What We’re Reading…

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Because I Love You: The Silent Shadow of Childhood Sexual Abuse
Joyce Allan (VFH Press, 2002)

It takes courage to read this book, and nothing short of heroine-ism to have written it. Allan documents five generations of childhood sexual abuse in this autobiographical exposé of her own family, with her father – a pedophile who abused dozens of children, including his own – as the focal point.

Allan discloses, without anger, bitterness, fear or trepidation, the systemic sexual abuse she experienced at the hands of her father, and the great efforts that her family, neighbors, friends, and for a time, even herself, went to keep this abuse quiet. Now, decades later, after her own children were abused by the same man, their grandfather, Allan wants to shatter the silence that protects and perpetuates the exploits of child sexual abusers.

“Because I Love You” – the regular phrase her father spoke when abusing his daughter – explores the violence of childhood sexual abuse as it is passed from generation to generation, while polite society sits idly by, putting etiquette and family unity above the well-being of children.

In the seven years it took Allan to document this book, she found that numerous people had known about her father’s activities, that his abuse of children extended beyond herself and her siblings, to her child playmates and neighborhood children, and that because everyone kept a “respectful” silence, her father was permitted to continue his abusive pattern for more than 40 years. Allan offers her story in the hope that the time has come for others to speak loudly and clearly about the sad reality that is childhood sexual abuse. See her site: www.timetospeak.com.

Like Family: Growing Up in Other People’s Houses, A Memoir
Paula McLain (Little Brown, 2003)

Paula McLain is known more for her award-winning poetry than as a writer of memoirs, and it shows – but in the best possible way. The first thing that strikes the reader about Like Family is that the author has chosen her words very carefully, fastening her story to a spectacularly stark but beautifully resonant prose. And with this poet’s voice, McLain reveals in waves of childhood memory what it was like to grow up in foster homes, buffeted from family to family, never quite feeling at "home."

Like Family in many ways resembles the classic adolescent novel by Judy Blume, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, full of nostalgia and tender tales of going through those awkward teenage years. Except punctuating what would otherwise be a fairly ordinary adolescence are McLain’s memories of being beaten by her foster-mother and her repeated sexual abuse at the hands of yet another foster-father.

But somehow Like Family does not reside only in the bleak terrain of foster families. Rather, it is the mixture of sweet nostalgia for growing up combined with the harsh emotional scars of neglect and abuse that makes this book remarkable. McLain leaves the reader with the knowledge that a child is not the sum total of the abuse she has experienced at the hands of others, but somewhere, between the neglect and mistreatment, a child is able to create a space and a life that is her very own.

World Report on Violence and Health
Etienne G. Krug, Linda L. Dahlberg, James A. Mercy, Anthony B. Zwi and Rafael Lozano, eds (World Health Organization, 2002)

Violence pervades the lives of many people around the world, and touches all of us in some way. Violence is also a major public health problem that has serious consequences, both in the short-term and the long-term, for individuals, families, communities and countries alike. This first World Report on Violence and Health aims to raise awareness about the problem of violence globally, and to make the case that violence is preventable, and that public health researchers have a crucial role to play in addressing its causes and consequences. This book examines the various types of violence that are present worldwide that have public health consequences, including youth violence, child abuse, violence by intimate partners, elder abuse, sexual violence, self-directed violence and collective violence.

The First Casualty: Violence against Women in Canadian Military Communities
Deborah Harrison (James Lorimer, 2002)

In The First Casualty, Deborah Harrison argues that within the Canadian military an environment exists where violence against women is both encouraged and hidden. Because the military relies on aggressive male behavior, because it is based on a model where no one is permitted to question the boss, and because it values secrecy -- a culture exists where military personnel often abuse their partners, with this fact remaining well hidden within the military community.

Drawing from extensive interviews with military personnel and spouses of military personnel, the author uses personal stories and first hand accounts to explore why violence against women occurs within military communities. The book begins by discussing violence against women and the military way of life. It then looks at the services currently available to spouses of military personnel, and determines that these services are inadequate, leaving military spouses isolated and vulnerable. It concludes by making recommendations to improve services. While the subject matter of the book is difficult, the tone is not hopeless. The author uses the courageous voices of women who have survived domestic abuse to end the secrecy and create positive change.

Anorexia’s fallen angel: The Untold Story of Peggy Claude-Pierre and the Controversial Montreux Clinic
Barbara McLintock (HarperCollins, 2002)

Barbara Walters told 20/20 viewers that Peggy Claude-Pierre and her Montreux Clinic in Victoria, British Columbia, were “a last hope” for those critically ill with eating disorders. Oprah Winfrey tearfully described her as “an angel on earth.” This media coverage earned Claude-Pierre's clinic a worldwide reputation before allegations of force-feeding patients and patients being held against their will ultimately led to the clinic losing its license in 1999. In this book, journalist Barbara McLintock charts the rise and fall of Claude-Pierre’s clinic, and in doing so, tells a compelling story of desperate families grasping at unrealistic promises for a cure in the absence of proof.

