggered an internal review of the matter within Tusla in 2015:

“…The file of Manager1 (with oversight of aftercare) states that in January 2015 the Aftercare Coordinator alerted him to the situation whereby a vulnerable adult continued to reside in a placement with foster carers whose names had been removed from the panel of foster carers, from whom other children had been removed. The file of Manager1 indicates that he then sought and received a copy of the original assessment of the allegations completed by Team Leader1 and Team Leader2 in 2014.”

Initially, prior to the allegation at least, “the placement was considered by the Tusla social work department and the foster care department to be a successful one.” “There were other children also in foster care with Mr. and Mrs. A and they were considered to be receiving a high level of care.” There appears to have been confusion between the agencies whereby the HSE Disability Services state they were informed by Tusla that there was no risk to Mary, following the allegation, while at the same time Tusla were continuing to request the HSE to carry out a risk assessment.

While both agencies are committed to the roll-out of a new joint protocol that will seek to clarify roles and routes of communication, ultimately, the arbitrary age cutoff of 18 and the stark lines of demarcation between services need to be examined and, where appropriate, dismantled in the best interests of service users whether they be child or adult.

In lieu of such proactive developments the Review does states that “In the area where these events took place, an Aftercare Steering Committee has been established by Tusla “to fulfil the requirements of planning, implementing and monitoring a comprehensive, integrative Aftercare Programme for each young person leaving care” (internal Tusla document, 2016). This committee is multi-agency in nature with representatives as follows:

  • Disability Services: HSE
  • Non-Government Organisations
  • Education/Training e.g. SOLAS
  • Residential Service: Tusla
  • Fostering Service: Tusla
  • Children in Care Team: Tusla
  • Primary Care: HSE
  • Department of Social Protection (Community Welfare Office)
  • Housing
  • Tenancy sustainment provider

This seems like an excellent multi-agency initiative if a reactionary development can be classed as ‘initiative’, but why is it only established in the area where this incident took place? Bolting horses come to mind!

Findings of the Callanan Review:

While the review itself details the extent of confusion and contact between the relevant agencies the findings are ultimately that:

  1. Promotion of a shared awareness of intersecting policies and procedures for interagency working including the HSE Safeguarding Policy and the Tusla Aftercare Policy will facilitate a mutual understanding of roles, responsibilities and referral pathways, which would assist the management of complex cases
  2. Formal arrangements to include meetings to address complex cases pertaining to people with disabilities with multi-agency involvement would facilitate improved management or shared management of specific cases
  3. Requirements with regard to record keeping standards are an identified deficit requiring attention. Clear guidance needs to be provided to staff in relation to good record keeping practices.

We have unfortunately seen all these recommendations before and with the Government set to introduce Mandatory Reporting by the end of the year it is critical that all agencies who work with children or vulnerable adults begin sharing soft and hard information and begin to establish pathways for referral, feedback and review as necessary.


One mechanism which would enable this process is a coordinated integrated child protection computer database system. Unfortunately, due to arrive far beyond the implementation of Mandatory reporting, “NCCIS is being rolled out on a phased basis and is expected to be fully operational by the end of next year”, according to TULSA’s press release. However, this should arguably be linked with adult safeguarding services in the HSE and An Garda Síochána to ensure a comprehensive response to abuse and neglect and facilitate the possibility of proactive, preventative actions or the raising of red flags.

The Review poses one final question where it states that “In conclusion, the question emerges as to what would have been a proportionate response to the acceptance of the allegations in 2014.”The fact remains that retrospective disclosures of abuse remain within the remit of Tusla. These disclosures, being made by adults, will always contain the potential for further risk to adults, deemed vulnerable or otherwise. The intersection between services and responsibilities needs to be clarified as posed by this Review.

Furthermore, the legislative structures surrounding the safeguarding of vulnerable adults, those with intellectual disabilities and the powers and duties placed upon Tusla to assess risk in terms of adult referral needs to be examined in detail. I originally felt that a review of Section 3 of the Child Care Act 1991 was necessary and we are told by Minister Zappone that this is underway. I fear we may have moved beyond this territory now and that the suitable recourse is for the Law Reform Commission to examine the entire legislative structures surrounding the protection and safeguarding of vulnerable adults and children in Ireland.

Rightly or wrongly, we again find social care and social work professionals in positions where a lack of clarity in law and policy places them under deeper scrutiny where ultimately wider systemic failures are at fault. In lieu of a staged, coordinated re-location of care, Mary was ultimately removed to a residential unit as an emergency measure 21 months after the initial, credible, allegations of sexual abuse and it is with ‘Mary’ that our thoughts should be.

