Archive for the ‘Learning Journal Assignment’ Category

For the final journal entry, I will be commenting on trans issues.

There were many important issues that our guest speaker addressed during her presentation to the class. First, she clarified the difference between trans and cis. Generally, the term ‘trans’ means something that changes or transitions, it refers to specifically gender-variance, and can be used as an identifier for transsexuals and for transgender individuals. The term ‘cis’ on the other hand, generally means something that stays put or does not change, and can be used in identification as cissexual or cisgender person. Being trans or cis has nothing to do with your sexual orientation, but only with your sex/gender presentation/experience.

Of great importance to me as a counsellor, the guest speaker went into some detail about the violence that transwomen may experience from their partners. Transwomen often experience internal struggles with negotiating body image and gender, and this is something that abusive partners may take advantage of. Abusive partners can seize/hide/throw out hormones, dilators. Abusive partners can make negative and oppressive comments about the woman’s body. These acts, while not physically violent or abusive, are violent in another way: they take away what is most important for the woman, which are the tools necessary to keep her female body (transwomen need to keep up their hormones and use their dilators, or testosterone levels will rise, menopause will hit, and the outcome of surgeries will be ruined).

The guest speaker also talked about trans issues at the social and political level. Cissexism and cisnormativity, which refer to the privileging of, and invisible normalcy and assumptions associated with being cisgender. Transphobia, is the irrational fear and/or hatred of trans or gender-variant people. We see cissexism and cisnormativity in employment discrimination, in public washrooms which force people to identify as ‘man’ or ‘woman’, in the lack of support and resources available for transpersons, in the effects of bullying, and in the hundreds of transpersons who are murdered every year. As a counsellor-in-training for all women who experience violence, I must be aware of the issues that affect transwomen, and this session proved to be extremely useful.

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The Western medical system has a long history of power abuse, oppression and discrimination. The Western medical model is premised on the notion that doctors and other medical professionals are in justified positions of authority, and hence are able to make health decisions for the purported benefits of patients. This necessarily implies an imbalanced relationship in terms of who has power and authority and who does not. Medical professionals of the Western world are given the power to control the bodies of patients, deciding what drugs they need to be taking, what surgeries they have access to, and even what bodies are permitted freedom in society and what bodies must be kept locked away in mental health institutions. Sometimes these doctors are correct, and the outcomes of their decisions benefit their patients. Other times they do not.

In my placement, I find myself struggling with the issue of the diagnosis of mental imbalances for women who have experienced violence. One client, H, is a woman who frequents the Centre on a regular basis. My supervisor, who is H’s counsellor, has told me that H has experienced sexual violence, and that it is likely that H suffers from a few mental health imbalances, as the paranoia and delusions that H experiences are vast. Just recently, my supervisor approached me and asked that I assist H at the Centre in booking a flight to leave that same day. Both my supervisor and I were wary of H leaving the province, but H was very adament that she needed to go away. As I was booking the plane ticket with H, she was literally unable to proceed with the process without constantly describing her assaults and the effects of these on her life. I tried to intervene and focus her on the task at hand, but her traumas combined with undiagnosed mental imbalances seem to have frozen her in a space where she is constantly consumed with the trauma. We booked H a 4:30 pm flight, but H continuously got sidetracked, and did not end up getting into a taxi to head to the airport until less than an hour before her flight. I spent the rest of the weekend thinking about if she made it to her destination safely, what she would do when she got there, and even where she would stay (she does not know anyone out there anymore, so I sent her with contact phone numbers and addresses for shelters, hospitals, etc).

So I have a very difficult time when contemplating the pros and cons of mental health diagnoses. On the one hand, I want to respect the rights and choice of my female clients in their decision to seek treatment (medicinal or alternative) for their mental health imbalances or not to seek treatment. Yet on the other hand, I feel myself wanting to refer some women to seek treatment, particularly the women who clearly have mental health imbalances but do not realize it (client H), as going untreated/undiagnosed could be extremely detrimental to their safety, health and overall quality of life.

