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Watch the presentation or read the full transcript here.   Now watch what happens when we bring an empirical fact based approach to understanding why our justice system is broken when it comes to sexual assault.  So, now we have some evidence of what is happening to people who have experienced sexual assault, it is our duty to push for changing the system to move toward a more just application of the law and concomitantly a more just society.

[ed. I think this is a very important presentation, I encourage everyone to reblog, excerpt, and reproduce this or the original article]

“I want to discuss how research can inform a very longstanding problem in the criminal justice system — sexual assault case attrition. We know, of course, that not all victims report the assault to the criminal justice system, but of those that do — of the reports that are made to the police — only a small number of them are actually going to be prosecuted.

So what I want to do today is bring together research from multiple disciplines to try to understand how and why this is happening. I’m going to begin by talking about what we know from criminal justice research on the problem of sexual assault case attrition. Then I want to bring in what we know from psychology and psychiatry about victim behavior and the neurobiology of trauma. If we bring these two worlds together, do we get empirically based recommendations for how we can change practice?

So to that end let’s start off by talking about what we know from criminal justice research on the problem of sexual assault case attrition. I want to start with three simple quotes — three short quotes from qualitative research I’ve done. One quote is from law enforcement, one is from a rape victim advocate, and one is from a survivor.

So let’s start off with a quote from law enforcement. This is a very seasoned detective, 15 years in a sex crimes unit. When I asked him sort of what happens when victims come in to report an assault to the criminal justice system, this is what he said. He said: “The stuff they say makes no sense” — referring to victims — “So no I don’t always believe them and yeah I let them know that. And then they say ‘Nevermind. I don’t want to do this.’ Okay, then. Complainant refused to prosecute; case closed.”

So now let’s loop in the rape victim advocate perspective: “It’s hard trying to stop what police do to victims. They don’t believe them and they treat them so bad that the victims give up. It happens over and over again.”

So now let’s loop in the victim’s perspective. In reference to her interactions with her law enforcement officer, she said the following. She said: “He didn’t believe me and he treated me badly. It didn’t surprise me when he said there wasn’t enough to go on to do anything. It didn’t surprise me, but it still hurt.”

So what do we get from these three simple quotes? What these three quotes show us right off the bat is that sexual assault case attrition happens very early on in the criminal justice system. It’s happening in the first interactions between the victims and law enforcement. Indeed, if we take these qualitative data and look at them from a quantitative perspective, we see very similar findings.

So this is a quantitative study that my colleagues and I just finished. This was an NIJ-funded research project looking at the issue of sexual assault case attrition in six different communities: two rural communities, two mid-size communities, two large urban communities. All six of these communities had sexual assault nurse examiner programs, so there was a place in each of these six communities where victims could get a good quality medical forensic exam. So what we did with these six communities is start with the same program the patients that came in for a medical exam. We wanted to see what happens afterwards. So did they make a police report? And if they made the police report, now let’s track and see how far it goes through the criminal justice system.

So then what you see going along the side there are the different outcomes that we coded. So when a case came in, had the exam, and made a police report, what was the final outcome? Was the final outcome that it was not referred by police onto the prosecutors or if it made it to the prosecutors it wasn’t charged? Was the final outcome that it was charged by the prosecutors but was then dropped, for whatever reason? Was the final outcome that it was plea bargained? Was the final outcome that it went to trial but acquitted? Or was the final outcome that it went to trial and it was convicted?

So we looked at over 12 years of data across these six different jurisdictions, and here’s what we found.

This is the row that you want to pay attention to. This is the very first step in the criminal justice system. On average, 86 percent of the reported sexual assaults never went any further than the police. The vast majority of these cases were never referred by the police on to the prosecutors.

So let’s dig a little deeper now and try to understand what is happening in this interaction between the victim and law enforcement — that very first interaction. Well, unfortunately, the research tells us that what’s happening in that first interaction between the victim and law enforcement is what we call “secondary victimization.” Now secondary victimization refers to the attitudes, beliefs and behaviors of social system personnel that victims experience as victim blaming and insensitive. It exacerbates their trauma, and it makes them feel like what they’re experiencing is a second rape — hence the term “secondary victimization.”

