Many of us cringe when we read some of the forward-looking legal decisions that find psychiatric detention to be arbitrary, because they are cases of rapists who have been civilly committed either instead of going to prison or after the prison term expired.
Where are the cases, and where is the outrage, on behalf of women who are doubly victimized by rapists and the psychiatric system that treats our anger, grief and disorientation as fodder for their human experimentation? We talk about this, it is common enough knowledge that the concept of trauma-informed approaches in mental health originated in the advocacy of female survivors of psychiatry who wanted to be met with support and not revictimization. Yet this response keeps the power and hegemony of the mental health system, including psychiatry, intact, assimilating both the politics and impact of rape into ‘mental health needs’, and carving out a specialty of trauma-informed care and avoidance of re-traumatization instead of squarely facing the primary victimization perpetrated by psychiatry equal with the primary victimization perpetrated by male abusers. Intersectionality demands that we squarely face the double politics, the double violence, the double silencing and suppression and rendering of compliant female mental patients as a norm while isolating and ridiculing angry mad women with every vicious slur in the book.
I do not want rapists to be the poster children for my freedom. Throw the book at rapists in a justice system administered by women, and do away with psychiatry. What does restorative justice look like when it comes from an intersectional feminist critical disability and critical race perspective? Including justice for the victims of domination and violence. Including crying foul when speech of the victims is mis-labeled as violence, especially a trick of men used to silence women and by whites to silence people of color.
Let’s look at why the arbitrary detention of women who are doubly victimized by rape and psychiatry, women and men who are victimized by psychiatry who have not harmed anyone, women and men who are criminalized because of their race and/or disability and caught between psychiatry and penal system, why these acts of arbitrary detention are not so easy and clear for the human rights system to pronounce on. I think it has to do with concept of civil rights vs economic/social rights, and the kinds of systemic and pervasive discrimination associated with sexual politics and to some degree with racial politics end up looking fuzzy to a system that wants civil rights to be black letter law, both categorical and procedural, rather than transformative and requiring work at many levels to uproot the violations. Psychiatry as a system of human rights violations, mandated and delegated as a parallel state to enforce and reinforce the patriarchal family and its public/private divisions related to the marketplace, police and control subordinated ethnic groups and economic classes, is made invisible by its own operation, it cleans up its own trail of abuse by relying on the will of the general public to ignore what happens to those people who are made into ‘useless eaters’ and exploited for both their unpaid care of others and their economic value as objects of a paid system of control in the name of care.
The CRPD articulated the violations – detention on the basis of actual or perceived disability (mental health condition/label/diagnosis) is discriminatory, with or without any additional procedural standards and safeguards, since it is a regime that targets individuals based on a prohibited ground of discrimination. Forced interventions that target the characteristics deemed to be actual or perceived disability for manipulation, control or eradication against a person’s will or without their free and informed consent are a form of discriminatory, disability-based violence and also violate the right to legal capacity and the right to control one’s own body and health.
Yet the CRPD could not name psychiatry as starkly as I do here, due to politics and perhaps steps in a necessary line of argument in terms of what could be achieved in that process, and also because the human rights system itself does not deal well with naming systems of oppression. The CEDAW regime (treaty plus treaty body and its community of advocates) similarly cannot quite bring itself to name patriarchy or male supremacy as a system by which men exploit and expropriate resources from women and maintain a hierarchy by subordinating and violently oppressing women.
CRPD, in addition to struggling with this general feature of human rights, is a regime that comprises diverse and heterogeneous constituencies, which sometimes pull in different directions. Survivors of psychiatry struggling to name our oppression accurately and create an accurate holistic picture of the problems and remedies face a situation similar to intersectionality; the reparations framework is most appropriate for us and yet it is politically still far off to name our oppression and our constituency independently as deserving of human rights subjectivity. We fall between the cracks of the economic/social rights focus of disability rights measures such as reasonable accommodation, and civil rights with their paradigm derived from men’s public sphere of supposed procedural fairness, oblivious of race and class oppression and of hegemonic assumptions about ability that all intersect and overlap. We also fall outside of the mainstream disability movement’s attempt at holistic conceptualizing of rights, independent living, despite our attempts (one example and another example) to utilize Article 19 to say ‘us too’.