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Big sigh of relief! My group was the final group to present our policy report. Our topic was reproductive justice, a topic which is very important to me, so I was glad to be able to present the issues around reproductive justice to my peers. However, for this learning journal, I am going to look at the presentation given on the rape shield law.

The rape shield law exists today so that: 1) a woman’s sexual history cannot be used in court against her and 2) so that her identity is protected (publication ban). This law came into effect in Canada in 1991 (revised in 1992).

Just this week, as part of my placement, I had the opportunity to attend a human rights mediation with a client. I met the client, Jane (pseudonym) at the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (HRTO) on Bay Street, where we spent some time chatting and getting grounded before the mediation started. Jane was filing two claims: one against an employee and her employer in the vein of sexual harassment and breach of human rights; and the other a criminal case of sexual assault. The reason I am referring to Jane’s case in regard to the rape shield law, is because there are a few connections to be drawn here.

For the mediation, Jane chose to sit separate from the defense, so the room consisted of Jane, her paralegal, the judge and myself. Jane was told by her paralegal that this was her opportunity to have her story be heard, to say anything and everything she wanted to say to the judge, and that this mediation was for her. When the mediation started, I was quite surprized at how open Jane was in disclosing facts about her sexual history. Had we been in the mediation with the defense, I feel this would not have happened. Jane was also prepared to appeal the case if it did not go in her favour, and pursue a course of action that would make the case go public (going public would not be favourable for the company Jane was an employee at). For Jane, both of her actions (opening up about her sexual past and potentially going public with her case) are beneficial to her case, but also directly contradict the proponents of the rape shield law. Now, it could be that the rape shield law is not applied equally in both human rights and criminal cases.

It seems that for some women, it is in fact more beneficial to include this information in their cases rather than shield it. Of course, not all women can access the system so that it works to their advantage, like Jane seems to have done.

This is an important point: accessibility to citizen rights is variable depending on WHO YOU ARE. I think this was a point that was made across all of the policy reports given in our class. Who has access to the food policy allowance, and even if you have access, what are you really getting out of it? Battered women’s syndrome is a legal defense that can be beneficial to women who have killed their partners, but what are the implications of this defense for the woman (mental, health, legal…)? Even though the Indian Act has been revised to give First Nations peoples governance over themselves, the effects of colonization and Canadian law still keep First Nations people oppressed (particularly First Nations women, many of whom live in a state of poverty, violence, and lack of adequate support).

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Unfortunately I was not able to attend this class (November 9th). I am not sure what policy presentations happened in the class, so I will focus this journal entry on another topic. In Working With Women Surviving Sexual Violence I, we watched a film that looked at the war in Bosnia (1992 – 1995), focussing specifically on the issue of using rape as a weapon of war.

rape as a weapon of war

When people talk about war, they invoke images of men, of guns and explosives, or tanks and armour, and of following a military combat code of honour. And why not? It is portrayed in all the Hollywood war movies. Opposing forces cease fire to allow for a moment of silence over the dead, or to celebrate a holiday, or carry back to base a fallen soldier. What we don’t talk about are the many other people who are affected by war: the women who are sexually assaulted and raped as tactics of war.

A few facts (taken from Rape: Weapon of War):

“In the resolution, passed 19 June, the Security Council noted that ‘women and girls are particularly targeted by the use of sexual violence, including as a tactic of war to humiliate, dominate, instil fear in, disperse and/or forcibly relocate civilian members of a community or ethnic group’.”

“In Liberia, which is slowly recovering after a 13-year civil war, a government survey in 10 counties in 2005-2006 showed that 92 per cent of the 1,600 women interviewed had experienced sexual violence, including rape.”

So why is rape used as a weapon of war? Because of the power inherent in the act. Rape is a weapon that carries the power to dehumanize, destroy, humiliate and punish. Women who are raped may experience psychological and physical harm/trauma, torture and dehumanization (among other things). The men who are made to watch as their kins-women are raped, experience punishment, a sense of failure, trauma, and a loss of power. So for groups at war with one another, the tactic of raping women in front of men, serves to destroy the community: the raped women may be ostracized and abandoned for the humiliation they have brought upon their family/community and there is a strong sense of shame and dehumanization within the community, which serves to weaken the community.

