Monday 23 May 2016

Are Predators Stupid?

Imagine a skilled magician performing the cups and balls routine or a card trick. They have a keen ability to know where you are looking and to direct your attention away from what they don’t want you to notice. This is a learned skill about directing a person’s attention to where you want them to focus, instead of on the thing that would reveal the trick. Some people react to sexual assault as if the perpetrator is too stupid to understand that they’ve crossed a line, but I believe some predators are actually quite smart. Predators learn to direct attention in the same way as a magician. If you don’t think like a predator then it’s hard to understand how they operate. Let’s look at the Ghomeshi case through the eyes of a predator.

The first tool of predatory deception is a double life. Contrary to popular belief, predators are often sweet, charming, kind, and helpful, sometimes a little too helpful (Salter, 2003, p. 17). These normal and positive traits can make it hard to distinguish a predator from someone who is actually sweet, charming, kind, and helpful. However, the main difference between a predator and a kind person is that predators will have times where they dramatically shift in personality. Various women describe Ghomeshi like he was two different people: charming one minute and bizarre the next. Predators are usually able to establish a double life because most people find it difficult to understand that some people act one way in public and a completely different way in private (Salter, 2003, pp. 20-23, 36). Anna Salter (2003) writes, “offenders can recognize ideal settings for child molesters even if the rest of us can’t” (p.29). A skilled magician knows which tricks work best for each audience.

A double life makes it easy for a predator to build a relationship that feels safe, but is actually grooming the victim for something else. One woman writes, (emphasis added) “I now believe that Jian was grooming me for the same violence he inflicted on other women. I think he was pursuing and encouraging me because of the existing power imbalance, creating a level of emotional intensity as a preface to his “big reveal” so that I would either acquiesce or never tell. He trained me to feel sorry for him, to feel guilty about not giving enough of myself to him, to believe I was special to him…. Even today, as I’m writing this, I find I’m thinking about him, worrying: will he be disappointed in me for writing this? Should I hold back? Will he text me to tell me he wouldn’t have done this to me? But that is how his kind of manipulation works, and I refuse to protect him.” Grooming is designed to make the target feel guilty for doubting the intentions of an abuser, to make the victim feel as if the abuse was their own fault instead of an intentional decision by the abuser. Like a magician, abusers learn how to predict how someone will react by observing their personality and how they respond during the grooming phase.

While many believe that victim selection is impulsive, there is no evidence to support that in the majority of cases. Predators are smart enough to understand that choosing a target that is unlikely to be believed will mean that there is a lower chance of prosecution, even if the victim does talk (Salter, 2003, p. 32). Targeting goes hand-in-hand with grooming. If one potential target is not responsive to the grooming process then the predator can move on to the next, more compliant, target. Ruth Spencer, a woman who dated Ghomeshi for months without being abused, believes that he didn’t abuse her because they hadn’t dated “long enough.” However, length of time didn’t seem to be a factor for his abuse of other women. I think Jian saw something in Ruth that made him concerned that she’d tell someone if he hit her. Perhaps she had a strong support network, or just wasn’t compliant enough. Zoe Kazan tweeted about when she was interviewed by Jian Ghomeshi. She describes feeling like she had “asked for” his unwanted and inappropriate attention, even though there’s no evidence to suggest that she was seeking his attention in any way. These encounters may hint at someone who was always assessing how others react to them, like a magician finding the most gullible member in a crowd and asking for their assistance.  

After a target appears compliant or eager to please then the predator may feel confident in initiating abusive behaviour. Predators range in how much staging they use to hide their abuse. Salter (2003) describes a convicted predator that spent 6 months developing his cover story in order to rape his intended target. 6 months of coming over at odd hours of the day to help fix things around the house so that he could rape a woman and claim that he had been having an affair with her (pp. 42-43). Sometimes being overly helpful is a cover for something that a victim has no way of predicting. Like a magician who will practice a single move in order to make it appear seamless during a performance.