Some lessons, tentative suppositions for future direction:
- Intersectionality is key for the human rights movement of users and survivors of psychiatry / people with psychosocial disabilities. We have to explore intersectionality in real detail, with sexual politics, racial justice, class exploitation – how all these systems interact with one another and with psychiatry as a parallel state.
- Reparations framework makes the most sense conceptually to address past and present violations and prevent expansion of psychiatry in parts of the global south where it does not yet have a strong presence. However, without political will among states and significant support among human rights defenders to become our allies, it will not be feasible.
- Naming psychiatry as a parallel state, as a system of oppression linked with patriarchy, class, racialization, and the state itself as an organized mechanism of legitimized violence – as one form of political organization that is not inevitable and can be dismantled and replaced – needs to take place openly. We have to get out of the mental health discussions. Although those discussions will continue to happen and will partially advance a CRPD compliant law and policy framework now that WHO has accepted that coercive measures should be abolished, it is not going to be enough.
- We have to think in all directions and dimensions to imagine what it will take politically for any country or sub-national jurisdiction to abolish the form of disability-based arbitrary detention that has been delegated to psychiatry as a parallel state. This encompasses criminal as well as civil psychiatric commitment – known as forensic psychiatric institutions or security measures – and the entire regime of inpatient and outpatient commitment and coercive measures to enforce compliance with mental health treatments whether formal or informal. It also links with increasingly worrying law and policy in the health field generally that aim to promote compliance with certain health-related behaviors (e.g. to quit smoking, reduce body mass, get a certain amount and type of exercise, get annual flu vaccines, etc.), and to remove health records and management of health care from our own control.
- We have to confront technological developments, law and policy on the horizon that go in the managerial direction in opposition to our personal autonomy and bodily integrity, and work and fight for both our freedom and the creation of workable, non-exploitative support arrangements and relationships to sustain each other in times that are hard and frightening.
- We have to name the oppressions accurately. I thank Kathy Miriam and Ginny Brown for prodding me to accuracy on materialist feminism, Max Dashú for insisting on ‘sexual politics’ rather than ‘biology’ as the basis for gender critical feminism, and Nedra Johnson for her accuracy in naming ‘dominating sex class assigned at birth’ and ‘subjugated sex class assigned at birth’.
- Our anger can be either a good guide to where there is something missing in the dominant analysis, or a vicious bloodthirstiness that feeds on itself. Labeling oneself as a victim and therefore entitled to get away with murder is not the answer; we see too many examples to have to enumerate and those who are in the dominating class are the most likely to use ‘victim’ excuses to their advantage. Abolishing the insanity defense is one expression of this, to return to the prompt for this blog post, where I started in the first paragraph. But we neither leave everyone to the mercy of a racist, classist, sexist and absolutist penal system without changing it, nor do we take up uncritically the cause of rapists as our comrades simply because they are put into a position of vulnerability as criminal defendants or victims of psychiatric incarceration. Analysis and willingness to face hard things are both needed; small groups where we develop love and trust and tolerance among ourselves, in whatever configuration needed (for me lesbian-only or female-only is one starting point) create a base of acceptance to be able to move outward and have harder conversations without fear, and analysis developed and refined together allows us to conduct advocacy campaigns without hesitation.
Some resources on women’s double victimization:
WNUSP side event at CRPD Committee August 19, 2015
CHRUSP resources page (scroll down for ‘Forced psychiatry as violence against women’)
Hege Orefellen’s statement on behalf of WNUSP and CHRUSP in COSP 11, panel 2 on women and girls with disabilities (to be posted after it is uploaded on UN website)