Breaking the Stigma of Child Sex Abuse


Recently, celebrity actor Dax Shepard, who previously appeared on NBC’s Parenthood and is also married to actress Kristen Bell, revealed in an interview that he had been molested as a child. Dax disclosed on The Jason Ellis Show that he was just 7 years old when he was abused by his 18 year old neighbour.

Initially, Dax viewed the incident as minimal with him not telling anyone about the abuse for 12 years. He said that he blamed himself and even considered he may have been gay as a reason why the abuse occurred. Dax publicly struggled with drug and alcohol abuse in which he now feels his addiction was fueled by the molestation. Dax’s mother is a court-appointed advocate for children in foster care and recently shared a statistic with Dax. At a seminar, Dax’s mother learned that if child has been molested, there is only a 20% chance of them not becoming an addict.

Every 107 seconds a sexual assault occurs with approximately 293,000 victims of sexual assault each year, this is a shocking statistic. The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) have published statistics which show that 44% of victims are under the age of 18. Most importantly, research shows that the majority of sexual abuse perpetrators know the child. This may be surprising especially since in schools there is a lot of teaching on the dangers of strangers and what children should do if approached by a stranger. It is even more shocking that 68% of sexual assaults are not reported to police and 98% of rapists will never spend a day in jail or prison.

Not all sexually abused children will exhibit visible symptoms, and some may even appear asymptomatic. However, others may begin acting outside of behavioral norms. Research shows that children will not give a detailed and clear account of sexual abuse, but  they may imply something in order to test the reaction. When children are ready, they may hint more directly, but it is very easy to miss a child disclosing which prevent them from getting the help they may need.

Research has also found that the relationship to the perpetrator, age at first incident of abuse, the use of physical force, severity, gender and ethnicity can be key factors in a child’s willingness to disclose. Children who do disclose, frequently tell a friend or sibling. Of all family members to be told, the mother is most likely, but this depends on the child’s expected response. Professionals are rarely on the receiving end of sexual abuse disclosures. However, when professionals are chosen, teachers are the most likely to be told in this circumstance.

With the increasing use and development of technology, sexual abuse does not just include physical acts. 9% of youth internet users have experienced distressing sexual material whilst only and in 27% of incidents youths have been asked to provide sexual photographs of themselves.When asked, 72% of teenagers felt that digital abuse is something that should be addressed by society.

The NSPCC have detailed behaviour children may exhibit if they have been abused such as being withdrawn, anxious, clingy, eating disorders, wetting the bed, drugs, self-harm and taking risks. The impact of abuse can impair the ability to cope with stress or emotions, and as the brain becomes damaged it can result in memory impairment or reduced social functioning.

Self-blame is a commonly known consequences of sexual abuse which can often lead to self-harm and suicide. with studies finding that people who were sexually abused as children were more than twice as likely consider suicide in later life. Sexual abuse can lead to confused ideas about relationship and sexual behaviour as well as having physical consequences such as pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases.

For professionals, it can be extremely difficult to hear the abuse someone has suffered, but a supportive reaction can make all the difference to a child who is deciding whether to disclose or not. Also, what can we learn from the correlation of abuse and addiction? If we could prevent/reduce child abuse occurrence, imagine how much could we impact addiction?

We Don’t Listen to Children When It Comes to Abuse in Sports


Sky Sports presenter Charlie Webster has said she revealed details about sexual abuse by her coach when she was young in order to “break the taboo about abuse as a whole.”

There are certainly issues within sport where too often, poor practice and abuse is tolerated. Who can forget the unravelling of the systematic abuse and cover up of football coach Jerry Sandusky at Penn State and his subsequent jailing for 30 years in 2012?

A series of high profile cases, including a British Olympic swimming coach convicted for two rapes, and reports did lead to a change in official procedures and the creation of the NSPCC Child Protection in Sport Unit in 2001. This has driven the adoption of safeguarding standards within sport. But there is no evidence that this process has led to an increased awareness by children about their rights, the behaviour they should expect from adults and who they should turn to if they experience abuse.

A recent study, published by researchers from Edinburgh University and the NSPCC, found that although “participating in organised sport is a positive experience for most children and young people … a negative sporting culture exists, is accepted ‘as the norm’ and is perpetuated by peers, coaches and other adults.” The study reported widespread emotionally harmful treatment (75%) and unacceptable levels of sexual harassment (29%).