When unexpected abuse occurs, victims will often evaluate their own behaviour in an attempt to understand why something so unusual occurred. Predators also understand how to respond to trauma in a way that encourages their victims to “forget” about what happened (Herman, 1997, p. 8). If the predator appears apologetic, or as if the abuse was an irregular occurrence, the victim is more likely to focus on healing from the trauma than to seek legal counsel. From my work with victims of abuse, there seems to be an initial preference to deny that the abuse occurred in order to survive it. Kathryn Borel stated that Ghomeshi’s psychological abuse of her occurred every day in the workplace: “Throughout the time that I worked with [Jian Ghomeshi], he framed his actions with near daily verbal assaults and emotional manipulations. These inferences felt like threats, or declarations like I deserved to have happening to me what was happening to me. It became very difficult for me to trust what I was feeling.” Ms. Borel describes a case where Ghomeshi’s abuse became normal in her life and she became unable to distinguish between what was normal and abusive.

Magicians are practiced liars; they always have a line ready to deflect your attention if you get too close to observing what they’re doing. When someone claims to have observed how a trick is performed a magician may offer to break into discussion groups afterwards to remind the audience that the focus is on the trick not on the process. Abusers begin lying daily after their first assault (Salter, 2003, p. 40). Jian Ghomeshi has used every opportunity to deflect away from his behaviour. He initially claimed that his behaviour had been consensual and questioned the motives of his accusers. Even in his apology to Ms. Borel, he avoids directly stating what he did and ensures that his admission is broken up into different sentences in a way that disconnects the reader from what he actually did. Ghomeshi acknowledges his guilt, but claims that he was unaware of how inappropriate his behaviour was. Ed the Sock writes, “Any idiot knows dry-humping staff is a no-no, and Ghomeshi is a lot of things, but he isn't an idiot.” Looking at the evidence, what do you think: is Jian Ghomeshi a predator?

Most people like to assume that everyone else thinks about the world in the same way that they do. If someone is honest and transparent it is hard from them to understand the behaviour of someone who is dishonest and manipulative. Predators have no problem using our lack of knowledge to trick us. It’s only when we understand how a trick is performed that we can acknowledge what has been hidden from us and what we should anticipate.

Works Cited

Herman, J. (1997). Trauma and Recovery: The aftermath of violence - from domestic abuse to political terror. Basic Books.
Salter, A. (2003). Predators: Pedofiles, Rapists, & other Sex Offenders. New York: Basic books.

Friday 29 April 2016

Supporting Linda Redgrave's Recommendation

For tips on writing your own letter click here.

Dear Police, Crown, City Councilor, MPP, MP,

I am writing today after reading Linda Redgrave’s recommendation following her experience testifying at the Ghomeshi trial. Ms. Redgrave recommended that, prior to being interviewed victims should be given guidelines that explain the process through the justice system and what victims should expect throughout the process. In her blog, she states, “I want to see change. I want all women to know their rights going in from the beginning and I am going to do my best to be a voice for change.” She also wrote that police discouraged her from obtaining her own counsel.

I am writing to encourage you to accept her recommendation. Accused are always read their rights, but victims should also be informed of their rights. Victims should have – in writing – the process of reporting, key terminology related to reporting, information on their rights, the benefits of having a lawyer and an explanation of the law regarding sexual assault.

I have heard the argument that this may affect the way victims give their statements to police. I’m sure it would. It could also make the process more effective if victims know the importance of disclosing everything honestly to the police, because any dishonesty will come up during cross-examination. It is also possible for anyone to look up the majority of this information online, but then end up receiving only partial or inaccurate information. The justice system should do everything possible to provide victims with all the information they are entitled to have.  

Failing to inform victims with up-to-date information hinders justice. Police and prosecutors are not perfect and cases shouldn’t win or lose based on human error; it should be based on the truth and the law as it exists today.

If you have any questions or concerns about my recommendation then please contact me.

Thursday 24 March 2016

An element of flawed arguments

Some have been saying that the crown failed in properly preparing the victims, however I believe the crown failed from the foundation of their argument. In closing arguments the prosecutor stated “To prove that an offense occurred, the Crown must prove that there was: "Touching, the sexual nature of the conduct and the absence of consent."”

From the start of the argument the focus is wrong.

“Section 273.2 limits the scope of the defense of honest belief in consent to sexual activity by providing that the defense is not available where the accused's belief arose from the accused's self-induced intoxication, or where the accused's belief arose from the accused's recklessness or willful blindness or where the accused failed to take reasonable steps to ascertain whether the complainant was consenting.”[1]

The law states that someone must take reasonable steps to ascertain consent. In the trial there appeared to be almost no discussion about what Ghomeshi did to determine consent. The women were discredited primarily over reluctance/forgetting to disclose post-assault interactions. In closing arguments, the defense was tweeted as saying, “that the witness told police Ghomeshi used one hand when choking her, yet in court said that he used two hands.” Does whether someone used one or two hands choking them change the fact that they were choked? This judge seems to have an unrealistically high standard for memory recall.