Rape is also used as a means of forced pregnancy. In some instances, rape may be used as a means to blur ethnic boundaries, or to engage in ethnic cleansing. It is clear in this case that patriarchy and racism are intersecting in a way that places women in an extremely traumatic and difficult situation. In the film, there was a young woman who was raped by a soldier and became pregnant with his child. This woman’s mother told filmmakers that she was living with her daughter because of her fear that her daughter would kill the newborn out of hatred and fear.

Tomorrow I will be doing my policy presentation on reproductive justice. I will spend a few minutes talking about the issue of choice for women to make decisions about their bodies. In Canada, we have seen how only certain women have been, and still are, afforded certain rights over their reproductive bodies. Canada, like many countries, has a history of denying rights and services to women from marginalized groups, even to the point of coerced sterilizations in an attempt to cleanse the Canadian population (First Nations women). The links between rape as a weapon of war and the lack of choice for women to make decisions about their bodies, their reproductive health, and their sexuality, are clear: we see the intersecting of sexism, racism and classism working to deny women choices, thus denying them power.

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The policy presentations continue! This week I heard my peers discuss sexsomnia, family mediation, and battered women’s syndrome. For this post I am going to focus on battered women’s syndrome.

I understand battered women’s syndrome, or BWS, as a condition that it is most commonly used as a defense for women, but which describes any person who enters a psychological state of mind which is characterized by depression and an inability to take any sort of independent action in order to escape from an abusive situation. Individuals are driven to this condition typically due to constant and severe intimate partner violence (physical, sexual, emotional, verbal, mental, economic, and spiritual abuse are all possible types of violence the individual could be experiencing).

As for the term ‘battered women’s syndrome’, I find myself wanting to use other terminology to describe the condition. Some people understand BWS as a subgroup of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and I find myself drawn towards this terminology more than BWS, because I feel that BWS carries certain connotations with it: firstly it implies this condition only happens to women; secondly I feel that it carries a history of pathologization and medicalization of women for ‘womanly (read: crazy) conditions’; and finally the term ‘battered’, and more broadly the crime of ‘battery’, implies physical harm, when in fact a large part of BWS does not involve the physical, but is emotional, verbal, mental, spiritual, etc…

Last semester, in Working With Abused Women I, we looked at BWS and intimate partner violence. We looked at a question: If a woman kills her abusive partner, what type of sentence is she likely to receive compared to a man who commits femicide (woman-killing)? Tell us why you think this is so. I thought I might revisit my answer to this question, and add a few comments, some of which are more relevant to counselling

When looking at intimate partner violence and how it is handled by the legal system, there is a distinction in the way the law works for men and for women. Sheehy states that “in spite of our many legal advances, violence against women has not subsided in Canada because women’s vulnerability to male violence and our ability to harness law are inextricably linked to women’s social, economic, and political position in Canada, in relation to those who hold power” (473). Right off the bat we see that women’s and men’s access to legal rights are differentiated by our position in society (which can be further implicated by issues of race, class, citizenship status, ability…). We also need to seriously consider the historical context of the ways in which the judicial system has dictated women’s lives. The law was not created by women, for women, or in the interests of women, and in fact it was created without even considering women as persons. Specificially in Canada, we must acknowledge a history of colonization that led to the invisible and forced sterilization of Aboriginal women, whereby the Canadian government stood by and watched it happen.

When a woman kills her abusive partner, we find that women typically have two options: 1) state that she is suffering from Battered Women’s Syndrome, or 2) utilize the self-defense plea. From our course readings we learned that by using the Battered Women’s Syndrome, the woman has to prove she was “psychologically vulnerable”, and if she uses the self-defense plea, she has to have proof that she feared for her life, and tried other options to leave the abuser before she killed him. Why is this the case that women have to ‘pick their battles’ in explaining why they killed their intimate partners?