There are still plenty of anecdotal accounts of children experiencing bullying, adult pressure and exclusion, which has resulted in the Football Association’s (FA) Respect Campaign and grassroots campaigns such as Give us Back our Game.

The implementation of the Children Act 2004 gave emphasis to safeguarding within sport, particularly as this made it clear that promoting the welfare of children was not simply a professional task but the responsibility of all adults, many of whom in sport act in a voluntary capacity. A network of welfare officers now exist on a national, regional and club level in order to promote best practice and to provide a mechanism to deal with complaints or concerns.

For many children sport is a chance to be with friends and experience freedom away from the confines of school or home. This has associated benefits as children who take part in organised activities are more likely to experience a sense of well-being and achieve success. And participating in sports promotes resilience and self-sufficiency. But the way they experience sport is shaped by adults who determine the content, rules and expectations.

Celia Brackenridge, the foremost authority on child protection in sport, said , “Social control is adeptly applied in youth sport where adults choose, organise, deliver and evaluate activities without inviting comments or contributions from those who consume them – children.”

Being on the winning team

The culture of denial and silence is rooted in the reality that children’s sport replicates the professional game where winning is the prime motivation. This means that children compete for spaces in teams and at the elite end are under pressure to conform in order not to undermine their prospects of future success. In this context, to speak out is to risk being left out or incur the displeasure of the coach. A recent Guardian article brought into sharp focus the contrast between the glitter of the Premier League when compared to what it termed “the abuse, death threats, and withering numbers in grassroots football.”

An inevitably, a culture of denial or silence means that bullying, shouting and criticism, exclusion and hostility to opponents can go unchallenged. In Canada when a series of sexual abuse cases came to light in ice hockey, it was found that parent after parent was suspicious of the coach’s behaviour and attitude but buried their concerns for fear of scuppering their children’s chance at success. On a more routine level, there is a resigned acceptance that poor behaviour and unfair practice is just part of the deal.

Policy vacuum

There is a policy vacuum at national and local level. In 2010 the FA conducted a consultation that suggested that many young people had little or no knowledge of the FA’s safeguarding procedures or where they could get more information, advice and support.

Rectifying this will involve creating a culture where young people feel able to set their own priorities. The FA’s consultation on youth football included a series of road shows entitled Your Kids, Your Say. But where are the children’s voices in this?

Some good things have been happening. A project developed by PTS undertook work on behalf of organisations including the FA, British Judo and Sports Leaders UK to capture the voices of children resulted in training materials and a film that focused on young people’s priorities, such as more say in decisions usually the preserve of adults, such as choosing the captain of a team. The film featured a coach patting all his players on the back after a penalty shoot out but ignoring the child who missed the penalty that lost the game. One leading coach said the film should “have adults squirming on their backsides”.

PTS also developed a model of youth leadership, and a children’s consultation that identified what was important to children about being in sport and how this related to policies to keep them safe. Children who participated in an FA conference said they wanted an environment of fun, friendship, inclusion and safety that takes precedence over a competitive adult agenda.

One ten-year-old said: “The quality of relationships and experience is more important than the outcome”. Listening to and involving children is fundamental to ensuring that children speak out. If children are involved in decisions, they are more likely to trust adults and voice concerns.The Conversation

Intimate Partner Violence: Power and Control in Same Sex Relationships

Glory Johnson and Brittney Griner
Glory Johnson and Brittney Griner

Over the last few months, we have watched the soap opera called the “Brittney and Glory Show” play out in the media. Once a story about a same-sex couple openly celebrating their love for life, basketball and each other, it has quickly turned into what appears to be a turbulent relationship.

As someone who loves the sport of basketball and actually appreciates the idea of people being comfortable with their self and who they love, it honestly pains me to watch WNBA stars Brittney Griner of the Phoenix Mercury and Glory Johnson of the Tulsa Shock fall apart before our very eyes.

The question is, what makes the “Brittney and Glory Show” so interesting to the media?  Besides the reality of how social media and sensationalized journalism become overly involved in sharing the private lives of celebrities, it’s the drama that violence brings to their otherwise normal relationship.

The truth is that until the domestic violence arrest of both Brittney and Glory, we knew nothing more than they were engaged to be married. So, let me tell you straight, I will not attempt to make assumptions about their relationships by trying to guess who did what or who is guilty of what crime, but I will take this opportunity to shed light on a real issue in intimate partner and same-sex relationships.

