Power Threat Meaning Framework


This piece lets Australians see what a trauma informed response to sexual abuse or rape inherent in power structures looks like. This piece might trigger you. If it does please call Lifeline on 131114, or for any emergency, call 000: #March4Justice

***Trigger Warning***

“Psychology’s been rightly criticised for ignoring for the social context of mental health difficulties and over focusing on individualised diagnoses of mental illness. Despite decades of research on connections between social inequalities and mental health difficulties.

‘Symptoms of inequality’ continue to be pathologised as ‘symptoms of mental illness’. This obscuring of inequalities continues to locate pathology within the individual.

Some have argued that the psychiatric diagnosis systematically pathologises women’s rightful and reasonable responses to unreasonable events occurring in oppressive, dangerous and damaging social contexts.

Janine Hendry at March for Justice. #March4Justice

This hides/denies the gendered, racist, classist, homophobic intersecting hierarchies of power that shape women’s experience/pervade inner life.

Extensive research over the last four decades identified sexual violence and abuse as major causal factors in women’s mental health distress. Sexual violence and abuse are significantly connected with women’s mental health difficulties across all ‘diagnoses’:

‘depression’ including post natal depression; self harm and suicidality; borderline personality disorder/bipolar disorder/emotionally unstable personality disorder; hearing voices and psychosis; substance abuse; PTSD, eating difficulties; phobias and OCD.

Brave women coming together for March for Justice. #March4Justice

The Power Threat Meaning Framework is a trauma informed approach drawn from broad psychological theory bases. It brings together understanding of external structural inequalities with internal processes of personal experience. It is the way in which ‘the outside gets in’.

The Power Threat Meaning Framework locates power centrally in understanding distress. The negative operation of “power” (i.e. a family member, educator, employer, the government, religious institution), triggers the “threat system” and fight, run, freeze or collapse occurs.

The person abused then makes “meaning” of this event(s) (i.e. “Others are out to get me.”, “It was my fault.”, “I’m a bad person.”, “The world is unsafe.”). Trauma is when these meanings and threat responses continue after the event(s) and even in the absence of danger.

The Power Threat Meaning Framework asks: ‘What has happened to you?’ (How is ‘Power’ operating in your life?), ‘How did it affect you?’ (What kind of ‘Threats’ does this pose?), ‘What sense did you make of it?’(What is the ‘Meaning’ of these experiences to you?),

‘What did you have to do to survive?’ (What kinds of ‘Threat Response’ are you using?). The Power Threat Meaning Framework also asks: ‘What are your strengths?’ ‘What access to Power resources do you have?’ ‘What is your story?’

Brittany Higgins at March for Justice. #March4Justice

The Power Threat Meaning Framework also names the key sources of Power: Power by force or Coercive power – use of violence, sexual violence, aggression or threats to frighten, intimidate, ensure compliance and to silence.

Interpersonal power – power within close relationships, the power to look after/not protect, to leave, to give/withdraw/withhold affection.

Economic and material power – means to obtain valued possessions and services, to control others’ access to resources,

Legal power coercion, or rules/ sanctions supporting/limiting other aspects of power, offering or restricting choices.

Ideological power – control of language, meaning, and perspective, to identify ‘subordinate’ groups on basis of class, race, gender sexual orientation.

A woman is a human being, not just a daughter. #March4Justice

Biological or embodied power – the possession of socially valued embodied attributes eg: physical attractiveness, fertility, strength, physical health.

Social/cultural capital – a mix of valued qualifications, knowledge and connections, often related to class, race and gender, which advantages some social groups and can be passed directly/indirectly to the next generation.

Power: ‘What has happened to you?’ Sexual assault or rape, threat to life and survival, profound threat to and contamination of self and identity, severe physical damage from repeated abuse severe pain, chronic health difficulties from physical damage,

overwhelming distress of terror, shame, sadness, loss, anger, disrupted traumatised attachments, abandonment, betrayal, entrapment in dangerous, damaging contexts, denigration.