Trying to think about how I would provide support and counsel to a woman who is being charged with the murder of her male partner is a tough scenario. I am no lawyer, and could not counsel the woman in terms of what her plea should be, so I suppose my approach would be to provide psycho-educational support. First, I would check-in to see where the woman is at: is she is crisis mode? Does she have a support network? Does she feel counselling would benefit her in this situation? I would then provide her with a lot of validation and support. I would discuss the multiple ways that women cope with intimate partner violence, and that sometimes it seems the only way out is in fact to murder ones’ partner. I might provide the woman some history into the experiences of women who have gone through the court process with the BWS plea so that the woman has some idea of what to expect in her trial (should this be the plea she chooses to use).

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The first of the policy presentations was today, and the topic was on the Special Food Allowance policy. My peers did an excellent job presenting the information using a feminist analysis of poverty as the framework for the policy. They brought up a number of points to think about: 1) that something as seemingly simple as nutrition is actually a class issue that needs to be addressed; 2) we can look at malnourishment as a type of violence; 3) the feminization of poverty is a big issue for feminists and for workers in the VAW field.

A definition of the feminization of poverty:

“The term “feminization of poverty,” coined in the 1970s by Diana Pearce, refers to the concentration of poverty among women, particularly female-headed households. However, the feminization of poverty, as a lived reality, represents something larger than simply a lack of income or a state of financial need for women. While the very definition of poverty implies the inability to meet basic needs such as food, clothing, or shelter, being poor also implies the absence of choice, the denial of opportunity, the inability to achieve life goals, and ultimately the loss of hope. Thus, the phenomenon of a feminized poverty extends beyond the economic domains of income and material needs to the core of individual and family life.” Source: YWCA Dallas, Megan Thibos, Danielle Lavin-Loucks, Marcus Martin, http://www.ywcadallas.org/documents/advocacy/FeminizationofPoverty.pdf.

This is a very thorough definition which very much goes beyond the basic understanding that women disproportionately live in poverty compared to men, to show that living in poverty, and being a woman, also adversely affects other areas of women’s lives (choice, rights, goals, security…). I was curious to inquire further into the causes of the feminization of poverty. According to Wikipedia, there are several contributing factors to the feminization of poverty:
a) the changing composition/structure of families, with many single-mother households
b) family organization (gender roles regulating the control over household resources)
c) inequality in access to public services (eg: health care)
d) labor market inequalities
e) constraints in public life (eg: discrimination in the judiciary system, in political sphere, etc).

These factors get further complicated for racialized and immigrant women who may be facing: racial discrimination and citizenship status issues (limited number of jobs that will employ non-citizens, and therefore these jobs tend to lack security, adequate pay, physical safety, and benefits).

Of course this is an issue for feminists and for counsellors in the VAW field. As a counsellor, working with a woman who is living with an abusive partner, I need to be aware of the fact that many women living in abusive situations can often have very little financial resources of their own. Abusive partners can oftentimes (though not in all cases) dominate their partners not only physically, but also financially (among many other ways). Even if a woman earns wages through a job of her own, her partner might demand she give up her earnings. Therefore, if my client chooses to leave the abusive situation, as a counsellor I need to be aware that she might be leaving with nothing, and I need to be prepared to have resources for her that will help her secure funds or a job, keeping in mind that the feminization of poverty greater restricts the ability for women to escape the state of poverty.

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ROLE-PLAY. I’ve never been a fan of role-plays. While I absolutely understand the importance they hold for learning and practicing skills, I cannot bring myself to feel comfortable doing them. It might be the ‘acting’ part of it. Regardless of my feelings about role-plays, I am going to use this opportunity to reflect on the session we did in class.

When I took on the role of the counsellor, I had no idea what type of client to expect. The peer whom I was working with, T, indicated she had read her client profile and was ready to begin. We started the session, to which I introduced myself, briefly reviewed the time limits and confidentiality with her, and then asked how she was that day. As the session progressed, the facts and responses that T was passing along to me were really confusing me as to what the situation was. On the one hand, T was saying that she had a current boyfriend whom she was having troubles with, because he was reminding her of her ex-husband. When she continued to go back and forth in discussing these two men in her life, I asked her if she would like to focus on her ex, or on her current boyfriend. She replied neither, but that her current situation had to do with her current boyfriend. So I inquired into her situation, and discovered she was a 52-year old woman living in a shelter who had been arrested for assaulting her boyfriend. I wanted to make sure T felt supported, and so I asked she would like an advocate to support her through the court process. T also expressed feelings of worthlessness and not having many friends, but that she enjoyed baking, and so we briefly discussed how she might use baking as a means to make friends (particularly with the other women in the shelter) and as a means of self-care. During the session I had forgotten about time-keeping, and therefore wrapped the session up quicker than I had wanted.