Brittney and Glory are not alone in same-sex partner experiencing intimate-partner violence. A study done by the National Violence Against Women Prevention Research Center reports that 21.5 percent of men and 35.4 percent of women living with a same-sex partner experienced physical violence throughout their lifetimes and transgendered persons had an incidence of 34.6 percent.

In fact, the CDC’s National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence report, from 2013, one of the first ever to on abuse by sexual orientation found that the lifetime incidence of rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner was 43.8 percent for lesbians, 61.1 percent for bisexual women, and 35 percent for heterosexual women, while it was 26 percent for gay men, 37.3 percent for bisexual men, and 29 percent for heterosexual men.  These statistics are horrifying and deserve some attention.

Let’s face it, Brittney and Glory do not exist in a vacuum; this societal myth that only straight women get abused, that men are never victimized, and that women never abuse lead to a continued silence by many in abusive relationships. To put it plainly, domestic violence is not just a straight woman’s issue; the discussion must include all types of relationships, including LGBTQ.

What do you need to remember about Domestic Violence in a LGBTQ relationship? The abuse is about control not just violence; therefore, you would look for the same strategies to gain power and control, as you would in a heterosexual relationship. Remember, abuse can be physical, sexual or emotional abuse, financial control, isolation and more. For more specific examples check out the LGBT Relationship Violence Power and Control Wheel.

If you or someone you love is experiencing abuse you are not alone.




Rape Culture, Child Protection, and 50 Shades of Grey – Related Really?

Rape Culture, Child Protection and 50 Shades of Gray may not appear to have an obvious connection, but let’s take a moment to consider. We have seen a significant increase in concern about the impact of domestic violence and child abuse in high profile cases within the sports and entertainment fields as well as several post-secondary institutions finding themselves in the spotlight for failing to address sexual assault and rape culture on college campuses.

In Canada, we watched questions emerge regarding sexual misconduct allegations against broadcaster Jian Ghomeshi which eventually led to his termination while he awaits trial. Presently on trial in Europe is former head the IMF Dominique Strauss-Kahn for his alleged role in a sex ring in France in addition to an alleged sexual assault against a hotel maid in New York City.

The Roman Catholic church has been plagued with allegations of sexual abuse while working its way through years upon years of confirmed sexual abuse against children. The Royal Commission in Australia stated, “We will also hear, hopefully, from Governments around Australia, on how they intend to approach redress for survivors of abused in government-run homes, orphanages and other institutions.” The recent conviction and sixteen-year sentence of former rock star Gary Glitter for abuse of young girls under the age of 13 with some abuse occurring as far back as 3 decades ago. Domestic violence, sexual abuse, molestation, sexual assault are significant issues in child protection matters.

At the heart of this intersection is the question of what children are exposed to and what is consent. Does a woman consent to be beaten by a partner? Does a child consent to sex with an adult? Does a drunken woman consent to sex when she is too impaired to really consent? Those who are in a powerless and subordinate position are not able to consent, but this appears to be a complex question in today’s society.

Additionally, how the media plays out the issue of consent matters to society at large. 50 Shades of Grey sets up a standard for consent that suggests it might not be so voluntary and yet still acceptable. The Atlantic offered a thoughtful piece on how the 50 Shades of Grey books and the movie are really depicting nonconsensual sex which must then be characterized as some level of abuse. This view may not be welcomed by its millions of followers, but it’s worth noting the BDSM community is not welcoming this movie as exemplary of what they perceive to be voluntary and consensual activity in this sexual arena.

If we want to create safer families and communities for children, should we not be connecting the dots between the various forces that impact how safety is defined and created? When we make a media sensation out of non-consensual sex abuse and assault, it enables sexual and gender-based violence. That’s a problem.

Sexual Exploitation in the UK and the Need to be Loved

The National Crime Agency released figures last month which stated that over the past year, 56 UK-born children were trafficked around the country for the purpose of sexual exploitation; a figure that has more than doubled from the previous year. It was acknowledged that this figure only marks those cases that have been recorded and that there are likely to be numerous more unidentified cases.

barnardoOther charities such as Barnardo’s have released snapshot figures stating that in 2012 they worked with over 140 child victims of sexual exploitation. The drastic difference in the figures exemplifies the complete lack of clarity we have on the scale of sexual exploitation in the UK. It is only through the prosecution of high-profile sexual exploitation grooming rings, such as those in Rochdale and Oxford, that public and political awareness has grown.

