Vernon Steed knows trauma and he often uses his personal experiences to connect with men who may or may not know they have been traumatized.
Steed, a Certified Peer Specialist (CPS), works with incarcerated men in a class at the Montgomery County Correctional Facility (MCCF) in Eagleville which focuses on ways to recover from behavioral health issues and being involved in the criminal justice system by using peer support. And while the men in the class often described feelings of shame as part of their experiences, Steed said he hadn’t connected it to a deeper part of the problem – until he attended a virtual course at the PA Annual Forensic Rights and Treatment Conference in December.
It’s called victim shaming. It can be experienced by women and men who - as the victims – are wrongly blamed and held responsible for an action that wasn’t their fault, said Steed, a Forensic Advocate with Community Advocates at Hopeworx, Inc.
“As men we suffer a lot of different traumas, but men don’t report it,” Steed said. “We don’t want to be seen as less than macho.”
Victim shaming is more widely thought of as a women’s issue, especially in situations as violent as rape. Society may blame the victim for being provocative in some way, or “asking for it”, Steed said.
During classes at the jail, men open up and share stories of mental abuse or being hit by a partner or a spouse but are reluctant to report it for fear of being belittled or shamed.
“When I talk to the men inside, they would describe things but we didn’t call it victim shaming,” Steed said.
The presenter at the conference was Chris Owens, a licensed professional counselor in Pennsylvania and member of the Drexel University faculty. His clinical practice focuses on child/family therapy and substance use disorders.
Owens told the participants that he had also experienced victim shaming in his own life.
According to Verywell Mind, blaming the victim is a phenomenon in which victims of crimes or tragedies are held accountable for what happened to them. Victim blaming allows people to believe that such events could never happen to them. Blaming the victim is known to occur in rape and sexual assault cases, where the victim of the crime is often accused of inviting the attack due to her clothing or behavior.
Steed said he plans to share the new information with participants in his justice and recovery class which is currently being conducted virtually due to the pandemic.
The class called “It’s T.I.M.E.” which stands for “Think, Identify, Make changes, and Enter a new life”, is a once-a-week class usually held for 14 weeks at MCCF. The class, created by Community Advocates and Forensic Psychologist, Gail Vant Zelfde, was created in 2009 to address a need in Montgomery County to provide peer support, education and advocacy for men and women who were incarcerated due to symptoms of their mental illness and/or substance use.
The class was initially conducted for men and has been shared at the jail uninterrupted for the past decade until March when COVID-19 forced providers to provide virtual services at MCCF.
According to Hopeworx Executive Director Sue Shannon, the “It’s T.I.M.E.” class is usually held four times a year with about 15 to 20 men attending the class. Due to the revolving nature of inmates coming in and leaving the jail, individuals will sometimes enter the class midway but are able to complete the class by joining the next session.
A similar class for women at MCCF started up several years ago, said Community Advocates Director Kim Renninger. While it took a while to get started and find a convenient time to hold the class when women were available, Renninger said the class had regular attendance with as many as 10 women participating. Women reported that they were learning things during class they hadn’t gotten anywhere else.
For more information, go to: https://www.hopeworxinc.org/what-we-do/community-advocates/.