Wednesday, June 30, 2010

"What's FGM?"

I've only had two sips of coffee but I'm wide awake and all abuzz. I wish it were the coffee. Shock, anger, fear, frustration and horror produce a more potent rush of adrenaline than caffeine.

I have attended a few training sessions to refresh my knowledge before doing advocacy work again. The sessions have a large number of attendees - probably at least 40 people. A social worker came in to give a brief presentation that introduced the special concerns that immigrant survivors of sexual violence face and briefly described the legal/social remedies created to help survivors get help and remain in the country: VAWA, U-Visas and T-Visas. The social worker displayed a list of the crimes that constitute VAWA violations. One of these was FGM. As if on cue, more than half the room asked: "What's FGM?" I was surprised. I don't think of myself as terribly aware of, well, the world, generally. "What's FGM?!"

What surprises me too is the misinformation that courses through the room. A D&E is not a "medical" abortion. The Sexual Assault Survivor Emergency Treatment Act (SASETA) does not cover abortion costs. At all. Ever. A survivor may not have an abortion performed in the emergency room. Emergency contraception will not hurt a fetus.

It will never be appropriate to stare in surprise or disgust at evidence of physical harm or at symptoms of STIs.

It will never be helpful to give incorrect information. If you are unsure whether a person will be able to take 8 or up to 12 weeks unpaid leave from work, then do not pull a number from your head and hope you are right. If you don't know when the first trimester ends, don't just guess at some timeline (1/3 of 40 weeks, folks). If you don't know the difference between making a police report and pressing charges, don't talk yourself into knots. If you don't know the difference between an order of protection, a civil no contact order or a restraining order, then don't offer them up specifically.

Giving misinformation hurts others. But what about when you don't even know you have or are giving incorrect information? Why is this not addressed explicitly in training? Giving bad information confuses and re-victimizes survivors. But I have not heard a single staff worker say anything about the harm false "facts" can do.

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