Yesterday, the Center for Inquiry Management Committee put out an unprecedented statement.
We, the management committee of CFI, believe it is appropriate to confirm that Ms. Hensley is suffering from PTSD. Among other reasons, both Ms. Hensley and CFI receive comments on a regular basis that assert or imply that Ms. Hensley’s statements that she has PTSD must be false. For example, just the other day, CFI received a communication stating “Your organization is terrible for having people on its staff that claim to have PTSD from Twitter!” Some communications on this issue, especially those directed to Ms. Hensley, have themselves been abusive and harassing.
This reaction is disappointing on a number of levels. As explained below, these communications are based on mischaracterizations, false assumptions, faulty reasoning, unscientific attitudes, or misunderstandings. (And, of course, the subset of these communications that are abusive are intolerable.)
This is important for a couple of reasons. The first, of course, is the expression of support for Melody, both regarding the PTSD and regarding her being able to speak freely on her Twitter account without her job being threatened. I’ve been bluntly hard on CFI about this before, and I want to thank them now.
Knowing that the people who have been targeting Melody and other feminists in this movement for years cannot effectively attack her job for speaking up for justice is a relief for me. I can only imagine how it feels for Melody (if she didn’t already have this knowledge). It lessens both the background anxiety born of knowing there are constant hostile watchers and the acute anxiety spawned when they pounce on anything they think demonstrates weakness or can be politically damaging.
On a personal note, I sincerely hope the relief helps aid Melody’s recovery.
I also want to commend the CFI statement as an act of skepticism, clearing the air of all the naïve assumptions and assertions about PTSD and replacing them with facts. As the statement says, there is nothing controversial about the idea that threats and harassment delivered online can lead to PTSD. Threats themselves fall explicitly under Criteria A1 of the current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM V).
The number of studies examining the relationship of various types of harassment to PTSD is low, but to the best of my knowledge and research, they all demonstrate an increased risk for PTSD in targets of harassment. (Increased risk is used as the measure because no traumatic event is expected to induce PTSD in everyone.) Nor do we have any good theoretical basis for suggesting harassment delivered online would be less traumatic. The literature suggests we treat “virtual” reality much the same way we do physical reality for emotional purposes. Any controversy that people claim is closer to the “controversy” over anthropogenic climate change than any use of the term common to scientists.
I don’t have any great hope that the statement from CFI will stop everyone who insists that Melody can’t possibly have PTSD, much less those who insist on prescribing the “treatment” of abandoning social media. In fact, I already know this has only stirred them up for the moment. However, this statement will help to make it clear to onlookers how little foundation in fact their assertions about her condition have.
Kudos to CFI for making this move.