Overall I was quite happy with how I handled the role-play activity. One thing I noticed, was how utterly lost I felt throughout the session. I think I felt that the client was feeding me all this information, but I did not know exactly what she wanted from me, which was throwing me off. While I am no stranger to women calling the crisis line just to talk (ie: give a run-down of their day), in this role-play session I felt as though I should be discovering some ground-breaking revelation of what the client needed. But I should have just focussed more on what she was telling me, as I think I would have felt more calm and grounded had I done this.

In terms of the feedback I received from my peers, they all indicated that I did well. They noted that I had a calming tone to my voice, that I conveyed openness, made good eye-contact with the client, and was able to build comfort. My peers also commented on my attention to detail, as well as the analysis of the client’s situation from a feminist, intersectional, anti-oppression framework. What I need to work on is remembering to check the time, to avoid saying ‘umm’ and ‘like’, and to check in with the client’s feelings more (as I was confirming factual information more than asking about T’s feelings).

I’d like to take this feedback and use it for the next role-play counselling session. Also, I have been transferred into the counselling program at my placement (very exciting) and therefore I will be gaining more practice in one-on-one counselling which will be beneficial (and scary!).

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I was very happy that today’s class focussed on revisiting counselling skills from first year, as well as elaborating on those skills and terminologies. What I want to focus on in this journal entry is the need for counsellors to be self-reflective in their work and practice. In class we talked about women in crisis and crisis intervention. Margaret then posed a question for the class: she asked us to think about how we, as counsellors, have managed in our field thus far. What emotions do we feel equipped to handle from our clients? What issues can we openly and non-judgmentally discuss? Do we harbour any biases or judgments? Do certain issues make us uncomfortable? So I began to contemplate my position on these questions.

During my time on the crisis line, I have encountered many different kinds of women, each of whom expresses themselves and handles stress and crisis differently. I have spoken to and/or provided support to women who are very open about their feelings and thoughts, to women who are so angry and frustrated they do nothing but yell/scream/cry into the telephone, to women who are completely silent on the line, to male crank callers, etc. From my conversations, there are a few things I have learned about myself, what I can deal with, and what I struggle with as a counsellor. I feel comfortable (maybe not the right word) speaking with clients who are angry, who are yelling, who are crying, or who are very open about their feelings/lives. I also have developed my skills at setting boundaries and limitations with male crank callers, which was something I initially felt very uncomfortable with. What I struggle with (ie: sometimes I find myself not knowing how to respond) is speaking with clients who are in a deep sense of despair or who engage in self-harm behaviours as a coping mechanism.

I interpret despair as hopelessness, as the complete loss of hope. It is an emotion that has the power to send people into crisis and can feel as though it is all-consuming. I find it difficult to know what to say to a client who is in a state of despair, because all I want to say is “Don’t worry, everything will be alright”. But I cannot say this – I don’t have any authority over her life, nor do I know if things will be alright. I know that I should offer support through reflecting on her strengths and referring her to resources in the community, but most of the time this doesn’t seem like enough.

While I do not harbour any judgments on self-harm as a coping mechanism, there is something about it that I find difficult to discuss. Particularly, I have struggled to respond to clients who discuss their cutting behaviour. I understand that cutting provides relief of emotional/psychological/physical pain by substituting it for an intense focus on the physical. It can provide the individual with a sense of control when perhaps they feel none. What is interesting however, is that the calls I have taken in which suicide was discussed, I felt more able to handle that discussion than a conversation with a client about cutting. This is something I would like to investigate further in my own self-reflection.

