Trauma is the Greek word for ‘wound’. Although the Greeks used the term only for physical injuries, nowadays trauma is just as likely to refer to emotional wounds. We now know that a traumatic event can leave psychological symptoms long after any physical injuries have healed. The psychological reaction to emotional trauma now has an established name: post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. It usually occurs after an extremely stressful event, such as wartime combat, a natural disaster, or sexual or physical abuse; its symptoms include depression, anxiety, flashbacks, and recurring nightmares.
This week I have talked with people about trauma: trauma not just of violence but the trauma of a poor justice response to a report of violence. We specifically talked about unsupportive – and even hostile – police responses to people who have been victims of violence. Ten years ago I researched the police response to women who had been raped. Back then, there were ‘grounds for hope and disappointment’. Since then, with increased awareness of violence against women, I had hoped it had got better, but it seems a good justice response is still dependent on individual officers.
Yesterday I attended the funeral of a beloved (and, by all reports, brilliant) man, which led me to also reflect on the trauma of bereavement, characterised by devastation, being all-enveloping and very personal.
The justice system expects people who are dealing with psychological trauma to give good and objective evidence, to present as expected and to be polite and thankful throughout the process. This is totally unreasonable and inhumane.
It’s got me thinking about the relationship between justice and trauma.