Tag Archive for: recognizing abusers

Last month, February, was, among other designations, Dating Violence Awareness Month.  I’ve heard a statistic that 80% of parents could not correctly identify potential warning signs that their teen was in an abusive relationship.  It’s almost understandable, for many teens that time of life is marked by emotional volatility.  Parents could — if they were not aware that for teens dating violence is quite common — easily believe that their child was just going through a phase.  Or maybe they want to believe that dating violence happens to others, the less fortunate ones.  Or maybe the parents know and like the abuser, and are not believing that person could be an abuser.

Oftimes teens themselves are reluctant to tell parents.  They might fear they will not be believed, or they will be blamed for the abuse, or some of their newly-gained independence will be rescinded.  All possible.  Yet, overall, we do need for teens to have safe, supportive people in their lives.  

For several years I was a guest lecturer for one of Seattle Central College’s Women’s Studies classes.  Each October (Domestic Violence Awareness Month) I gave a self-defense presentation which included recognizing behaviors constituting abuse.  Not just specific behaviors, but recognizing patterns of controlling and coercive behaviors.  How these actions served to isolate the target from supportive family and trusted friends, limited the target’s choices in many areas, and erase the target’s sense of their own identity as a person.  

I would hang up a clothesline (yes, one that could be used to hang up the wash) across the room.  On that clothesline I put 4 tags:  Annoying, Disrespectful, Dangerous, and Life-Threatening.  Annoying meant that someone was poking one of your boundaries, it seemed pretty small even if noticeable, and you weren’t sure if you should speak up.  Disrespectful would be a boundary poke on the Annoying level, but now you’re sure it was on purpose.  Dangerous is a boundary violation that included a risk of harm.  And Life-Threatening didn’t have to mean you would die, it meant your quality of life would significantly change for the worse, maybe for the rest of your life.  These 4 tags are markers along a continuum of snippets of behavior.

I’d have a bunch of other tags, each with specific acts, the snippets of behaviordating violence awareness.  Here are a few, think about where you’d place them along the continuum:

  • Puts me down in front of my friends
  • Always keeps a hand on me
  • Stares at me
  • Is constantly calling and checking up on me
  • Insists on paying for a date
  • Says their jealousy is because they love me so much
  • Tells others things I told them in confidence
  • Tells me I’m stupid when I express an opinion
  • Told others I slept with them
  • Makes me feel afraid
  • Stands too close
  • Called me “crazy”
  • Forced me to kiss them
  • Gets upset if I want to spend time with family or other friends
  • Keeps asking me out after I’ve said “no”
  • Blames me for anything that goes awry
  • Won’t let me sleep when they are angry
  • Constantly criticizes my choice of clothing, movies, food

This is just a smattering of snippets.  There are many, many more.  The most important lesson gleaned from this exercise is that abuse may begin with “annoying” behavior, but repetition and escalation to disrespectful, dangerous, or beyond marks the pattern as abusive.  Recognizing the beginning stages is key to dating violence awareness.

After class, I always had a couple of student approach me.  Their stories were fundamentally the same.  The had this significant other who engaged in so many of these behaviors, and told them outright that this was “normal” for a relationship, that they would never get better, that their expectations were ridiculous, that they were crazy.  (BTW, these statements can also go on our continuum.)   They were relieved to find out no, they were not “crazy” or had unreasonable expectations, that their experiences had a name and were defined as controlling and abusive.  

I wondered why they did not learn that before entering college.

Many in my adult classes express chagrin that they too did not learn to recognize these behaviors earlier in life.  Dating violence awareness, for quite a few people, gets learned later than they expected.

Maybe some parents don’t recognize the signs of abuse because they didn’t learn it, or have learned to accept that behavior as normal.  

It’s never too late to learn that you don’t have to cater to manipulative and abusive people.  And maybe we should learn these fact earlier.

Stay safe, live life.

January, besides being rainy and chilly, is Human Trafficking Awareness Month.  Human trafficking is basically a synonym for slavery.  It’s a multi-billion dollar industry worldwide.  And — if you think it happens elsewhere but not here — the Puget Sound has a very lively human trafficking industry.

Several years ago I participated on a safety panel for a local transitional housing agency.  Also on the panel were a domestic violence advocate, an art therapist, and two officers with the Seattle Police Department.  At one point, one of officers went off on a tangent — they were excited because they had recently arrested a particular pimp.  The significance was this pimp’s specialty:  he prostituted young teen girls, between the age of 12 and 14.  At that time I had no idea such a specialty existed.  