This week in Mandy’s class, in Working With Women Experiencing Sexual Violence, we watched the film The Many Trials of One Jane Doe. The story of Jane Do really got me reflecting on the social systems that we as citizens trust and rely on for our safety, protection and well-being. If in our most vulnerable states, we have to depend on systems that are racist, sexist, classist (etc), how can we expect proper maintenance of our rights and proper care of our safety, health and security? This is why we are going through this training and learning in the AWCCA program –> because our clients will be women/men/youth/children who will be struggling against systems that are oppressing them, and as counsellors we need to be aware of this.

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In class this week we watched the documentary film entitled Finding Dawn. I have actually had the privilege of watching this film twice prior to this viewing in class, but watching it the third time did not change how powerful the film was for me. Finding Dawn is an important film which sheds light on the issue of the missing First Nations women in British Columbia. What this film raises on a deeper level however, are the major social prejudices and the systemic racism that exists in Canadian society. Although I have not done any extensive research on the missing First Nations women in BC, I have looked at the history of the Canadian legal system and its interactions with and regulating of First Nations women. When I watched Finding Dawn, and reflected on my previous readings of the Canadian justice system, there are clear parallels that exist: the Canadian legal system is racist; the Canadian legal system is sexist; the Canadian legal system is classist. Dawn’s brother, Ernie, made an insightful and very truthful statement during the film: Had the missing women been white, middle-upper class individuals, there would have been a much larger and thorough investigation of the disappearances. This is because the society in which we live privileges white-skinned, middle-upper class folks, and oppresses those folks who do not fit into this mold.

During the discussion after the film, one of my classmates drew reference from the disappeared First Nations women of BC to the disappeared peoples of South American countries in the 1970s during the ruling military dictatorships. While I had indeed already drawn that connection, in terms of how we are to mourn and grieve the loss of people without knowing their true fate, I began to think about the ways in which the Canadian government parallels the once very powerful military juntas of Latin America. While I would not put these two governing bodies on the same level as one another, there are striking similarities that should not go ignored: i.) both governing bodies contributed to the violation of citizens’ rights, ii.) both governing bodies committed acts of violence to citizens through the implementation of rules/laws.

I found Finding Dawn to be an incredibly emotional film to begin with. And then when my classmate made reference to the difficult process of grieving the loss of someone who has been disappeared, I felt very drained, sad, and angry. It angers me to know that so many lives have been lost because they are not valued the same as other Canadian citizens. Who is the Canadian government, the police, the justice system to make judgement on the value of a person?

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In class this week we looked at public and social policy. From my understanding, public policy guides the rights and needs of citizens, whereas social policy is more specific in its focus on welfare and social programming. Social policy can only reach as far as public policies allow. Since the late 1980s/early 1990s, there has been a growing shift of Canadian policy from its position as a welfare state to one which has adopted a neoliberal position. The result has been a serious cut of funding to social assistance programs. I came across this term, ‘neoliberalism’ a few years back, and did not grasp the idea too clearly because I did not have any experience with how this shift affected society.

Having been a volunteer at the Sexual Assault / Rape Crisis Centre of Peel (SARCCP) for two years now, I have seen first hand how neoliberalism has changed the programming at the Centre. Two years ago there was a staff position dedicated to community events/relations, and another to public education. Today, both of these positions have been cut, and the responsibilities these positions had have been absorbed by all remaining staff members. For obvious reasons, this has placed a tremendous amount of pressure and responsibility on the remaining staff members, as they now have to fulfill all of the duties of the previous staff’s positions on top of their own. This has left the remaining staff in positions where they are overworked and therefore potentially more irritable and frustrated. Think about the effect this will have on clients! This frustration may come across to clients as insincerity, rudeness or even disinterest. This has the potential to damage the counsellor-client relationship, possibly sending the client away without receiving any assistance. Through this example, I have grown more conscious of the ways in which neoliberalism is affecting the social service sector, and consequently leaving those individuals in need of support and social services in a worse position.

In order to further my understanding of the ways in which public and social policy affect social justice organizations, I will be working on the Social Policy Assignment in the context of reproductive rights. I look forward to researching the ways in which policy changes have been detrimental and/or beneficial to women in terms of the ability to make choices and decisions about their own bodies and reproductive systems.

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