Women’s March for Justice. #March4Justice

Meaning: ‘How did you understand what happened to you?’ Self blame: ’I should’ve stopped it/told someone’; Self hate: ‘my body’s bad/I am bad/evil’; Self as different: ‘I’m not like others/not normal’; Profound shame, defiled identity, racial identity, sexual identity;

Self as deserving abuse as punishment: not deserving love or care; Defeated: powerless to stop abuse or escape, world and people are not safe, dangerous.

Example: “I blamed myself, blamed my body, felt shamed, felt contaminated, told I was evil, bad, told I deserved it, felt abnormal, people are not safe, world is not safe, cant tell anyone.”

2021 March4Justice. #March4Justice

Threat Response: ‘How did you survive these power abuses?’ Use alcohol/drugs to numb feelings, self harm to numb/punish self, dissociate: disappear become numb, eat/not eat to numb distress/punish self, try not to remember, became fearful and are untrusting of others,

hear voices, avoided relationships, comforting others, tried to find safety in attacking relationships, watchful, struggled to manage, hyper vigilant, overwhelming distress, experience of terror, shame, flashbacks, loss, anger, confusion nightmares, re-living abuse.

For the Power Threat Meaning Framework these mental health ‘symptoms’ are survival strategies and sources of strength and resilience: ways of managing/anaesthetising emotional pain, shame, violation, ways of self care, self comforting, soothing,

distraction from intrusive memories, re-living, nightmares, ways of forgetting, dissociating, as self blame/self punishment, ways of trying to protect against attachment loss, self silencing, ways of speaking directly or indirectly about damage experienced.

They’re all ways of trying to protect from danger. The courage of survivors of sexual/physical abuse is no different to the courage of war veterans; complex responses no less. They’ve the right to be acknowledged for their strength, courage, resourcefulness and resilience.

‘What are your strengths?’ I survived. I am still alive. I am in a safe place to live. I have friends I trust. I don’t harm others. I’m a role model for others impacted by this. I’m an advocate for social change. I have hope.

Brittany Higgins’ story of sexual abuse has inspired thousands of Survivors. #NotJustADaughter

There are multiple levels of interventions for recovery and re/empowerment. Increasing safety: safe accommodation, police protection, legal action; increasing access to power resources; increasing survival strategies;

trauma processing using trauma therapies: individual and group therapy; increased access to group/community strength; social and political change. These trauma therapies pay special attention to power processes.

How is the Power Threat Meaning Framework more helpful for survivors of sexual abuse or rape than simply focusing on individualised psychiatric diagnosis? It examines the social context of mental health difficulties over individual isolated accounts of distress.

The Power Threat Meaning Framework names the power and power abuses involved in sexual violence and abuse; offers an understanding of power and power processes; links these directly to understanding symptoms of distress,

CEO Media Diverse Australia, Co-Chair of Board Australian Muslim Centre for Human Rights, Founder and President of Islamophobia Register, Advisory of Welcoming Australia:

“Now it’s well documented that women of minority groups face even greater hurdles as you can see. They face social and institutional barriers to full equality. Not just because they’re chicks. But because of things such as race, religion, sexuality, or disability. They basically have a double wammy and that concept is referred to as intersectionality.

Now as an Australian woman who is originally from Afghanistan and a Muslim, I get the triple wammy. I get sexism. I get racism. And I get Islamaphobia. You know some people boast about having a fan base. Well ladies and gentlemen I have a troll base. Such a clever bunch. They’ve totally mastered the art of intersectional insults. That’s not easy to do.”

Rethinking Privilege:


enables a gendered, race and intersectional lens to be added to understand the multiple oppressions women experience; views symptoms as strategies of resilience and survival; recommends multiple levels of intervention to enable healing, recovery and re/empowerment;

focusing on power and power abuses can reduce the risk of continuing the denigratory misdiagnosis of women survivors of sexual violence as ‘bipolar’, ‘psychotic’, ‘emotional unstable personality disordered’, ‘BPD’;

enables the rightful naming of profound distress from multiple power abuses; requires careful attention to intersecting power processes in understanding symptoms of distress and strategies of survival and in the process of recovery and healing;

Lastly – crucially – the Power Threat Meaning Framework looks also to change in the social context to reduce inequalities and injustice.”

