What to actually do about #MeToo and why

Me, too. The question is what else to do about it. As a lawyer I feel a duty here.

Last year I started a collaborative website & twitter feed about trauma & law (traumainformedlaw.org and @traumalaw). Trauma includes sexual assault. Share this post or follow on twitter if you can.Steve Brady has been kind enough to contribute & collaborate. (Thanks Steve.) The #MeToo issue is part of how trauma impacts law & vice versa. Here’s what I’ve learned so far and how it impacts our call to action:

-stigma alone is still a huge reason many do not report assault. I once asked my mother, who was also #MeToo, what (if anything) I could do about this issue on her behalf one day. She said #1 issue is to fix the stigma.

-childhood abuse or a family trauma pattern of sexual abuse increases the chance of sexual assault later on as an adult. It can be an intergenerational issue in families. (Again #MeToo.) Other factors can increase the chances of assault such as being part of the LGBTQ community, disability and racial discrimination. Case in point: the tragedy of Canadian aboriginal missing and murdered women.

-many survivors (or victims) say they regret reporting & the trial process was as traumatizing or more traumatizing than the assault itself. See pic below. What this means: Trauma can be a barrier to access to justice. Legal systems are failing to serve some of society’s most pernicious & traumatic issues. And doing little to reduce sexual assault in society.

-the legal system is doing itself & its own people a disservice when it ignores the impact of trauma. It’s not keeping up with current psychological knowledge & possibly worsening secondary trauma. The legal system needs trauma training. Here’s how it works: a traumatic event can impact the way a victim remembers assault (from the brain hyperencoding info relevant to actually surviving). This can result in memory that may appear nonlinear, and narrative that might also seem nonlinear. Or result in victims who are in “survival learning” mode and need specialized resources so they can prepare for reporting & predict what comes next. All of this frustrates police, lawyers & judges because their training (without knowledge of trauma) tells them nonlinear memory or testimony likely means lying & impacts credibility analysis. (Or survival learning mode is seen, without trauma knowledge, as “the client is not able to understand.”) So then the focus becomes an unrealistic credibility analysis given the trauma. And the process of seeing constantly traumatized victims (worsened by the system) does not help legal professionals with vicarious trauma. Legal professionals can go into burnout or compassion fatigue from the trauma they regularly see and may be unintentionally worsening due to lack of trauma training. Finally, general assumptions about linear memory & testimony embed all this stuff in the whole legal system unless expert evidence is sought or trauma-informed approaches are used.

-”post-assault contact” is fairly common and does not automatically imply a credibility issue. Ask rape crisis centre staff about this. They know & see it.

-many people sadly confide to me that they have considered suicide due to the trauma of #MeToo. So many. Way too many. Could write a whole book just on this topic. Including about my own mother. (In fact I’m now writing a draft of that book.)

-many survivors / victims also say they want to change the system but don’t know how & feel disempowered. Plus they have REAL physical, emotional, social, mental and spiritual injuries (chronic pain, body armoring, immune system issues & more) for which there are few treatments. And where treatment is possible there’s often little funding. Survivors & victims are tapped out. Sexual assault is a completely uninsured injury. News flash: there is no rape insurance. Advocacy is needed here.

-you would be surprised how many men tell me they’re part of #MeToo themselves. They are often even more isolated or feel more stigmatized. Again, could write another book here. Thank you male friends for trusting me enough to speak. Really.

-can you believe there is no one global or national organization that provides real, accessible police reporting or trial support (or support referrals), or education about the impact of trauma or support for the costs of post-trauma care? I can’t. It’s 2017!?! “Victim Services” organizations often do not provide basic info about trauma impact. It took a grieving mother whose life was shattered by a drunk driver killing her daughter speaking very personally about the tragic loss of her daughter to create MADD. We need the same type of mobilizing education & advocacy on this issue. Legal clinics & women’s centres do not have anywhere near the level of resources they need to deal with the magnitude of this issue. It’s paradigm shift time.
We need a MADD equivalent for sexual assault. Again, really.

-on top of lack of advocacy, if you happened to know a predator (or someone at risk of becoming one) can you name one specialized treatment program or resource you could send them to? Even one (other than just saying they need therapy)…? There’s a concerning vacuum here. If AA or rehab didn’t exist I don’t think we would all be surprised that drunk driving might remain mostly unchanged. Same logic here. Education or treatment for assailants isn’t a comfortable topic but eventually we need to deal with it. Our current approach is not sophisticated enough. Prison (or other exclusion like sex offender lists) alone is an insufficient policy tool. We can do better.

So where’s the hope? Plenty.

- we have an opportunity to create an advocacy group for sexual assault similar to MADD that spans generations. To powerfully speak the silenced truths of the past & present so we no longer defer this tragedy to future generations. Do you want your teenage niece to post #MeToo?? Hell no!!! Me neither. But that’s the reality of what will happen if we do not act now, together.

- we know more about trauma & neurobiology & intergenerational patterns than ever before so we have real tools to work with. Yes! Hope!!

- many jurisdictions & areas of law are (separately) introducing elements of “trauma informed care”. Which is basically acknowledging within the legal process the psychological & neurobiological impact of trauma. We just need to collect and start applying these resources to sexual assault in real time. I’ve started gathering part of this…but collective advocacy is needed. Otherwise it will be decades before the patchwork quilt of law creates a workable solution. (Since common law develops by jurisdiction and area of law, gradually over time.). We have a chance to develop best practices. To ask survivors “what did you experience” instead of “what’s wrong with you”.

-right now, today, you can support in Canada Bill C-337 so federal judges will get mandatory training on sexual assault that includes trauma. I wrote about this together with someone I respect. See link.


So…It’s time to get to work and heed the call to actual action of #MeToo…!

To form what will become the “mothers of daughters” against sexual assault advocacy group (since this spans generations). To change the laws & procedures NOW. To bring trauma-informed support to every level of legal systems — for us, for others, for police, for legal professionals, judges, prisons and the rest of the system. The majority of female prisoners have experienced sexual violence BTW. To realize that for every assault there is an assailant and we need to take bold but safe steps to reach them (the actual human person who is the assailant) and find & apply tools to change their behavior sooner rather than later or their part in this cycle of violence will remain unaffected. And we’ll have to do another #MeToo campaign all over again way too soon.

So who’s doing the website and social media? Who will name it? Who will join? Let’s find a way to make big change now so our daughters don’t have to.