Thursday, April 29, 2010

This woman didn't have to die

You may well already know about this news story in the New Zealand Herald on 27 April. (It's already on The Hand Mirror.) But just in case you don't, I am discussing it here, because I want you to know about it. It does not seem to have been picked up by any TV news programme.

It concerns a woman who was sexually abused as a child, and whose counsellor sought assistance from ACC, on the woman's behalf, for the cost of counselling.

"Counselling Services Centre manager Emma Castle said the mother-of-three's claim for counselling for sexual abuse she had suffered as a child was rejected by ACC two months ago on the grounds that she had not suffered 'a significant mental injury'."

But as several people, including me, pointed out when the rules were changed last year, the main aim of counselling is to prevent such injury occurring as a consequence of the abuse. If only those who are deemed to already have such an injury can get counselling - for a strictly limited number of sessions - then there is no hope of achieving this aim, and helping the abuse survivor regain health becomes much more difficult.

The experts feared the dire consequences of this change. On 9 December last year, the Association of Counsellors stated that it was "worried suicide rates may rise among sexual abuse victims refused ACC-funded counselling because of cutbacks" and said that anonymous details released of 54 cases showed "longer delays and more rejections since new rules, known as the Sensitive Claims Pathway, took effect in October."

In any case, it's hard to understand why this particular claim was turned down, since the woman in question seems to have already suffered "signifcant mental injury" - she had "had suicidal ideation and was self-harming". The counsellor who submitted the claim "made it very clear that sexual abuse was the reason".

But as Emma Castle pointed out, "It took them six months to make that decision. Four days after receiving notification that the ACC claim was denied, the client passed away."

Shortly before this report appeared, it emerged that ACC had approved just 32 claims for assistance with counselling because of sexual abuse in the first two months of this year, compared with 472 for the same period last year. At the time, counsellors asked what was happening to the presumably large number of people being turned down.

This case provides one shockingly clear answer to that question.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Footbinding for the 21st century?

This month I read a novel about the life of Chinese women in the era when footbinding was the norm for women above all but the lowest social levels.* The more effectively mothers mutilated their daughters' feet, and the more perfectly they were deformed, the higher their value would be on the marriage market. One in ten girls died as a result of this practice.

I'd just finished shuddering over this, and wondering how on earth it had ever become so entrenched, when I came across an article about its 21st century equivalent in the Sunday Star-Times:

"Women forking out for a killer pair of high heels are also paying for the ultimate accessory - Botox to make their legs look better in stilettos. An Auckland cosmetic physician has found a demand for his calf-thinning services, in which he uses large amounts of Botox to sculpt women's legs and make calf muscles appear less bulky."

This "physician", who charges between $2000 and $7000 (depending on how thin your legs are to start with) says the procedure is "far safer than surgery to achieve the same result, a practice common in Asian countries. Surgery involves removal of the muscle through an incision in the crease behind the knee or, alternatively, destroying the nerve."

"What happens is that they chop the peroneal nerve [running from the knee to the foot] and this can cause permanent foot drop." As it happens, my husband has foot drop, the result of a degenerative muscle condition. It makes walking extremely difficult.

So let me get this straight. First you get the "killer" high heels - which can occasionally kill their wearers, but usually just cripple them over time. Then you deliberately use either surgery or drugs to make your legs look better in these ludicrous shoes, by reducing your leg muscles - and stopping them building up to make you stronger (so it's "strictly for the non-sporty"). Oh, and you need regular injections every nine months to "maintain the new shape".

A 25-year-old who got the Botox did it because she used to do a lot of running and had big muscles in her legs. She believes it has "given her more confidence" and "can't wait" to wear high heels.

The whole article reads like a promo for this "procedure". The accompanying photo could have come straight out of an advertising brochure.Susan Pepperell, the reporter, apparently did not ask for any other medical opinions on it.

I guess it's only a matter of time before teenage girls start asking for it for Christmas. At least it won't be their mothers forcing them to stop running and start Botoxing? Will it?

*Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, by Lisa See.