As a trainee Social Worker, one of my first cases was a beautiful, funny and intelligent 16 year old girl called Eva who was being sexually exploited by a 35 year old male. Eva had been referred to my service as she was homeless and was in need of accommodation.

Eva was at my office every day, making any excuse to see me. Sometimes she needed help with a problem; other times she just wanted a cup of tea and a chat. At the root of it all, Eva was a 16 year old girl who had been abandoned by her family at a very young age and who ultimately just wanted human contact and affection. Having worked with Eva, and subsequently working with many other young people who have been trafficked and exploited, it comes as no surprise to me that we are yet to grasp the true scale of the problem.

As a Social Worker who has spent six years working with criminals, I am reluctant to use inflammatory language about any sort of criminal behaviour. However, what strikes me most about sexual exploitation is just how much of a truly cruel and opprobrious crime it is. Exploiters spend years and years building a relationship with a young person, to the end aim of that young person falling hopelessly in love with them. They use the most powerful of forces, that of teenage love, to ensnare children and subsequently trap them in a life of violence, drugs and rape. It is not a quick crime. It is calculated and unforgiving.

Consequently, many young people, such as Eva, do not recognize that they are being exploited. The exploiters are their boyfriends. Eva would defend her exploiter above anything else, by repeatedly lying to Police and professionals, because she genuinely loved him. And as a young girl who had been denied love from a young age, she had no basis from which to compare and realize that love does not involve violence and rape.

If a young person does eventually realize that they are being maltreated, they are left with very few options. Some are so entangled in a life of sex and drug addiction that they permanently make the transition to adult sex worker. Others, have had their self-esteem shattered so disastrously that they do not believe that help is available to them and will never disclose their long ordeals. And those who do choose to stand up to their exploiters and inform the Police are likely to face threats of murder and rape until they back down.

In the UK we are only at the genesis of solving the problem of sexual exploitation. The more cases that come to the attention of the Police, the more information we have to learn from to prevent further abuse. However, disclosures to the Police will only ever continue to drip through and so progress will remain slow.

What is clear, is that whilst the majority of victims continue to be vulnerable children, often from care homes or broken families, a lot of time and energy needs to be focused on teaching these young people that they are loved and that nobody who claims to love them will physically or mentally hurt them. How we manage that, when those who are meant to have loved them the most, their parents, have often abused or neglected them as children, is an even greater challenge and one that not just Social Workers, but the whole community must rise to.

Hashtag #Molestation On Instagram Reveals Disturbing Trend

Recently, I went to the #fostercare hash-tag on Instagram to look at the most current foster-care related photos. At the top of the list of images, I saw a very inappropriate nude photo of an attractive young woman. Initially, I was very frustrated that someone would post nude photos in the #fostercare hashtag in which I use to inspire foster care youth and advocates.

Then, I read what she posted and noticed the other hash tags she used: # orphan# liar, and # molestation. This girl was molested most of her younger years and is deeply scarred. Posting nude photos appears to be her way of expressing and fighting back.

ChildMolestationIt is understandable she is trying to take control of what was taken from her for many years, and I can’t really blame her for no longer wanting to be silenced. However, do you know what was the most shocking? When I clicked on the hashtag #molestation, I found something even more disturbing. Almost every other photo that I saw was of someone joking and inappropriately touching someone else. A mockery of what is both a sad reality and the cause of a life-time of guilt, shame and a lack of self-esteem for many.

The 2003 National Institute of Justice report states that 3 out of 4 adolescents who have been sexually assaulted were victimized by someone they knew well (page 5). lists that 1 in 5 girls is a victim of child sexual abuse while reports that studies show 1 in 6 men have experienced sexual abuse before the age of 18.

It is no surprise that “as many as 75% of those in #fostercare have been sexually abused.” That makes them a prime target for repeat abuse and more horrendous statistics. According to the website 1 and 6, they report studies in two east coast states indicating that 21 and 28 percent of child sexual abuse cases, respectively, involved reports that originated in a foster home.

Although these statistics reference children, I would like to place emphasis on how one’s traumatic experiences impact adulthood. Anyone who experiences any type of trauma, regardless of socioeconomic status, lives with it forever. reports that “studies reveal staggering proof of the health, social, and economic risks that result from childhood trauma.”