Now, over the course of my career I’ve had the opportunity to interview victims about secondary victimization. What behaviors, what happened in your interactions with law enforcement or doctors or nurses that led you to feel upset and re-traumatized. I’ve also had the opportunity to interview law enforcement and doctors and nurses about secondary victimization behaviors. And I asked them, “Did you do these things?” And I was actually kind of expecting the sort of not quite crossing — oh no, everybody agrees. Everybody agrees that this is happening. You ask the victim, they say “Oh yeah, I encountered this.” You ask law enforcement, he says, “Oh yeah, I did that.”

So what are they doing? Well, what I represent in this graph are some of the most common secondary victimization behaviors. Again, these are composites. This is regional data from large metropolitan surveys. This is not national work, so keep it in that context. But when a victim goes forward to law enforcement to report the assault, on average, victims and law enforcement agree that 69 percent of the time, law enforcement tells them, “Don’t do this.” They discourage the victim from making the report in the first place. On average, 51 percent of the time, law enforcement tell victims what happened to them is not serious enough to pursue through the criminal justice system. Seventy percent of the time, law enforcement ask victims about their dress or their behavior or what they might have done to provoke the assault. On average, 90 percent of victims encounter at least one secondary victimization behavior in their interactions with law enforcement during that first reporting process.

Brutal.  Systemic change is desperately required.

That’s the more theoretical point I want to make, I also want to excerpt another part of the presentation dealing with the victims of sexual assault –

“Tonic immobility is often referred to as “rape-induced paralysis.”

It is an autonomic response, meaning that it’s uncontrollable. This is not something a victim decides to do. It is a mammalian response. It is evolutionarily wired into us to protect the survival of the organism. Because sometimes the safest thing to do to protect the safety is to fight back. Sometimes the safest thing to do is to flee. Sometimes the stupidest thing to do is to flee because it will incite chase. Therefore, our bodies have been wired for a freeze response too — to play dead, to look dead, because that may be the safest thing for the survival of the organism. So it is a mammalian response that is in all of us — we can’t control it. And it happens in extremely fearful situations.

Behaviorally, it is marked by increased breathing, eye closure, but the most marked characteristic of tonic immobility is muscular paralysis. A victim in a state of tonic immobility cannot move. She cannot move her hands. She cannot move her arms. She cannot move her legs. She cannot move her torso. She cannot move her head. She is paralyzed in that state of incredible fear.

Research suggests that between 12 and 50 percent of rape victims experience tonic immobility during a sexual assault, and most data suggests that the rate is actually closer to the 50 percent than the 12 percent.

There’s also some emerging data that suggests that tonic immobility is slightly more common if a victim has a prior history of sexual assault. So if he or she had been sexually assaulted as a child and then was subsequently assaulted in adolescence or adulthood, the likelihood of experiencing tonic immobility at those later assaults tends to increase.

So what I want to do now is share with you a case example from my research on tonic immobility — again, sort of what the victim’s perspective on it is, what law enforcement’s perspective is on this.

This is a case example that I did through research at my university. This was a college student house party — a very common situation for a lot of campus-based sexual assaults. So you see the plastic chairs there, the beer cups, the Miller Lite beer boxes hanging out there.

So this was a 20-year-old woman who went to this party with her friends.

She met a guy there, flirting, liked him. He says, “Do you want to go back to one of the bedrooms?” She agrees. They’re messing around, sexual activity — not intercourse.

She doesn’t want to have sexual intercourse. She gets afraid. She’s like “No, no, no. I don’t want to do this. I don’t know you. I don’t want to do this.”

He doesn’t listen. He physically pins her upper body down with his elbow to hands, not a particularly complicated hold. That hold terrifies her enough that when the HPA axis kicks in she freezes and she goes into a state of tonic immobility during the assault. And she is completely frozen throughout the assault.

He finishes sexually assaulting her. He gets up, sees her laying there, he goes out and tells his friends at the party, “Hey, I just had sex with so-and-so and she’s still there.”

So the men lined up on the porch to take turns going in and sexually assaulting her. And she was multiply raped throughout the course of that evening by men, still lying there in a state of tonic immobility.

