My name is Bernadine Fox and I survived. Every fact after that seems trivial.
I suffered from extensive trauma including human trafficking as a child prior to escaping from my home at the age of fifteen. In my late twenties, I thought I was fortunate to become a client to an eminent feminist therapist, in Vancouver, BC, who was an author of a book on the long-term consequences of child sexual abuse, was one of the founders of VISACS (Vancouver Incest and Sexual Abuse Center Society), and lectured on the issue to other counselors. In fact, I met her when she interviewed me for her book on sexual child abuse. She was well-connected, seemingly well-trained, and had all the hallmarks of someone who would do no harm.
For several years, my therapy progressed normally. I worked hard and succeeded at undoing much of the consequences of the trauma I had endured. My therapy sessions slowly transformed from strictly client to client/lover/partner/colleague. How & when it changed, specifically what changed about it, who was instigating those changes, and how it affected me and my life is the subject of my lecture. However, in hindsight, I discovered that what I thought was a unique relationship between two people had followed the predictable path of a predatory therapist exploiting her clients. In fact, it adhered to that path so closely it left me feeling quite stupid for not recognizing what was happening until long after the damage was done. My childhood history of trauma had conditioned me to be the perfect victim for her.
I did not come to this therapy a naïve client. I also worked with survivors of human trafficking from the 1980s onward. I conducted workshops for counselors, publicly spoke on the issue around recognition and response to non-profit organizations working with victims of violence, mental health workers, counselors, psychiatrists, police, and Stopping The Violence Workers. I designed and facilitated educationally-formatted support groups for survivors and was commissioned to produce a report on the issue for the Government of Canada. It made the fact that I didn't see what was occurring all that more devastating.
In 1998, I left this work and returned to Emily Carr to finish my art degree. Since then I have been making art and writing. But mine is not the work of pretty paintings and stories only built for happy endings. Like my work as a activist, my art and writing are created to make change happen around social justice issues.
Who I am would not be complete unless I share why I am compelled to put my pain out there. As I have come to terms with my experience of a predatory therapist, it has become painfully obvious that this issue is woefully misunderstood and many in the general and professional population believe that sex with one’s therapist, doctor, dentist, etc is of no consequence. From your next door neighbor, friends, sexual assault centres and up to and including those governing bodies that regulate therapists, there is a general lack of recognition of the harm. Consequently, the impact is assumed to be minimal while, in fact, the trauma is devastating. Many contemplate, attempt, or succeed at committing suicide. It takes years to resolve this new trauma that many say is worse than the original abuse that led them to seek therapy.
My second agenda is to discuss female perpetrators. Like the predatory therapist, we have few places where we are having considered discussions about female perpetrators. While I am not an expert on this issue as a whole, my predatory therapist was female. Not only is there a minimization of the trauma inflicted by therapists, when you add in the female perp, many - including sexual assault centres - dismiss the trauma completely. We believe the stats on prevalence are low and there is a generally-held assumption that woman only perpetrate due to pressure by male co-perpetrators. Consequently, many believe this issue does not warrant our attention. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. If we are not talking about it, victims are silenced, and our stats are consequently unreliable. We, in fact, do not know the extent of the problem we have around female perpetrators. While not an expert, I will be creating a space to constructively discuss this issue.
I work with art and writing to enact change within my community. I produce and host a radio program on mental health issues which often examines ethical boundaries in healing relationships. When I'm not out there speaking about these issues that I am passionate about, I'm writing and creating art about this and other issues.
Yes, I survived. But, I didn't survive perfectly.
My life will always show the emotional battle scars of that survival that now includes wounds created by the very person who was supposed to help.
Other places you will find Bernadine:
• Internnational Society for Dissociative Identities
• Canadian Psychiatric Association
• UBC School of Social Work
• Greater Vancouver Mental Health
For more please see "Services"
• CBC TV and Radio One
• The Vancouver Sun
• CKNW Radio
• Winnipeg Free Press
to name just a few... on issues including Sexual Abuse, Trauma, Art, Grandparents Raising Grandkids