What also made his capture significant was his success in “recruiting” young girls to prostitution.  It seemed to have everything to do with his targeting.  He would hang out in shopping malls (apparently Northgate and Alderwood were his favorites), around the food court or clothing stores popular with that age girl.  He’d be looking for girls who were by themselves.  Not just that they were alone, they seemed lonely.  Maybe they didn’t have friends, or friends in school, or were bullied at school.  Maybe there was abuse at home, or a parent had substance abuse or mental health issues and wasn’t emotionally available as a parent.  Maybe she was homeless, or questioning her sexuality or gender identity and not getting support.  Maybe she was angry at life, at her circumstances, and wanted something different.  He was looking for that sense.  He would approach a possible target, and say, “Look, I just have to tell you, you have the most amazing gorgeous eyes.”  The main response he’d be watching for was for her to drop her gaze, to lower her eyes.  That’s submissive body language, and if he saw that he knew he could get her.  If not, he might just say, “hey, just thought I’d let you know, have a great day,” and he’d leave.  He was looking for easy, not a fight.  If he saw the response he wanted, he’d keep talking, engaging her in conversation.  He was good at this, his experience gave him a good basis for saying what young girls may want to hear.  And he seemed to be a real listener.  Very often they’d leave an hour or two or three later, having exchanged cellphone numbers.  She’d maybe be thinking, wow I have a new friend, this guy seems to understand what I’m going through.  Maybe a few weeks later she’d be thinking, wow I have a great new boyfriend, so much better and more mature than stupid boys my age.  Even further down the road, after he’d rape her, have some of his buddies rape her, force her to use drugs, force her to engage in commercial sex, she’d still have a strong emotional attachment to him.  

I have no idea if this pimp’s approach was “typical,” I suspect not.  Many pimps are not strangers:  they can be family members, friends, classmates.  Nevertheless, he was successful, at least until he got caught.  

Do you want to learn more about human trafficking?  Check out these websites:

Learn more about how to recognize the signs that someone you know may be falling into trafficking, or may already be in that web.  Recognize it is a local problem.

Stay safe, live life.

Today is Wednesday May 19, 2021, and it’s a bit rainy. This past weekend, though, was sunny, a virtual mini-summer, so I got to hang out in my backyard, in my hammock, reading. This is the book, The Psychopath Inside by James Fallon. He’s a neuroscientist (and not to be confused with The Tonight Show’s Jimmy Fallon)The Psychopath Inside.

Dr. Fallon studies brains. What makes them tick, or fail to tick correctly. What he’s most well-known for — in the eye of the general public — is his research on the brains of psychopaths. And, frankly, this research would not likely have caught the public eye except for one detail. Turns out, Dr. Fallon himself has the brain of a psychopath.

He found this out by accident. He was going through brain scans of his family, done to check for for a totally unrelated medical issue, when he saw this scan that looked just like it belonged in one of his other projects, the psychopath studies. He first thought that somehow the scans got mixed up and had his assistant check on it. But no, that was his. It came to find its way in the public eye because he brought it up in public venues, in his TED Talk in 2009, and his Moth Radio Hour story (recorded 2011, aired end of 2013). These attracted media attention and his story was repeated and amplified by media looking for intriguing stories, and he became the psychopath inside.

First, a bit on what makes a psychopath. Seems there is not a standard clinical definition, at least not as of the writing of this book in 2013.  Characteristic traits include:

  • emotional flatness and lack of empathy, lack of remorse, and refusal to accept responsibility for their actions
  • superficiality, grandiosity, and deceitfulness
  • impulsiveness and unreliability
  • antisocial behavior such as hotheadedness, physical violence, pleasure in harming others, and sometimes a criminal record

There is a fair bit of science in the book, and I’m unlikely to remember most of the details. More interesting is what those details mean, such as activity detected in the dorsal part, or upper third, of the brain is associated more with rational thought, and activity in the ventral part, or lower third, of the brain is connected more with emotional intelligence. Seems that psychopath brains have far less activity, if any, in the ventral portion, and that manifests as a lack of emotional connection with others.

Still more interesting is Dr. Fallon’s reflection on the meaning of his brain’s state. He looks back on a warm upbringing and a loving family, wonderful childhood, teenage stuff, party years of college (and beyond), his fun-loving adventures and pranks that were all in jest and hurt nobody because his fellow participants wanted to let loose, and boys will be boys, right? Now, if you’ve been following me for a while, you probably know what I think of the phrase “boys will be boys” — a poor excuse to get away with poor behavior.  Boys will be the boys we let them be, and the young James seems to have gotten away with a fair bit.

