In 2011, the Bureau d’aide aux victimes d’actes criminels agreed to fund a project at the Portage addiction rehabilitation centre in Québec City, specifically tailored to clients who had been physically or sexually abused. The purpose of the project was not only to provide better support for these clients but also to gain a better understanding of how this abuse has affected their abilities to find work and keep a job. It also sought out to deepen the understanding of the life trajectory and the needs of addicts who have been victims of physical, sexual or psychological abuse.
The project, entitled “Maître de sa vie” includes a research component which was conducted by Université de Laval master’s student, Karine Cloutier, and a clinical component, and a training component. Fifty people were interviewed as part of the clinical component of the project. For forty eight of them, it was the first time they had ever spoken about the abuse they had experienced.
Some results from the clinical component:
- 92% of the women reported having been physically abused, and most often by an immediate family member, either the father or the mother. Many had also been abused by their spouse.
- 77% of the men reported having been physically abused, generally by an immediate family member, either the father or the mother, or by a member of the extended family or the adoptive or foster family. The men also reported having been frequently physically abused by peers and in some cases, by their spouse.
- 83% of women reported having been a victim of sexual assault. This abuse was mainly perpetrated by the father, but extended family and friends were also involved some cases.
- 90% of the women reported having been engaged in prostitution for several years, during which time they experienced alarming levels of physical and emotional abuse.
- 35% of men reported having been sexually assaulted, mainly by a member of their extended family, or their foster or adoptive family, or friends.
- For women, immediate family members were responsible for 83% of psychological abuse cases.
- For men, members of the immediate family or the foster or adoptive family were responsible for 70% of psychological abuse cases.
- 72% of women involved in the project had been diagnosed with mental health problems. The most common were depression and borderline personality disorder.
- 43% of the men involved in the project had been diagnosed with mental health problems. The most common were depression and attention-deficit disorder, with or without hyperactivity.
Other Highlights of the Study
- 40% of the women reported having made repeated suicide attempts and 66% of them had suicidal thoughts at the time of admission to Portage.
- 35% of men reported having made repeated suicide attempts and 30% of them had suicidal thoughts at the time of admission to Portage.
- Many respondents also reported eating disorders and self-injury.
Karine Cloutier’s research confirms that the majority of respondents were using drugs to “self-medicate,” in order to numb the pain caused by the abuse they have suffered. Her research paper should be available before the summer.
The results of the clinical component demonstrate to what extent the physical and psychological trauma has taken a toll on these clients. Portage’s specialised “Maître de sa vie” program, which focuses on both the addiction and the abuse, responds to an important need because participants are often reluctant to talk about abuse they have experienced and they appreciated being able to work on both problems using a single resource, so that they do not need to repeat their story to multiple counsellors.
Although it is impossible to erase the scars of the abuse, the Portage program helps participants to accept the trauma they suffered and not let it be an obstacle for their future. Portage is one of the first addiction rehabilitation programs in Québec to offer such a program.
Through the project, staff members learned how to deal with clients’ psychological, physical, and sexual abuse issues. Clinical sexologist, Isabelle Proulx, carried out this training, leading weekly group sessions and overseeing the staff team as they worked with the clients.
“I’ve never learned so much about myself,” noted one participant. “The choices I made were mine, it was very important for me to make my own choices.”
Clients who have gone through the project have become better equipped to face the challenges of everyday life, and have therefore become more productive members of society.