Ms Represented with Annabel Crabb.

The Confronting History of Australian Parliament.


Source: Gilli Watson Clinical Psychologist and Trainer with thanks to Suzanne Azer Senior Lecturer Doctorate in Clinical Psychology, University of Exeter. DPC Annual Conference (2020). Edited to be reader friendly.

Australian of the Year Grace Tame. #LetHerSpeak

Grace Tame survived child sexual abuse and became a campaigner on behalf of others. Grace helped lead the fight to overturn a law preventing sexual assault survivors from speaking out. Grace Tame’s Australian of the Year award speech ‘Hear me now’:

“Straight to the pool room! Firstly I’d like to acknowledge and pay my respects to the traditional owners of this land, there are still voices yet to be heard. Prime Minister, fellow nominees, mum, dad, Oscar, the rest of my family and friends, Max, Let Her Speak creator Nina Funnell, the campaign partners and the 16 other brave campaign survivors, thank you. All survivors of child sexual abuse, this is for us.

I lost my virginity to a paedophile. I was 15, anorexic; he was 58, he was my teacher. For months he groomed me and then abused me almost every day. Before school, after school, in my uniform, on the floor. I didn’t know who I was. Publicly he described his crimes as ‘awesome’ and ‘enviable’. Publicly I was silenced by law. Not anymore.

Australia, we’ve come a long way but there’s still more work to do in a lot of areas. Child sexual abuse and cultures that enable it still exist. Grooming and its lasting impacts are not widely understood. Predators manipulate all of us. Family, friends, colleagues, strangers, in every class, culture and community. They thrive when we fight amongst ourselves and weaponise all of our vulnerabilities.

Trauma does not discriminate, nor does it end when the abuse itself does. First Nations people, people with disabilities, the LGBTQI community and other marginalised groups face even greater barriers to justice. Every voice matters.

Just as the impacts of evil are borne by all of us, so too are solutions borne of all of us. I was abused by a male teacher. But one of the first people I told was also a male teacher, and he believed me. This year and beyond my focus is on empowering survivors and education as a primary means of prevention.

It starts with conversation. We’re all welcome at this table. Communication breeds understanding and understanding is the foundation of progress. Lived experience informs structural and social change. When we share, we heal. Yes, discussion of child sexual abuse is uncomfortable. But nothing is more uncomfortable than the abuse itself.

So let us redirect this discomfort to where it belongs: at the feet of perpetrators of these crimes. Together we can redefine what it means to be a survivor. Together we can end child sexual abuse; survivors be proud, our voices are changing history.

Eleven years ago, I was in hospital; anorexic with atrophied muscles, I struggled to walk. Last year I won a marathon. We do transform as individuals. And we do transform as a community. When I first reported, I was shamed and ridiculed by some. But now my truth is helping to reconnect us. I know who I am, I’m a survivor. A proud Tasmanian.

I remember him towering over me, blocking the door. I remember him saying, ‘Don’t tell anybody.’ I remember him saying, ‘Don’t make a sound.’ Well hear me now. Using my voice, amongst a growing chorus of voices that will not be silenced. Let’s make some noise, Australia.”


Now you know the power of Trauma Informed Care. Let’s turn this framework into a mindset for personal, social and political change. If you are unable to, you might need help first, to get safe or become ‘unstuck’ from trauma. Reach out for trauma informed care. #YouBelong

With love,

Dr Louise Hansen
PhD in Psychology
Human Rights Activist

#HealingTrauma #Justice4Australia #YouBelong

Martha Wainwright – Bloody Motherfucking Asshole (2005):