He didn’t identify himself as a psychopath for a while after his revealing brain scan, because according to him, he was missing some of the essential components of what he considered a true psychopath. He’s not physically violent. He doesn’t have a criminal record (which he mentions several times in the book), he doesn’t take pleasure in causing pain, and doesn’t try to cause pain (unless he’s out for revenge, which he notes briefly, towards the end, and gave no details). His writing oscillates between he’s just having fun and nobody got hurt, with thinking that maybe he hurt others and simply didn’t notice because it’s out of the realm of his personal experience due to his brain, or maybe at times he did hurt others but just didn’t care. That darned lack of empathy. Dr. Fallon goes back and forth, back and forth, about the impact of his actions. I don’t think he’s the right person to make that assessment, but as for others’ opinions, he probably does not care, as he states over and over and over again in this book.  Which is what makes him the “psychopath inside.”

So how did family, friends, and colleagues relate to him after the publicity of his brain state? Well, he said a couple of “close” friends chose to limit or eliminate contact with him. Most already had him figured out, so nothing changed. And a small crowd actually wanted to spend more time with him. So next time you hear about those targeted and victimized by good boys (who went a little too far) get shoved to the side, especially if the perpetrator is relatively well-liked by others (even if they know what he’s about), wonder why no more.  That’s the psychopath inside.

The book is an interesting read, even though Dr. Fallon is not a particularly artful writer, and his final chapter about why psychopaths are essential to a healthy society is verging on self-serving, in my opinion. If you personally have ever been in a relationship with a psychopath, sociopath, narcissist, or someone of that ilk, this book may bring back memories you may not relish reviewing, and in some cases could be triggering. Read at your own risk. Or read a book by Dr. Robert Hare instead.

Stay safe, live life.

I’ve been teaching safety and self-defense for over 25 years, and if I had a dime for every student who in some way labeled themselves “paranoid,” even in a semi-joking sort of way, I’d now be retired. In luxury.

What is being paranoid? I’m not a psychologist, and I’m not going to give a technical definition. In colloquial terms, when people say they’re “just being paranoid,” generally they mean they feel something is amiss but can’t think of a good rational reason why. So they must be paranoid, right?

It’s always been intriguing to me that when people think about taking precautions when interacting with others they don’t know all that well, it feels off. Odd. Uncomfortable. Un-natural. Unreasonable. Even pathological. Like we SHOULD just trust other people, and there’s something wrong with us if we don’t.

In fact, most of the time we do just that, we trust others. We pass people on the street all the time, and rarely does anything odd, let along bad, happen. We go into stores, cafes, and offices, and the vast majority of the time it’s just another routine day. Maybe we say hi to the cashier at the grocery store, or we chat with our neighbors when we get home. Another familiar typical day.

Familiarity does lead us to a sort of complacency, a set of expectations that it’s the same as it ever was.

Think back to a time when you sensed something amiss, and did nothing. What happened? Were you OK with the outcome?

Think back to a time when you sensed something amiss, and did something to change that interaction’s trajectory. What happened? Were you OK with the outcome?

Gavin De Becker’s whole premise in his book The Gift of Fear, is that we should listen to these feelings! They are telling us something important. De Becker lists several “feelings” that he calls messengers of intuition:  nagging feelings, persistent thoughts, humor, wonder, anxiety, curiosity, hunches, gut feelings, doubt, hesitation, suspicion, apprehension, and fear (p. 74 of the NY:  Dell Publishing, 1997 edition).

Interpreting those messages can be a challenge: are we facing someone who is looking to exploit us, are we misunderstanding someone else’s sense of appropriate, are we caving in to stereotypes and prejudice?  De Becker also lists seven “survival signals,” specific behaviors that should cause concern:  1) forced teaming, 2) charm and niceness, 3) too many details, 4) typecasting, 5) emotional loansharking, 6) unsolicited promises, and 7) ignoring your NO.  This is Chapter 4.

Several of my students talked about their processes in tackling that challenge.

One was just finishing college and about to travel.  Over the summers she’d return home to Seattle, and to earn money she worked at Pike Place Market selling cherries.  Most people wandering through the market that time of year were tourists, who may not have NEEDED cherries but could be persuaded.  She found herself on the front side of the counter, and quickly learned by peoples’ body language and tone of voice which might be interested in cherries and which might be more interested in just chatting, or getting free cherries, or hooking up.