The above stats are a harsh reality to swallow. Maybe that is why so many joke about it on social media, but never allow the subject to be talked about in public. In our society, it is so easy to joke about some pretty messed up things, yet when someone has something real to talk about people clam up and don’t know what to say.

Well, sometimes you don’t have to say anything. Sometimes you just need to not be scared of the truth, open your heart and ears, and listen. Allowing someone to hurt and express their hurt might be all they need to feel reassured and start to heal; even if it is something as taboo as molestation. We all need healing.

Clare’s Law: Background Checks for Partners

International Women’s Day 2014 saw the Domestic Violence Scheme, better known as Clare’s Law, applied nationally throughout the United Kingdom. The scheme is a result of the ‘Right To Know’ Campaign led by Michael Brown whose daughter, Clare Wood, was strangled and set on fire by her ex-boyfriend in 2009.

clare's lawAfter Clare’s death, it transpired that she had been unaware that her ex-boyfriend had an extensive violent history, including kidnapping a previous partner at knifepoint. The new law now gives people the right to contact the police to find out whether or not their partner has a history of violence. The aim is to give people the chance to make informed decisions about a relationship and ultimately prevent any further deaths as a result of domestic violence.

There are concerns from various charities throughout the UK who work with victims of domestic abuse that Clare’s Law will not protect victims. The concern is that there is not enough follow-up support for someone who discovers their partner has a violent past. However, there is another glaringly obvious issue that needs to be addressed as a priority with regards to this Law.

The language surrounding Clare’s Law has done little to acknowledge men as victims of domestic abuse. Home Secretary Theresa May’s deliberate decision to launch the scheme on International Women’s Day further perpetuates the myth that when it comes to relational violence, women are victims and men are perpetrators. There is a lack of understanding at the highest levels of Government, as demonstrated by May’s comment, that the government are implementing measures to keep “women and girls safe”. Comments such as this are likely to discourage men from using this Law and they will consequently not receive the protection it affords.

In the UK there are currently numerous television and poster campaigns which aim to highlight to young people what abuse looks like, but common to all of them is the critical flaw that the man is never victim. I have worked with many teenage boys who have been in violent relationships and all too often they allow their girlfriend to hit them during an argument because “she’s only a girl” and they could “never hit a girl”. This has corrosive consequences for both genders. Firstly, it belittles the female, as if they are in some way inferior, both physically and in terms of being able to manage their behaviour. Assault is assault; if you make a choice to hit or punch another person, it does not matter whether the punches are light, that relationship is unhealthy and all women and men deserve better.

Secondly, the likelihood that the boy will begin hitting his girlfriend increases if she is allowed to continuously beat him every time they have an argument. Every person has their breaking point and therefore a crucial aspect of domestic abuse prevention is telling women that they also cannot hit their partners. Similarly, we cannot expect men to accept violence without implicitly fuelling the cycle of male violence. If we do not allow space for men to be victims then the only role left for them is that of aggressor.

Of course the majority of domestic abuse victims are female, but we have to ask ourselves if we really know the extent to which men are abused. Clare’s Law is a necessary step in tackling a problem that sees approximately two women a week murdered in Britian alone. However, around thirty men each year are also killed in the same context. If men are made to realize that there is no shame in being victims and support is made equally available to them, we may just find that the problem of domestic violence against males is much higher than we first thought.

Will this new law be considered as a model for replication in other countries with high mortality rates due to domestic violence?

How to Protect Your Child Against Sexual Abuse

Child Sexual abuse is still a taboo topic in many homes. We don’t talk about it, we don’t want to hear about it and we just pretend it would never happen in our homes. What if I told you that educating your child about the dangers of sexual abuse could protect them?

What if I told you that teaching them about the proper names for body parts could help give them the language they need to keep themselves safe? Well, the fact of the matter is knowledge is power. The more age appropriate information you give your child, the better equipped they will be to handle difficult situations. Let’s begin by discussing the language we use.

Too often we use pet names for our body parts. We call vagina’s pocket books and penis’s ding-a-lings. Although this may help the parent in a moment of discomfort to communicate with a child, it does not help the child develop the vocabulary needed to express themselves in the event of abuse. For example, could you imagine the child who runs to the police officer and says to them that, “that man or woman touched my pocket book”?

It may even take you a while as the parent to get what they are trying to say to you. Teach your children the right names for their body parts. This can begin right from birth. If they touch their penis, you say “penis” or if they ask you, “mommy, what’s that”? Then you say, “Breasts”.  Another way to educate your child is by informing them of who can touch them and for what purpose.