***Trigger Warning***

“Poetry has no place for a heart that’s a whore
And I’m young and I’m strong
But I feel old and tired
And I’ve been poked and stoked
It’s all smoke, there’s no more fire
Only desire
For you, whoever you are
For you, whoever you are
You say my time here has been some sort of joke
That I’ve been messing around
Some sort of incubating period
For when I really come around but I’m cracking up
And you have no idea
No idea how it feels to be on your own
In your own home with the fucking phone
And the mother of gloom
In your bedroom standing over your head
With her hand in your head
With her hand in your head
I will not pretend
I will not put on a smile
I will not say I’m all right for you
When all I wanted was to be good
To do everything in truth
To do everything in truth
Oh, I wish, I wish, I wish I was born a man
So I could learn how to stand up for myself
Like those guys with guitars
I’ve been watching in bars
Who’ve been stamping their feet to a different beat
To a different beat
To a different beat
I will not pretend
I will not put on a smile
I will not say I’m all right for you
When all I wanted was to be good
To do everything in truth
To do everything in truth
You bloody mother fucking asshole
Oh, you bloody mother fucking asshole
Oh, you bloody mother fucking asshole
Oh, you bloody mother fucking asshole
Oh, you bloody mother fucking asshole
Oh, you bloody…
I will not pretend
I will not put on a smile
I will not say I’m all right for you
For you, whoever you are
For you, whoever you are
For you, whoever you are.”


Dr Kalu Davies. I love you.

***Trigger Warning***
“The Uluru Statement from the Heart is an invitation from First Nations to all Australians to realise a better future. Learn more and help us educate other Australians.”



“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” – James Baldwin
“Feeling overwhelmed by the amount of support we received overnight! We’re able to fund one more Indigenous Psychology student for a full three year Psychology degree from just a 10 minute appearance on ABC #TheDrum.” – Dr Tracy Westerman AM

If you would like to donate, please visit:

My partner Marcelo Alegre Rubic who taught me do not let anyone control your life. #YouBelong

Trauma Informed World was inspired by Kopika and Tharnicaa; two faces that remind us everyday of Australia’s cruel refugee system. One of many systems in Australia that remind us of the negative operation of power. #HomeToBilo

Kopika (left) and Tharnicaa (right) were kept at Christmas Island Detention Centre for nearly two years despite trauma informed calls to return them to Biloela, Queensland. Tharnicaa has spent most of her life detained by the Australian Government and is still in community detention to this day. #YouBelong


***Since the creation of this website the Biloela family were released from detention, returned to Biloela and granted permanent protection in Australia. However, hundreds more people still remain stuck in a system that requires urgent reform.***

Welcome to the Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law. Join us to make positive changes for refugees around the world.


New Kaldor Centre policy brief proposes reforms to Australia’s temporary protection system | Kaldor Centre:


You can listen my talk with Dr Cathy Kezelman AM, President of Blue Knot Foundation on my own healing journey, training and study and how it has informed my work and advocacy for a trauma informed world here:

Trauma Informed World acknowledges and respects Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as the Traditional Custodians of the land and waterways on which this educational resource was inspired. I acknowledge and respect Elders past, present and emerging. I honour the continuation of educational, cultural and spiritual practices and celebrate the extraordinary diversity of people and relationships worldwide. This website contains images of deceased persons. There are also swear words in some of the songs presented that portray intense emotions. This website is not intended to trigger people who have experienced trauma. However, if you do find any of the content triggering, each page has a link to Australia’s National Helplines and Websites for immediate mental health support. These are my own personal views and comments and may not reflect the views of my employer.

Australia’s National Helplines and Websites:


To provide the best information possible, Beyond Blue has listed national helplines and external services. All services linked to Beyond Blue are reviewed before they are posted.

Published by Dr Louise Hansen

This is a free educational website on Trauma Informed Care for survival and wellbeing. While each injustice differs, all stories share the same trauma: the negative operation of power. Let’s break the cycle of injustice and trauma together one day at a time. The byproduct of clarity is peace. Joy is peace dancing. Trauma is disconnection. Empathy fuels connection. Knowledge is power: “Love is the absence of judgment.” – His Holiness the Dalai Lama. #YouBelong

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