In the 1980s I held a part-time job as a psychiatric crisis counselor for an emergency room nearby my home in Long Beach.
I carried a beeper and was on call nights and weekends. I handled some of the crises over the phone. Many calls required my presence at either the ER or, in some cases, the police station.
The calls involved people with thoughts or actions related to suicide; substance use issues; family conflicts; or people with mental illness experiencing disturbing symptoms such as hallucinations or delusions.
Sometimes crisis calls were more benign. They included people seeking advice or referrals, or people who simply wanted to make human contact in the middle of the night to combat their loneliness.
A few of the crisis calls have not escaped my memory.
One of them involved a young black woman who told me that she had been raped. She said she came to the ER to request an examination.
In the course of my intervention in the ER I asked the on-duty nurse if the woman was given a “rape kit,” a sexual assault forensic exam to preserve potential DNA evidence and receive important medical care. The nurse said she had not.
When I asked why not, she gestured with her head towards the chief emergency room physician and rolled her eyes.
I approached him and asked him the same question, “Why not?” With no change of expression, he said matter-of-factly, “Because she’s crazy.”
I said, “What has that got to do with it.” He did not respond.
I returned to the woman and asked her again, “Would you like to be examined?” She nodded yes.
I circled back to the doctor and said, “If you’re telling me that you are refusing her a “rape kit,” I am including that in my crisis note which will be read by government officials that support this hospital. I will state that the patient reported being raped, requested a rape kit and that you denied her the examination.” He appeared surprised to be challenged and finally said, “I’ll give her a kit but don’t ever question my authority again.”
As I was following the proceedings leading up to the most recent Supreme Court nomination and the protests led by women, I found the term “rape culture” popping up repeatedly on social media.
Emilie Buchwald, author of “Transforming a Rape Culture” describes rape culture as “a complex of beliefs that encourages male sexual aggression and supports violence against women. A rape culture condones physical and emotional terrorism against women as the norm.”
Women Against Violence Against Women Rape Crisis Centre in Vancouver, B.C., Canada further states that “rather than viewing the culture of rape as a problem to change, people in a rape culture think about the persistence of rape as just the way things are.”
Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of rape culture is that, to a large extent, it is accepted as inevitable when, in fact, it is an “expression of values and attitudes that can change.”
Parents can teach their children not to condone sexual violence in everyday language and reject the sexual denigration of women and girls. Schools can teach comprehensive sex education that includes values and attitudes. The justice system can punish rapists and not their victims.
And, medical personnel who perform forensic exams can be properly trained.
Andrew Malekoff is the executive director of North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center, which provides comprehensive mental health services for children from birth through 24 and their families. To find out more, visitwww.northshorechildguidance.org.