Now one of the friends that she was with at the party heard this. She heard the men talking about this lining up to go in and sexually assault her. So she barges in, she gets her friend out, describe — I had the opportunity to talk to the friend — she’s like, “I felt like I was lifting a dead body. I was like shaking her, trying to get her to kind of snap out of it. I had to sort of physically drag her out of there.” And then the tonic immobility state was released.

Took her to the hospital. The nurses there did a medical exam and a forensic evidence collection kit, and she filed a police report.

The police refused to pick up the kit. Because she had been sexually assaulted by multiple men at that party, they referred to it as a sloppy mess — that it would be too difficult to take apart the exam, to take apart the kit to figure out whose DNA was there.

And then they closed the case. I had the opportunity to ask the police officer why he chose to close this case, and here’s what he said. He said, “Well she just laid there, so she must have wanted it. No one wants to have a train pulled on them, so if she just laid there and took it she must have wanted it.”

Now we could have an entire discussion about this one quote. There’s things about it that are very disturbing, and there’s things about it that are very curious. You can hear the questioning in his voice. “She just laid there, so she must have wanted it.” He’s trying to make sense of this. He doesn’t understand why somebody would lay there. So the attribution is “Well, she must have wanted it” because he doesn’t know of any other explanation.

There is another explanation. He didn’t know about it. The explanation is tonic immobility. This is a documented neurobiological condition. This law enforcement had no idea what this was. I brought it up to him in the course of the interview. He literally cuts me off and he says “It’s too late now; the case is closed.” And I said, “It’s too late for this case, but here — let me give you a mini presentation on the neurobiology of trauma” and so on and so forth. And he’s like, “I didn’t know. I did not know that this could happen.”

Tonic immobility is an aspect of our survival mechanisms.  We need desperately to change our societal practices and expectations to accommodate these facts.

 

 

Why do people commit evil?  How does one get from being an ordinary citizen to someone who oversees the genocide of their neighbours?   What are the psychological states that premeditate acts of violence on the personal and societal level?  Noga Arikha is a historian who has looked into the research on how we foment and propagate evil institutions and evil acts.

 

“This is what the neurosurgeon Itzhak Fried at the University of California, Los Angeles did with his article ‘Syndrome E’ (1997) in The Lancet. A syndrome is a group of biological symptoms that together constitute a clinical picture. And E stands for evil. With Syndrome E, Fried identified a cluster of 10 neuropsychological symptoms that are often present when evil acts are committed – when, as he puts it, ‘groups of previously nonviolent individuals’ turn ‘into repetitive killers of defenceless members of society’. The 10 neuropsychological symptoms are:

1. Repetition: the aggression is repeated compulsively.
2. Obsessive ideation: the perpetrators are obsessed with ideas that justify their aggression and underlie missions of ethnic cleansing, for instance that all Westerners, or all Muslims, or all Jews, or all Tutsis are evil.
3. Perseveration: circumstances have no impact on the perpetrator’s behaviour, who perseveres even if the action is self-destructive.
4. Diminished affective reactivity: the perpetrator has no emotional affect.
5. Hyperarousal: the elation experienced by the perpetrator is a high induced by repetition, and a function of the number of victims.
6. Intact language, memory and problem-solving skills: the syndrome has no impact on higher cognitive abilities.
7. Rapid habituation: the perpetrator becomes desensitised to the violence.
8. Compartmentalisation: the violence can take place in parallel to an ordinary, affectionate family life.
9. Environmental dependency: the context, especially identification with a group and obedience to an authority, determines what actions are possible.
10. Group contagion: belonging to the group enables the action, each member mapping his behaviour on the other. Fried’s assumption was that all these ways of behaving had underlying neurophysiological causes that were worth investigating.Note that the syndrome applies to those previously normal individuals who become able to kill. It excludes the wartime, sanctioned killing by and of military recruits that leads many soldiers to return home (if they ever do) with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); recognised psychopathologies such as sociopathic personality disorder that can lead someone to shoot schoolchildren; and crimes of passion or the sadistic pleasure in inflicting pain. When Hannah Arendt coined her expression ‘the banality of evil’ in Eichmann in Jerusalem (1963), she meant that the people responsible for actions that led to mass murder can be ordinary, obeying orders for banal reasons, such as not losing their jobs. The very notion of ordinariness was tested by social psychologists. In 1971, the prison experiment by the psychologist Philip Zimbardo at Stanford University played with this notion that ‘ordinary students’ could turn into abusive mock ‘prison guards’ – though it was largely unfounded, given evidence of flaws in the never-replicated experiment. Still, those afflicted with Syndrome E are indeed ordinary insofar as that they are not affected by any evident psychopathology. The historian Christopher Browning wrote of equally ‘ordinary men’ in the 1992 book of that name (referenced by Fried) who became Nazi soldiers. The soldier who killed my grandfather was very probably an ordinary man too.