If your child is a toddler, it is very important that they understand the difference between being assisted and being fondled. If they are capable of caring for themselves, then only the parent and medical professionals should be allowed to examine their genitalia or other private body parts. We know that perpetrators of sexual abuse are typically relatives or people close to the family. So, it’s important that we inform our children that they should not be afraid to tell their parents if someone, no matter who it is, touched them inappropriately.

Which leads me to the next point, how to distinguish a good touch from a  bad touch. Educate your children on what good touches and bad touches are. They should know that a hug or high five are good touches. Bad touches are touches to their private areas or any touch that makes them feel uncomfortable. You can use dolls to do this or even role play with your child. Finally, let’s talk about supervision.

Child-on-child sexual abuse is extremely common. Children who are left alone playing house or playing unsupervised in general are at risk for inappropriate sexual behaviors. Educate your child on what behaviors are acceptable during play time and ensure that an adult is always present to monitor their activities. I would highly encourage anyone who uses nanny or baby-sitting services in their home to keep the home monitored to ensure the safety of the child.

These steps reviewed frequently with your child will greatly increase their chances of not falling victim to sexual abuse.

Fighting Sex Trafficking From the Front Lines: The People Who Inspire Series: Sarah Elizabeth Pahman

Notes from an Aspiring Humanitarian’s “The People Who Inspire series” highlights individuals from a variety of backgrounds and occupations who are seeking to impact the lives of others in a positive way. Through Truth-Telling: the honest sharing of their own experiences, they teach us a little about themselves, hopefully enabling us to be able to learn a little about ourselves through their stories.

Today’s post features Sarah Elizabeth Pahman, Treatment Foster Care Social Worker, and advocate for women and girls.

Could you tell us a little about your background and what led you to your current work?

My passion for trauma work originally began in a class I took at my alma mater, UW-Madison, where I learned about sex trafficking and began doing research on Somaly Mam and her non-profit organization in Phnom Penh, Cambodia – rescuing young girls enslaved into prostitution. I learned about 8-year-old girls being sold for high prices to men with AIDs who believed they could be cured by raping a virgin. These young girls were sewn back up again and again, resold as virgins to make large profits for their captors.

This modern form of slavery opened my eyes to the most pressing issue of our time, sex and labor trafficking – and led me to get involved in organizations in my city that focused on trauma.

I interned as a trauma counselor for sexual abuse victims in a domestic violence agency, and again did trauma therapy in a non-profit focused solely on supporting survivors of sexual abuse and sexual violence. This is where I began to connect the dots about domestic trafficking, and saw it is not just an international issue, but an issue on our own streets in the United States.

Although not all prostitutes are sex trafficking victims, ALL sex trafficking victims are pimped out as prostitutes, on the streets, in brothels, escort services, and in massage parlors. As I became more aware of this issue I began to volunteer at outreach programs in my city that focused on harm reduction and education for prostituted women.

We got in an old, beat up van with the entire backseat filled with bagged lunches and rapid HIV tests, and we drove the blighted neighborhoods where street prostitution and survival sex is known to be happening. We handed out food, condoms, gave HIV tests, “bad date” sheets (information for women in the sex trade that gives crime information, for example, the description of a John who beat a girl, or raped her, or didn’t pay her, and what street it happened on), and resources. Witnessing the reality of street prostitution made me realize just how inadequate harm reduction is – a band-aid on a gaping wound.

During my graduate field work I also began seeing how young girls end up in coercive situations. Vulnerable children and teenagers looking for a place to belong, and in need of guidance from parents and family that weren’t able, or simply not willing to provide it. Girls within foster care, involved with the child welfare system, are finding themselves on the streets and willing to do anything for a man who pays attention, shows love, care, and concern. These girls, due to their yearning for love, are easy victims for a pimp/trafficker with a slick mouth and a knack for business.

After I graduated I knew I wanted to stay on the frontlines, and I knew trauma was where I belonged. Taking the knowledge I’d gained from my field work I got involved in Treatment Foster Care Social Work in order to stay involved with a vulnerable population I am passionate about: teenage girls, most from abusive backgrounds, who are involved in the system. Being a strong role model and consistently present, supportive, and assertive force in a teenage girl’s life is a preventive measure. It is a preventive measure that can help keep girls away from prostitution, and the risk of being pimped, trafficked, and enslaved. This is how, and why, I got involved in my current work.

I know that you’re very passionate about trauma work. Can you tell us what that means to you?