Eve’s Rib: The New Science of Gender-specific Medicine and How it Can Save Your Life Marianne J. Legato
(Harmony Books, 2002)

Until very recently, women’s and men’s bodies were seen as essentially identical, except for the differences in our reproductive function. In fact, it was commonly assumed in medicine that it was necessary to study only men, and that the data collected from men could be extrapolated to women without modification. The rules, thankfully, are beginning to change. As Marianne Legato, an expert on gender differences explains, the medical community is finding that in every system of the body there are significant and unique sex-based differences in human physiology. This book explores these differences, looking at the brain, drug metabolism, the gastrointestinal tract, the lungs, the heart, the circulatory and immune systems, the skeleton and even the skin.

Abortion & Common Sense
Ruth Dixon and Paul K.B. Dagg (Xlibris, 2002)

"Abortion" is a word that, when uttered in public, elicits strong emotions, deeply held convictions and divisive debate. Yet about half of all unplanned pregnancies in the world end up in induced abortion, and 4/5ths occur in developing countries. Some women end their pregnancies safely and legally, yet so many more are forced to do so clandestinely and often dangerously. The authors of this book offer a fact-based, common sense account of how and why women have abortions, and what can be done to make them safe. In the first section, they explore a variety of personal, social, economic and health issues affecting women and couples in their efforts to regulate their fertility, and the role that safe and unsafe abortion plays in this endeavor. In the second part, they look at the legal, medical and political institutions that shape the environment in which abortion occurs. The authors conclude with the need to ensure that all abortions are performed correctly, legally and humanely, and that it be understood as a normal part of good medical care.

Responding to Cairo: Case Studies of Changing Practice in Reproductive Health and Family Planning
Nicole Haberland and Diana Measham, eds (Population Council, 2002)

The recommendations of the International Conference on Population and Development, held in Cairo in September 1994, represent a radical change in the way population and reproductive health problems are conceptualized. Since then, however, the challenge has been to translate these recommendations into effective reproductive health services that satisfy the needs of women and men. This book presents 22 case studies that examine past and present practice in reproductive health and family planning programs, in a variety of setting, highlighting changes and work yet to be done.

No More Periods? The Risks of Menstrual Suppression and Other Cutting-Edge Issues About Hormones and Women's Health
Susan Rako, M.D. (Harmony Books, 2003)

Menstrual suppression, the cessation of a woman's periods using hormones, has recently become a hot topic in women's health. Many health professionals and drug companies are suggesting that it is a safe and preferable option for women to suppress their periods if they are not trying to become pregnant. In her book, No More Periods, Susan Rako argues that this is a dangerous idea that does not take into consideration possible increased health risks associated with menstrual suppression, such as osteoporosis, heart attacks, strokes and cancer. She is concerned that members of the medical community have not provided women with enough information about the implications of menstrual suppression, and that not enough research on menstrual suppression for large populations of healthy women has been completed. If this information was known to women, Rako suggests, it would cause women to think long and hard before choosing to stop their periods. This book discusses frankly and honestly the far reaching implications of what it means, not only to stop one's period, but also the implications of altering the whole menstrual and female reproductive cycle.

The Vulvodynia Survival Guide: How to Overcome Painful Vaginal Symptoms & Enjoy an Active Lifestyle
Howard I. Glazer and Gae Rodke (New Harbinger Publications, 2002)

Vulvodynia is a chronic vulvar discomfort or pain, characterized by burning, stinging, irritation or rawness, and painful intercourse. These symptoms are not caused by an infection or skin disease. As with most chronic pain conditions, it can have a profound impact on a woman's quality of life, affecting her ability to engage in sexual activity and interfering with daily functioning (e.g., sitting at a desk, engaging in physical exercise, participating in social activities, etc.). These limitations can negatively affect self-image and lead to depression. To make matters worse, when it comes to vulvovaginal pain disorders, there is a true lack of knowledge in the medical community. Many doctors do not yet even acknowledge the condition as a real problem with a physical component. As the authors contend, since the medical community is not yet up to speed on vulvodynia, those women who suspect that they have this condition must educate themselves. They present the reader with medical information and self-help solutions to identify and avoid triggers, modify diet to reduce symptoms, find knowledgeable medical help, reduce or eliminate debilitating pain, and begin to enjoy healthy sexual relations and daily activities.