Triggering and justice

I do not have any kind of formal PTSD diagnosis, although it’s been suggested a few times by people qualified to say, that it might be an issue for me. To get a diagnosis, I’ve have to show up and answer questions, and I have resisted this strenuously. This week really required me to look hard at what’s happening there.

I’ve just had a wholly different situation in which professional scrutiny was an option. It went fairly painlessly, and well on the day, but the level of anxiety, panic attacks and flashbacks beforehand were startling. I haven’t been like that over anything in a while. If you suffer from PTSD, then you will have triggers that give flashbacks and really bad reactions. I do seem to have these symptoms, and it would appear that professional scrutiny is a trigger for me. This makes it nigh on impossible to bear the prospect of asking for proper help.

How I might have got here is no great mystery. People who experience trauma and who are not helped are more vulnerable to being further traumatised. There is nothing worse for a trauma victim than being made to revisit the memories, but for several years, I was repeatedly forced into contact with professional people who demanded I did just that. Every new professional in the equation wanted a retelling of the worst things that have happened to me, so they could come to their own decision about whether or not I was telling the truth.

What that adds up to is ten different occasions when I had to talk in detail about traumatic experiences. There was also one hideous physical examination. Most of the professional people I had to deal with were not professionals when it came to dealing with my issues – they had other roles, and no training in how to minimise the damage for me. Several of them were disbelieving and hostile, putting me in situations of having to revisit trauma whilst being told off, blamed, humiliated and otherwise made to feel awful and responsible. Several were keen to minimise both the physical and psychological impact of what I’d experienced. Perhaps because they did not understand and were unable to imagine. The one additional round of talking to a professional who was in the mix just to help me – a counsellor – resulted in being taken seriously, but by then I was so damaged and demoralised by how I’d been treated by other professionals, that I found it difficult to make good use of her time.

In any compassionate situation, what happens to a trauma victim post-trauma is that support is given to make sure they do not carry a sense of blame or responsibility for what happened. This is key to recovery. However, we have an adversarial court system, and what I’ve been put through is the exact opposite. I had years of a process of being blamed, held accountable and told it was my fault and my failing, or that I was lying. The idea of professional scrutiny has become unbearable to me, and there is now no way I could now bear to submit to letting anyone try and help me with this.

What troubles me most about this is the certainty that it won’t just be me. All victims of crime are vulnerable to feelings of distress and trauma. Victims of violent and sexual crimes are likely to be traumatised by their experiences, and to need professional support to overcome this. What we have instead is this adversarial justice system that exposes victims to hostile questioning, requires them to repeat, in great detail the worst things that have happened to them, thus increasing the trauma, and where attempts to humiliate and discredit are pretty much a given. This is not justice. Even if you win, having to endure the process is not justice. Given our increasing levels of understanding about human psychology, this whole process needs a radical rethink. I do not have any answers, but I feel strongly that we need to be asking questions.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, polyamourous animist, ant-fash, anti-capitalist, bisexual steampunk. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

13 responses to “Triggering and justice

  • joannavanderhoeven

    I’ve often wondered about the court system, especially when it is a jury of “our peers” deciding our fate, of how much this affects those who have been traumatised by events. Sometimes is almost feels like people are waiting to hear “the dirt” on an individual, or in a case – it’s our culture of celebrity and exposition of people that our society so loves to indulge in, for whatever reason. The harsh questioning of the other party does not help in any way to alleviate the suffering of the person involved – they are merely trying to see if the other person is “lying”. There is no one universal truth, and life is experienced differently by every single being on this planet. An overhaul of our medical and judicial systems are very much needed – both are archaic and unsympathetic to the needs of a person going through crisis.

  • hotch60

    I too suffer from several traumatic events, two quite brutal. And though the events themselves are decades apart, it seems to me that the psychological impact on me has been, continues to be – exponential. I agree we need a change. A radical change to our perception of who and what a victim is, and how they are treated versus mistreated. Sadly, at my age – I think we are a very very long way off from seeing this happen, as those in power in the US are mostly older men who view women as tools. Unequal. They forget they had/have mothers, sisters, wives and daughters, all of whom give them credibility in their own life, and are credible humans for the very existence here. Knowing I am not alone, and that worse atrocities occur around the world against women does very little to minimize what is in my head. I think that women victims should not have to testify in front anyone except a judge and court reporter. Being verbally eviscerated after a physical trauma only further stresses our psyche. It is even worse when our own families doubt. I have found my solace in the woods with Mother Nature. There is no condemnation here. She does not throw any memories back in my face or taunt me with them. Blessed Be …. Peace and Namaste

    • Nimue Brown

      I think one detailed, recorded interview undertaken by a rigorous but non-hostile interviewer trained to handle victims sensitively, would go a long way to solving this. Being able to then make that available whoever needs to see it, sparing the victim the misery of going over it again and again for no real reason. We have the technology to make this simpler and kinder, but whether there’s the political will… it’s a whole other issue.

      • hotch60

        I agree! And while we have men in power in government, those of us as victims have to continue to fight back against the “good ol boy” network. Victims should not be further traumatized, nor should they be re-victimized or blamed. A long way to go before women really truly have the rights and respect men take for granted. Blessings

      • Lenora Rose

        I can definitely think of times and places where revisiting the victim in person is essential — but those times are far far less common than what you actually get in the current system. Those occasions would involve new information coming up, or a detail that needs to be clarified, and again, there’s no reason it can’t be done by someone reasonably compassionate.

        Alas, while that helps with any pre-trial situation, I can’t think of a viable replacement for court-time cross-examination without overhauling our entire justice system, and lacking a radical new idea how to create a court system that is fair to accused and victim alike, I think cross examination is rather essential to the whole idea of the accused being innocent until proven guilty.

        But until then, and court time is a vary long way into the process and after the trauma, there’s no reason not to be compassionate or take the victim’s trauma into consideration. We could do much much better.

      • Nimue Brown

        I gather not all justice systems are as adversarial, but that’s about the extent of my insight. we have already managed to change the system to both hear and protect child victims, a more creative approach to how we get testimony in the first place might be productive. As it stands, in cases where it is just one person’s word against another, nothing goes to court. Therefore it is fair to assume other evidence will exist, and that cross examination of victim testimony is not wholly key.

  • flameinthesnow

    The court systems in this country allow those who have suffered to experience trauma over and over again, as well. I find it’s only women associated with shelters or other such advocates who “get” what has happened–otherwise the triggers do come constantly.

    May healing come to you.

  • syrbal-labrys

    Even in the absence of actual PTSD diagnosis, empathy….it is a bitch. It is like walking through a fire every day, without flame proof clothing — in fact without SKIN at all. I still ask myself, even as I try to limit my exposure to manage my own functionality, what purpose I can find in such naked suffering – of my own AND others.

  • literaryvittles

    The old “you have to talk through it to get through it” mentality is often the opposite of helpful. Modern psychoanalysis is largely to blame for that, I think. There are other ways to examine ones feelings apart from talking about trauma directly, but there seems to be an assumption that catharsis must necessarily follow “confession.”

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