Saturday, May 31, 2014

The Loss of a Hero

I admit I was crestfallen last night when I received a letter from the Somaly Mam foundation announcing the resignation of their beloved co-founder, Somaly Mam. The foundation is dedicated to eradicating the trafficking and sexual exploitation of girls and women in Southeast Asia. Their vision is breathtaking: a world where women and girls are safe from trafficking and sexual exploitation.

Somaly Mam is charismatic and beautiful, and she has raised millions of dollars for a cause she believes in. She is a magnet for celebrities. She has been instrumental in educating the public about the pervasive crimes and atrocities of sex trafficking in Cambodia and elsewhere.

Why she resigned.

An article this week in Newsweek questioned the truth of Somaly Mam’s inspiring personal story about being sold into a brothel for ten years, by a man she knew as “grandfather.” She told this story hundreds of times at fundraisers and educational events and she wrote about it in her memoir, The Road of Lost Innocence. More disconcerting are the accusations and evidence that Somaly Mam encouraged young women to lie and fabricate stories of their own sexual slavery, in service of media exposure and to help get attention for the foundation and to raise funds. After an investigation of these charges, Somaly Mam resigned.

So do we need to care about her story?

Feminist writer Amanda Marcotte’s article “Somaly Mam and the Cult of Glamorized Victimhood,” in The Daily Beast says that this story “should be a wake-up call, an opportunity for people in the feminist and non-profit world to seriously consider some troubling trends that may hamper the long-term ability to enact change. Namely, there’s way too much emphasis being put on heroic figures overcoming adversity and too little attention paid to systems of oppression.”

Her point is well taken. She invites us to see this story in a larger context: “it’s important not to give into the urge to see the Somaly Mam ouster as an anomaly, so much as the inevitable result of a culture that puts more emphasis on heroic tales of triumph than on bigger picture questions of health and inequality. Mam made up tales of woe because she knew it would attract attention and fundraisers that a more sober assessment of realities would not. That she was right should give us all cause to wonder about reorganizing our social justice priorities.”

Now What?

Amanda Marcotte’s thoughtful and compelling comments should give us all pause. I wonder now do we immerse ourselves in these reflections about the larger context, a context that we who care deeply about oppression, captivity and sexual exploitation of young women, might need to understand?

Or is the answer that we need to pay more attention to how we turn away from the ordinary, pervasive and less glamorous silencing of screams and the devastation of girls, and women’s disempowerment and abuse, in our own back yards?


Somaly Mam’s contributions should be honored.

But Somaly Mam is not just another writer who, like James Frey, fabricated a memoir. Somaly Mam fooled many donors and celebrities with her stories. But more important are the hundreds of girls she misled, girls who loved her, believed in her and admired her. She was their hero in a world where betrayal and abuse was all they had known. She gave them a place to go, a sanctuary. Her life was a testament and her story gave them hope. She asked girls, girls who were in her care, to tell false stories too. She was beloved and she has fallen. She betrayed those she had promised so much. That is hard to overlook and we must not.

-Laurie Kahn LCPC, MFA
Director of Womencare Counseling Center

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Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Event: A Guide to the Treatment of Complex Traumatic Stress Disorders

Trauma Informed: A Guide to the Treatment of Complex Traumatic Stress Disorders

Date: Friday, May 23rd, 2014
Time: 9:00am - 4:00pm
Credit: 6 CEUs. Womencare Counseling Center is approved by the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation to provide Continuing Education Units to social workers (LSW/ LCSW), professional counselors (LPC, LCPC) and Marriage and Family Therapists (LMFT).
Location: Hilton Garden Inn, 1818 Maple Avenue, Evanston IL
Register: online, by phone at 847-491-0530, or by mail with this form.

About this workshop:

Complex Posttraumatic Stress is often the consequence of prolonged and repeated interpersonal trauma which has occurred during the developmentally vulnerable time of childhood. Most often these events involve abuse and/or neglect by primary caretakers.

We will describe the tri-phasic model of treatment and the special considerations for dissociative disorders, including challenges to sustaining the therapeutic alliance, creating safety, establishing affect regulation, stabilization, and the integration of traumatic experience.

This workshop is designed for mental health professionals who want to learn how to better provide treatment for some of our most injured populations. It is appropriate both for therapists new to the field and those more experienced frontline professionals who want to deepen their work by understanding the impact and treatment of Complex Posttraumatic Stress Disorders.

This workshop will address:

  • The special challenges for clinicians in sustaining a therapeutic relationship with those who have survived ongoing childhood abuse or neglect.
  • The phases of treatment and the corresponding tasks in each phase.
  • Both the psycho-physiological impact of abuse and neglect and the relational implications.
  • Helping traumatized clients learn to restore feelings as signals that promote effective problem solving.
  • Engaging clients in a self-reflective process about ­previously disowned aspects of traumatic experience.
  • The function and creation of dissociative defenses.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Response to “Military Sex Assault Claims Rise After Pentagon Launches Campaign Urging Victims to Report”

(See the original article Judith is responding to here)

Although frightening, this headline is really good news, given the military’s long and shameful history of reporting and prosecuting sexual violence. This article speaks to the new initiatives created and how they are making a more open, less shaming culture for victims of sexual violence to report to their ranking officers. This has also created a dramatic increase of the amount of sexual violence reported in the military culture. 

The tragedy is that the abuse and violence has been happening all along. But now, soldiers feel more permission to report the sexual abuse. 

"There is still a misperception that this is a women's issue and women's crime," said Nate Galbreath, the senior executive adviser for the Pentagon's sexual assault prevention office. "It's disheartening that we have such a differential between the genders and how they are choosing to report." 

This article also highlights the efforts of the military to connect to and encourage men in the military to report when they are victimized. In 2012, around 14,000 men and 12,000 women reported that they were sexually abused. The study’s report emphasized their belief that low numbers of men are reporting their sexual abuse. The seeming disparity in the actual numbers reported is due to the overwhelming ratio of men to women in the military. 

They believe that the numbers are much higher for the male soldiers. One theory around their unwillingness to report is largely due to military culture. There is a commonly held belief that “it will make people think they are weak and will trigger questions of their sexual orientation. In most cases sexual orientation has nothing to do with the assault and it is an issue of power and abuse,” said Nate Galbreath. 

Rape and sexual violence is about power and control not about gender, sexuality or physical power. It is a very hopeful and positive shift in the US military that they are strong voices speaking out. The hope is now more victims will be able to be heard and get justice though the military court.

-Written by Judith Ierulli, MSW, LCSW

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