There’s a rumor going around that my payee was fired because he was pocketing the money from his clients’ Social Security checks. The results have not been pretty. Trust between staff and clients is on the skids, and people are borderline paranoid of losing more money. When someone asked, “Why do they take advantage of mentally ill people like that?”, my friend Michael replied, “Because they can.” It made me think about what happens when people with mental illness have encounters with the criminal justice system.
The truth about mental illness and crime
The stereotype of a person with mental illness is that of a violent criminal. While there are some concerns, most fear of people with mental illness is unfounded. In fact, according to several studies, people with mental illness are more likely to be the victims of crime. Why is this? As my friend Michael put it, we’re an easy opportunity.
Social Security does not pay much and people with severe mental illness often can not work. In addition to this, most facilities for people with severe mental illness are in bad neighborhoods. Just as a person without a mental illness would be at greater risk in that situation, so is a person with mental illness.
I seem to have a knack at stumbling across crimes in progress, ranging from grand theft auto to assault. My therapist and I discussed this, coming to the conclusion that it was due to me venturing out of my apartment and walking through a bad neighborhood to get to the bus stop. Since part of recovery is not staying at home all the time, we decided to accept this as a consequence of recovery.
Fair? No. Reality? Yes.
The prosecutor doesn’t trust us.
I’ve been the victim of one sexual assault and one physical assault. Both times I filed a police report. Both times the prosecutor was aware of my psychiatric diagnosis. Both times the attacker got off on a technicality and my diagnosis may have played a part.
After the sexual assault, the prosecutor said there was not enough evidence to prove use of force. Reality was I couldn’t fight back–I was paralyzed with terror and decided it was in my best interest not to fight back. I firmly believe that if I was not a psychiatric patient, the case would have been prosecuted. But it would have been easy for the defence to make me look unstable and like I’d consented and then changed my mind.
After the physical assault, which happened in a psychiatric hospital, the police refused to arrest my attacker because “she’d just be processed and sent back here.” The prosecutor said it would be “too hard” to prosecute as my attacker was also a psychiatric patient. The second-in-command at the hospital said this happened often–that he’d even requested people be arrested and the police refused. He also said that all the defence would have to do was subpoena the psychiatrist. I firmly believe that if mental illness had not been involved, justice would have been done.
Picking up the pieces
When you are the victim of a crime, you have to come to terms with what happened. Talking with a therapist is vital–the prosecutor’s office should be able to refer you.
I’ve come to terms with what happened to me by writing about it. This does not mean that I am completely free of the pain. It does mean that some days are better than others and that it does not dominate my life. That’s as close to healing as possible at this point in time.
Take it one day at a time. Things do get better. Scars remain, but they are a sign of survival.