I recently joined an agency whose mission relates to the stabilization, care and healing of kids in crisis. The agency’s culture and model of care revolves around an idea called trauma informed care. At the center of this model lives the realization that some kind of trauma happened to these kids. With this realization, we do not ask “What’s wrong with you?”, rather “What happened to you?”
As allies in the fight against sexual assault, we need to lead a similar paradigm shift when we support victims of sexual assault. Just accepting and understanding that a trauma has occurred and taking this view to our communities would be a good first step. But then a trauma informed model pushes us to accept that we must help stabilize, care for, and heal victims - without judgment. Some (perhaps not readers of this blog post) have a difficult time with the “without judgment” part of the trauma informed model. How do we lead this paradigm shift in our community?
The idea of Historical Contingency (future events are caused by a unique past) can inform our interaction and relationship with victims of sexual assault and bring the same to the larger community. If we can agree that events share a cause and effect structure then we can view a sexual assault as an event caused by other specific events in a certain context. This cause and effect structure is actually at the root of victim blaming so prevalent in our culture. But, this cause and effect structure can also be at the root of our counter argument if framed by the ideas of Historical Contingency.
We have all heard the insane chorus; “if she was not wearing this or that”, “if she would have not been drinking, or if she had planned ahead the attack would not have happened”. Historical Contingency asks, “How do you know?” How do you know what would or would not have caused the attack to happen? How do you know if it was what she was wearing, or where she was, or what plan she had would have changed the outcome? How do you know?
Historical Contingency makes a distinction between events with necessary causes and events with contingent causes. Put another way, for the outcome that did happen, could only one thing cause it or could many causes still have resulted in the same outcome? Were the events that lead up to the attack necessary (could the causes have not lead to any other outcome) or were the events contingent (could many causes have still lead to the same outcome)?
If the causes were necessary or contingent, it does not matter. No matter what the circumstances are or how many times we run through a scenario the only person that is responsible for sexual assault is the offender. The victim is never at fault no matter what she/he does. And all that matters is that the trauma occurred and forever impacts the victim. The critical point; the necessary cause of a sexual assault is always the attacker. The surrounding circumstances, the other causes, should not be part of our conversation.
Jim Doyle – Founder, Self-Protection.org