Trauma work, for me, equates to being up to date on current research on trauma informed care, and applying it to direct practice. Trauma work is about asking people what happened to them, not what is wrong with them. Trauma work is about addressing underlying causes, and understanding that addressing the root problem can help cure present symptoms. Trauma work is about believing people’s stories, not trying to figure out what is a lie, and what is truth.

So many times we approach people with suspicion, and distrust in them – when the truth is it is not the stories making sense that should matter so much to us, but the message the person is trying to send us about themselves by telling us their stories. This is where trauma work lives, in the messages behind the stories.

In your view, what do you think are some necessary elements that are needed to be effective in this kind of work?

Sarah at a
Take Back The Night event for survivors of sexual violence.

To be effective in this kind of work one needs, first and foremost, to be able to connect with people who have every right, and reason, not to want to connect.

Many times in this field people have had previous experience with social workers, and it can leave them with quite a negative view of what we do and what our purpose is in their lives. Sometimes people view us in the same negative light as they view the police, or they had a bad experience with a social worker and have stereotyped us in a certain way.

Social work has quite negative connotations in some communities. My job as a social worker is to remain mindful of this truth, and respectful of this truth – while also remaining consistent in my work. In this field one must align their thoughts, feelings, and actions and be deliberate and honest in their intentions in order to be effective. “Being real” and authentic with people is key. Being able to have those hard conversations is a must.

We have to master the art of gentle confrontation, and be able to word harsh truths into a conversation that people are willing to have with us. We have to prevent shame by remaining open, honest, compassionate, and free of criticism and judgment. These are the essential ingredients for this type of work. We cannot “try” to be these things, we have to BE these things. For myself this is where the spiritual mixes with the real world.

Do you have any other issues that you’re interested in working on or working with others in terms of social justice/equity?

My life’s purpose is the pursuit of social justice for women and girls who have been marginalized by family background, life circumstance, economics, culture, society, and the systems we have in place.

My purpose is being a presence, a witness & a voice in the deepest trenches of women’s oppression. For me, the frontlines for social justice lie in the streets of the sex trade and in addressing trauma in people’s lives. So many times it is sexual, physical, emotional abuse that is the root cause of drug and alcohol addiction, mental health issues, low self-esteem, and undesirable behaviors.

My purpose is to get to the roots, and not reject that darkness when it is pulled up in people’s lives.

What are the parts of your work that you find most enjoyable?

What I find most enjoyable is seeing people acknowledge that they are stronger than they may have thought they were. Seeing kids who have every right to give up, and yet they persist. I enjoy witnessing a kid begin to recognize their emotions, and to name them. I enjoy watching kids and adults begin to link their trauma to their behaviors. I enjoy challenging kids to problem solve with me, and to take responsibility for themselves.

What aspects do you find challenging?

Apathy is the most challenging part of my work. Having kids who just do not want to take an active role in their own lives. Seeing adults make promises they cannot keep to children who have already been so let down is another challenge, because it is hard not to feel helpless when we see children being hurt.

You also share some of your thoughts though your blog: Rooted In Being. How did your blog come about? Do you have any words of advice for anyone who might want to start their own thoughts for social justice in terms of transforming their ideas to action?

Fostering Community

My advice for those interested in social justice is to find a focus, and stick to it. We cannot change the world by taking on the entire world, but if we can take on one aspect of social justice that really moves us and gets us fired up, then we can produce change.

Turning words into action involves getting involved in our communities. It is about understanding the issue on a macro scale and then finding out how that issue affects us locally. The next step is jumping in feet first, acknowledging that we are not the experts, allowing the discomfort of being immersed in something challenging – and remaining self-aware.

What/Who Inspires you?

Somaly Mam inspires me, Gloria Steinem inspires me, Melissa Farley’s research inspires me, Mona Eltahawy inspires me – as do so many of the activists in my city that I have learned and gained so much from.

What have been the Keys to your success so far?

I know that my success so far has come from being able to see how beauty and tragedy is intertwined. Being able to witness immense forms of emotional pain day in and day out, and still ponder the trees, and the universe – and its immense beauty.

I can remember having an especially difficult time when I first began interning as a trauma counselor, and my saving grace was catching the bus home with my headphones on every night – and looking up at the stars in the night sky, taking a deep breath, and accepting that I do not have control, nor understanding of how and why the world is such a painful, exquisite experience.

Acceptance of not knowing, and being fully present in the moment – has been my key.

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