The primary focus was not on what steps Ghomeshi took to determine consent. It’s possible that due to positive post-assault interactions he believed that the women did in fact consent, but the legal issue should ultimately be about Ghomeshi’s behaviour and what he did or didn’t do to determine consent.

The reason that this distinction is important is because you can’t prove the absence of consent. The crown also pointed out that there's no need to call an expert witness to explain why some women disclose alleged assaults many years later, because case law already recognizes that trauma can affect someone's actions. However, it would have been beneficial if they had an expert on traumatic memories talk about how memories are encoded and recalled.

There’s no tangible or measurable way to prove what someone felt internally, even the judge acknowledged that genuine victims are known for having odd behaviour (point 135 of his verdict). However in point 136 he states, “Each complainant in this case engaged in conduct regarding Mr. Ghomeshi, after the fact, which seems out of harmony with the assaultive behaviour ascribed to him.” This is the exact behaviour that the prosecutor stated is normal for victims. It shows that the prosecutor should have called an expert to explain their behaviour and reluctance in bring it forward. The prosecutor should appeal based on bias by the judge.

Food for thought: The judge pointed to the fact that the accused does not need to give a defense for his behaviour. However, maybe we must implement the Cosby approach to sue abusers in civil court in order to force them into giving answer about seeking consent, exposing them to the same questioning and memory recall that is required of victims. And then after the evidence is out in the open, then proceed to criminal trial. This would take the focus off of victim reactions and place it on the behaviour of the one that did the harm. My husband stated that if Ghomeshi were truly innocent then on hearing this verdict he would sue the women for defamation and sue his former employer for his dismissal. I highly doubt that he would want to bring out any evidence that would come out if he attempted that.


Tuesday 9 February 2016

Trauma Responses and Blindsides: Why Victims Seek Stability in Strange Ways

The media tends to find victim responses to abuse strange. However there’s an easy explanation to why victims try to re-establish good relationships with their abusers. Victims, like everyone else, want stability in their lives. Since prior to the abuse there were positives in the relationship, when an abusive event occurs the victim seeks to re-stabilize the relationship, trying to bring it back to “when it was good.” This is why some will state that they didn’t report because they slept with their rapist boyfriend the day after the rape or any number of other responses that might suggest they consented when they didn’t.

However you don’t see this type of behaviour with stranger assaults. So this raises the question of perceived consent. If a victim continues to be affectionate does this cause the abuser to misunderstand the victim’s response to his abuse? This seems to be one of the defenses that Ghomeshi is attempting. The argument could be made that since each woman was affectionate in some way after the assault that he believes they consented to his attacks. However, if he believed it was consensual that doesn’t explain why he would keep so many emails and letters from former lovers, but we probably won’t get to see that line of questioning.

Everyone seems to be focused on the behaviour of the women. However, the law states that the accused must take reasonable steps to confirm consent, which means the behaviour of any victim is almost legally irrelevant. What did Ghomeshi do to obtain consent? He appears to have done a lot to get “consent” in writing and very little in the moments prior to the assaults. His lawyer is claiming that these women are so “obsessed” with him that they came up with this years after being involved with him, but keeping emails seems much more obsessive than forgetting they existed. His behaviour is weird. He kept emails that he could use to attempt to humiliate his victims so that he could be sure they’d remain silent, and if they didn’t remain silent then he’d get payback by bringing up things that he probably primed them to say. All behaviours commonly used by abusers to control their victims.

Until prosecutors and police educate themselves on the behaviours of predators then they’re going to be fighting every case with an arm tied behind their back. Predators redirect attention away from their behaviour, while the law focuses on their behaviour. Prosecutors need to smarten up and remember what they’re supposed to focus on. Only two questions matter: What steps did the accused take to obtain consent? Could the victim have anticipated what the accused did or were they blindsided?

We shouldn’t accept blindsiding behaviour by abusers or their defense attorney’s. Until predatory behaviour is understood then repeat offenders like Jian Ghomeshi and Bill Cosby will continue to go unprosecuted. Let’s focus on signs of predatory behaviour and stop blaming victims for not expecting it.