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Un-natural Disasters

I have been very moved over the past weeks by the community spirit in response to the Queensland floods. It seems that our capacity for kindness and compassion, both in relation to those we know and to strangers, is in abundance at the moment.

From my experience as a social worker, I’ve been somewhat accustomed to a sense of disappointment and frustration at our collective inability to act against injustice and to work together as a community to assist people who, for a range of reasons, are suffering in some way.

So I’ve taken some hope from these experiences. But of course, I’m not content to stop there! My bigger and more ambitious hope is that we might transfer some of this kindness and compassion for people who are suffering from the traumas of these natural disasters to those whose trauma is a result of violence and misuse of power.

I feel a constant sadness at our inability to do this. I’ve had many interesting discussions with people over the past few weeks about why we’ve been able to so effectively mobilize our resources in this ‘natural’ disaster but are unable to do the same for those ‘unnatural’ disasters that we, in the welfare sector, work with on a daily basis.

I find it disturbing that we are so frequently told that we (government, the community) do not have the money or resources to respond more effectively to child abuse, or to homelessness or violence against women, or to poverty. That is clearly not the case. It is a matter, as it always is, of social and political priorities and it is this that saddens and disturbs me the most.

We know so clearly from all our work in the trauma area (our practice wisdom and our research) that the impact of a traumatic event is largely determined by the meaning the person makes of the event. While we continue to undervalue the impacts of relational trauma, survivors will more likely conclude that the traumatic event was their fault. The implications of this for their lives are huge.

These relational traumas are preventable by society. There is no good or logical reason why we cannot mobilize to prevent their occurrence. Our inability to do this says more about our social and political will than our capacity.

It seems that if there is any question about who is responsible for the trauma, we are less likely to get involved or offer support. It appears that we are at our kindest and most compassionate when we believe the traumatic event could just as easily have happened to us and when there is nobody to blame but nature or fate or the Gods.

Our collective ignorance about misuse of power is such that many people seem unwilling to accept that the survivor of childhood sexual abuse is as much a victim of forces outside their control as was the flood victim or the cyclone survivor. And, of course, while we continue to deny these traumas socially, the survivor of trauma caused from misuse of power will be even more sure that it was their fault.

Jenny Gilmore


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