Reporting Sexual Assault

What I have to say does not apply only to sexual assault; the principles apply more widely than that. But it is the focus.
Filing a complaint about sexual assault is scary; as making noise about any way you have been offended against can also be. At best it is a nuisance; at worst, you get to go on trial, in a sense, as if the whole thing was your fault. Actually it can get worse than that. You can get hostile questions and then have to go out into a world that feels perfectly free to intimidate and threaten you because you opened your mouth instead of keeping it shut.
I wish it was easier, because way too often the onus is on the wrong party. But it’s not. Reality steps in, in the sense that we have to live in this world the way it is, not the way we want it to be. (We can work to change it, though; that is an option.)
You have no doubt already said “Stop that” or “That’s not okay” to the offender, as well as attempting to physically fight that person off. Maybe you bargained with them to get them to leave you alone. Now it is time to bring in backup in a sense, to decide whether to involve someone else, someone with a bit more authority.
Law enforcement is frequently involved. Unless you are dealing with an exceptionally astute officer, there is a very good chance they will just sit on the report unless the offender has a record of convictions, or unless you can present some physical or witness evidence,
At this point, please do not give up. Please be aware that you may well be the first person to complain about this particular offender. But guess what: If you don’t report an offense, then it legally never took place. So please consider reporting it anyway. If you can bring yourself to. Because people seldom offend only once. There will likely be another victim, and another…And sooner or later, someone with enforcement powers will have to pay attention, someone will have to realize that two or three or 20 people are unlikely to maliciously concoct the same story about the same person.
If you can find the courage, think seriously about making sure there is a paper trail. It took decades with Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein, but the attention those cases eventually garnered will likely make future reports more likely to be attended to. Hopefully.

Being Believed

emotions-Tino SmithAn acquaintance of mine (No, mot a client) sought counseling after suffering abuse that would rival stories more likely to be heard from oppressed women in third-world countries. The counselor’s response? “You read too much; those things don’t happen.” I’m amazed this person kept trying till they found someone to take them seriously.
In contrast, when I survived an abusive situation several years ago and attended a support group, I was immediately believed. That was incredibly therapeutic.
To be fair, there is the occasional person who lies about being abused, usually with some ulterior motive in mind such as gaining a legal advantage. These people make it more difficult for true victims, and should be ashamed of themselves. The overwhelming majority, however, are far more likely to understate the extent of their suffering, and are not at all prone to exaggeration.
This need to be heard, and believed, applies to a plethora of situations and/or experiences. For those who have never heard of Re-evaluation Co-counseling—yes, I am aware that that is the overwhelming majority of the population—it is a movement instituted by Harvey Jackins and is geared toward non-professionals. In a nutshell, 2 or more people share their stories with one another, process the attendant emotions, and ultimately reach resolution. The theory is that processing of the emotions, what Freud referred to as catharsis, is necessary and sufficient for coming to terms with an individual’s angst.
The part I find interesting is, a group member may not wish to share their actual story. They are sometimes told “Then make a story up; it will have the same emotional content.” (Sometimes I wonder if histrionics who invent lies for attention have this end in mind.)
Memory can be a funny thing. Often people will recall the gist of an event but details will get confused. Memories are frequently “chunked” with other memories. Essentially, when the details of a story turn out to be inaccurate, this does not mean a person is lying; they are giving you their own best and most honest recollection.
As a counselor, it is not my job to grill a client regarding the accuracy of their recollection. My job is to help them process the event and help them develop the best possible coping skills and help to make peace with their own unique traumatic history. This starts with listening to, and believing, their story.

e-Counseling and Ethics

diital-touch-310257-sI have been hearing a lot lately about “e-counseling”. I have no plans to join that movement.
Anyone who comes into my office deserves a personal counseling relationship, which is absent in “e-counseling.” You will see the word in quotes here because I don’t regard it as true counseling.
A critical part of my professional work involves watching your facial and body signals: Are you hesitant, bold, teary-eyed? Are you unable to stop nervously tapping your foot? Are your words in sync with your facial expressions? Is your voice shaking?
Some would argue those things can be picked up in a Skype interview. I would argue that they cannot; it is not the same as being in a room with someone, with the feeling you are in that safe place with a caring professional. And Skype is not HIPAA-compliant.
To me, “e-counseling” is a high-priced version of Dear Abby. Or if you go for the better quality advice columnist, Carolyn Hax. Ms. Hax is a true professional advice columnist, excellent at what she does. She is thoughtful in her answers, and leaves the reader with plenty to ponder. And she does not pass her column off as “e-counseling.”
You know what happens when you send off a hurried e-mail, and it gets misinterpreted because your facial expressions and body language could not be conveyed. Frequently the words alone are inadequate.
Are there times when “e-counseling” can be beneficial? Yes. If you are located between nothing and nowhere and cannot physically get to the counselor’s office. Or if you have already established a counseling relationship before you move out of state. But it’s really not the same.
What about benefits to using the internet before seeing a live counselor? Some people do this in order to screw up the courage to call and make that first appointment. Great. So long as you are aware of both the benefits and limitations.
I received an actual survey from a company that fully intends to set up an “e-counseling” business and wanted my opinion about what was and was not ethical to do. That strikes me as very similar to saying “What would be the most ethical way to mislead your sister?” There isn’t one!