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Abstract

When I was a student in the 70’s I took a year off to travel the world with a friend. Despite taking every precaution, I was sexually assaulted twice. The incidents changed the course of my life. I completed my studies and began working in a refuge for battered women. There I bore witness, not only to unimaginable cruelty, but to widespread institutional indifference to women’s suffering. Decades later, police, judicial and child welfare responses remain inadequate in Canada (as everywhere), and mental health practitioners continue to routinely blame and pathologize women. As a counselor, first at the shelter, later in a police crisis unit, I struggled to know how to respond when women sought my guidance. Should they report being beaten, raped, threatened with death? Should they seek treatment for depression? Could they lose their children? Could they be charged for defending themselves against their batterers? Women were looking for reassurances that I couldn’t give. What I could give them was tools to understand the forces acting upon their lives. I began to incorporate a feminist analysis into my work, including a sociology lesson and consciousness-raising in every session. I started bringing women together in groups, where many problems considered personal and psychological were recognized as common and social, requiring political solutions. For many women, reflecting on their problems from a feminist perspective was truly liberating and empowering.

Note on the Author

Donna F. Johnson taught a graduate seminar in feminist practice at the School of Social Work, Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada, from 2007-2014.

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