PEACEFUL IMPACT – BLOG
What does an abuse victim need to be able to disclose information to catch the perpetrators?
Carita Kilpinen, a mother, entrepreneur, graphic designer, artist, trauma survivor, together with Anssi Leikola, psychiatrist, therapist, author, trauma survivor answer a question by Jan Gysi, Psychiatrist, psychotherapist, speaker, author, chair of the organizing committee of the ESTD conference 2017
5 March 2018
What bothers me as a therapist, is the difficulties many survivors have disclosing important information on perpetrators, the places and times they meet, and other significant hints. In your book you write that you tried to disclose the abuse to the police but were treated disrespectfully, so you obviously tried to become active. In my daily work with survivors, however, I observe how difficult it is for patients to provide details which might be helpful to maybe track down on perpetrators. Do you have an idea what survivors need to disclose?

A difficult question but one worth asking.

This is the kind of “difficult” question I personally have been waiting for and looked for in the ESTD 2017 conference. I am very glad that you had the courage to ask me this. As I said before I feel that it is a sign of respect and a form of trust.

In the book Five Survivors, a Hundred Lives, I have written a chapter about justice and I quite briefly also mention that I tried to disclose my abuse to the authorities. I was not met with compassion or respect and the outcome of visit to the police was a re-traumatising event for me. It took me a long time to recover from this experience. Also later on this visit to the police was used against me in an failed attempt to discredit me in a court case where I was as a witness. Of this unfortunately I cannot discuss further because the case was announced classified against our will, but by the wish of the opposing party.

When I wrote my part in our book I hadn’t yet confronted my abusers in the court of which I mentioned above. Even though the court case was not directly about me, I found it very difficult and it had the potential of being a destructive and re-traumatizing experience. Fortunately I am quite far in my healing process and have the necessary tools from trauma therapy in order to keep my inner parts safe and not to fall back in to my traumatic past. Even though it took me all I had to encounter my abusers face to face in a situation of “war”. I can imagine that if this would have taken place earlier on my therapeutic journey the effects would have been disastrous for me yet again.

I did take something positive with me from the experience too. After sitting about five hours in the same waiting room in the hard and cold benches of the intimidating courthouse and staring my abusers straight to the eye, my family member asked me;
You now have the chance to walk over and say anything you want; what would you like to say to your mother?”. I then realised I didn´t have anything that I wanted to say to her. I looked straight at her and answered. “I have nothing left to say. Once I get up from this seat and walk away, I am free.”

I realised, that was the closest to justice I was ever going to get, and I truly internalized the thing which I also wrote in the book that there is no conviction the justice department could ever give that would reflect the crimes done to me and consequences these crimes had over my life. The “justice” or “closure” I feel I got from this experience was more due to the fact that I understood being so far advanced in my healing that I was able to keep my mind safe in this difficult situation and to observe and realize the lie that my abusers continued to hide behind.

The important question in my mind is the dilemma of how to get these kinds of people in the necessary care they truly need and how to protect people so they wont fall a victim.  A prison sentence will not repair the damage they have inside them nor will it protect the possible future victims once they have returned to society. A person does not born evil or broken in to this world. Evil does not simply appear from nowhere. In this line of thought the justice system is build fundamentally wrong. It’s a big and unnerving thought and I understand the urge to turn the other way in such a massive realisation. I get that same empty feeling in my stomach now as I´m staring right into the mental health care system where hard medications are really the only excepted “cure” for most mental illness.

Photograph James Pond via Unsplash
What a person who is broken by traumatic experiences need is someone to believe them. They need a safe environment to share their experiences and thoughts. To share the emotion that is often the most horrifying thing! When broken in pieces these do not come hand in hand; experience (picture), thought and feeling. It takes time and a lot of repetition to bring these “things” closer to each other. To actually remember something coherently and understand its meaning, you first must learn the concept of safety and this can take years! By this time the laws we have in Finland, usually make sure that the crimes have been “outdated” in the eyes of the justice department.

One must also remember that there are no identical people in terms of experience and thought. Even though as a species we have a lot of similarities and biological coping mechanisms that we all share. Experiences and the way we interpret them are always subjective and unique. That is why it is impossible to create a “one size fits all” system. That is why I think the therapeutic approach and the juridical approach have very little shared ground.

A note by Anssi Leikola

So what is needed for a legal process could even be harmful for the therapeutic goals.
If therapy has not lasted long enough, if there is not enough shared feelings of being really helped and having success, there is probably not enough trust, and the juridical investigations and processes quite commonly produces unsafety, which could easily be controversial in therapeutic point of view. And it is almost a rule that the basic trust is compromised among traumatized people.

Also it is a huge question, how much support outside therapy is needed, in order to have a good chance to really gain something from the legal process.

Trauma-related beliefs, like “it was my own fault”, are one common obstacle why people cannot defend themselves properly in general, but also in a court of law.

The main reason why people can not produce information about their traumatic past is related to, in a way or another, the structural dissociation of their personality. The trauma memories are bound to intolerable emotions, which if triggered uncontrollable ways, increase the basic avoidance of this material. And this is controversial for the therapeutic agenda. Also usually people have in the past trials of having told someone about the trauma and being not accepted or believed, and the sharing process has been unsuccessful. Then it is not wise to speak it out easily in the future. A special case is the “malign hypnotic suggestion”, which means the perpetrator have forbid telling anyone by some threats. Persons adult part could be even unaware of this situation. So there could be quite a minefield, if therapist do not know enough about the case history.One must also remember that there are no identical people in terms of experience and thought. Even though as a species we have a lot of similarities and biological coping mechanisms that we all share. Experiences and the way we interpret them are always subjective and unique. That is why it is impossible to create a “one size fits all” system. That is why I think the therapeutic approach and the juridical approach have very little shared ground.

So, the annoyingly simple and short answer to your question is safety, connection, acknowledgement, trust, time and patience. There are no shortcuts.
Photograph by Alex Stuart via Unsplash
Also I think it’s extremely important to carefully and objectively ponder up on the motives and expectations of reaching for juridical justice and the possible benefits and risks of it. At least in Finland there are many risks involved.

#traumacanbehealed

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