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Posts Tagged ‘policy’

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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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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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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