Today, biology is a powerful explanatory force for much human behaviour, though it alone cannot account for horror. Much as the neurosciences are an exciting new tool for human self-understanding, they will not explain away our brutishness. Causal accounts of the destruction that humans inflict on each other are best provided by political history – not science, nor metaphysics. The past century alone is heavy with atrocities of unfathomable scale, albeit fathomable political genesis.”

I pondered the conclusions of this essay and am reminded of the work “Ordinary Men” by (also referenced in the essay) by Christopher R. Browning that describes the psychological and sociological contagions that bring out the evil that exists in all of us.  I’m struck by, even as I write, the tendency to pathologize evil as if it were disease that somehow takes root and manifests itself on ‘good people’.  This socially sanctioned frame, looking at the literature, is shockingly incorrect as the data points to the fact that we all possess the capacity to commit heinous acts of violence, even genocide, if the conditions are right.

Arikha states that “empathy is rarely universal” and that “Family belonging and social belonging are separate. When they meet, as happened in Bosnia and Rwanda when families turned on each other, the group identity prevails”.   Chilling statements such as these implode the ideas we carry around about common human decency and common human morality and empathy.  The story we tell ourselves, about ourselves, is bullshite and these bullshit assumptions are what we run ‘civilized’ society on.  I think this false narrative allows people to be repeated shocked and horrified when tales of wanton bloodshed and genocide hit the news – it is seen as a huge deviation from the norm.  Yet, if we look at humans, it isn’t a particular large leap from our observable behaviours.

We – ‘the good guys’ – ran a government sanctioned torture program.  Oh, certainly we had our legal pretzelese to mask and make torture palatable for the general public. Never the less, dodgy legal justifications do not nullify the social and psychological ramifications of one’s nation endorsing the institutional infliction of pain on others.  I think we are still seeing the negative effects of the torture revelations running through our western societies .

Essay’s like Arikha’s make me contemplate how much projection we engage in as a society to protect ourselves from the rather brutish reality of our societal and geo-poltical existence.

(*edited for early morning writing)

 

For those who don’t get the male gaze, another similar concept is the Panopticon and the theory that goes behind it. See also the Observer Effect study by Hawthorne (1950).

Something to brighten, or darken your day.

 

 

A couple of minutes of interesting psychology/philosophy to start your day. :)

Ambiguity, the palette of our world, just isn’t the best for us.

  Another hurdle for those who wish to change society.

“Social scientists spend a lot of time and effort criticizing, deconstructing and otherwise problematizing various systems, institutions, ideologies and policies. However, it is much less common for researchers to develop alternative social arrangements that could be plausibly implemented in the “real world.” And it is exceedingly rare for social scientists to meaningfully engage with the public and policymakers in order to help translate those possibilities into realities. However, these latter steps are arguably the most important for actually mitigating the social problems researchers identify and analyze.

Again, people tend to stand behind established orders, even ones that are highly dysfunctional, even ones they don’t particularly like or believe in, unless and until there is a viable and attractive alternative they can rally behind instead.  Absent options, critique approaches futility.

Social science could be much more impactful, therefore, if researchers utilized their expertise to not merely articulate what doesn’t work (and why)—but to really push themselves to think through what could work better. And not, could work in an ideal world, or what would’ve worked in a counterfactual past, or what will work in an envisioned future (assuming x, y and z). The focus should be on what practical steps can be plausibly taken, by actual agents, here and now, to make headway on social problems.”

 

Full Article by available on Counterpunch.

 

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