Another’s job was literally online, she created the backend of user interfaces. She could work from anywhere in the world, as long as there was a high speed internet connection. So she lived in various European countries for months at a time, in Bali, in eastern Africa, India, Malaysia, all over. First, though, she laid groundwork. She spent a lot of time on mass transit, cafes, and in public venues. She eavesdropped and people-watched. She looked for body language in interactions, tones of voice, distances between bodies in different situations, and the trajectory of the interactions. As the great American sage Yogi Berra is said to have saidDispel those nagging fears of being "paranoid" by making your commute into a practicum for reading body language!, you can observe a lot just by watching. And she got good at identifying “red flags” and feeling confident in choosing appropriate actions.

These two did not feel in the least paranoid. Because they prepared for being more active participants in living on their own terms.

Stay safe, live life.

Happy Earth Day, everyone!  Although today is Thursday, April 22, 2021, I’m not here to talk about Earth Day. But a good discussion moment came up in social media, about media literacy and how to recognize social media hoaxes.

You may have seen social media postings about April 24. About an alleged group of six men who are said to have declared — via a TikTok video — April 24 as National Rape Day, suggesting that men go out and sexually assault women, and it would be legal.

Others on social media have been sounding the alarm. Stay at home, carry a weapon, be on high alert, etc. Except, where’s the alleged video? One TikTok account claims to have seen it, and claims to be spreading the word because most of her followers are women and they should be aware of it. Others have picked up on that warning. But I don’t know of many, or even any other accounts claiming to have seen the alleged original video.

And TikTok cannot find the offending video, on their own platform.

If I were a gambling type of gal, I’d be betting this is a hoax. That this “news” is a troll or two whose goal is to generate attention, spread fear, and kick back laughing as they watch responses roll in. Said trolls could be the purported group of six, or it could be the account that issued the warning about a non-existent Group of Six.

I personally do not plan on taking precautions other than what I would normally. Remember, an average of about 1,200 persons are sexually assaulted each day in the United States. The alleged “advice” we are hearing from those spreading the April 24 hoax is to stay safe by staying at home. I call BS. Most women are raped in someone’s home. By people they know.

recognize social media hoaxes

Wouldn’t it be nice if recognizing social media hoaxes were this easy?

This is a good example of why we — and I mean “we” as individual media consumers, and that probably includes you on occasion — why we need to practice better media literacy and critical thinking (yes, we do cover that in our self-defense classes).  Why we need to more surely recognize social media hoaxes.  This has the markings of a hoax. It pushes a hot-button issue with a claim of imminent outrageous action. It has a built-in audience, and will attract a sizable readership, especially on social media. And there’s no real evidence. Before spreading crap, please do some homework if you have ANY doubts. Click the links, all of them. No links? That’s a red flag. Google all the names. Reverse image search all images. Run a Whois on domain names. Or if you don’t want to do all that, at the very least find a reliable fact-checking site, maybe Snopes.com. I am not on TikTok, but if I were, I’d be checking into the reliability of those spreading this. Please do not empower trolls by spreading their misinformation — it sucks up your time and energy needlessly, and it sucks up the time and energy of others with whom you share, that can be put to much better use. And it contributes to a social environment where most people consider the world a suckier place then it really is.

Stay safe, and live life!

Today is Thursday, January 14, of the year 2021.  Next week Joseph R. Biden will be sworn in as President of the United States, in a ceremony that threatens to be quite memorable. I generally don’t get very political in these posts.  Issues and principles, yes. Today is an exception; we are living through interesting times.

Thanks to last week’s events, some starkly clear lines are truly impossible to ignore.  [If you are reading this way in the future, just look up the events leading to President Trump’s second impeachment.]  Last week the Capitol Building in Washington, DC was over-run by a large group of Trump supporters in town to attend a rally.  At this rally, the outgoing President of the United States said some things that incited them to then march to the Capitol Building, break in, and cause damage to people and property.  Among the unruly masses seem to have been some more focused individuals, who had goals of finding specific elected officials, restraining them, possibly physically harming them. In addition, it seems that some individuals who swore to uphold the law instead forwent their oath and enabled the mob. This is not the rule of law.  This is not democracy.

Why am I bringing this up, why is this important for your personal safety? (Yes, sooner or later this does get back to personal safety.) I’ll bet you can answer that question. Your personal safety is only as secure as your ability to rely on social institutions for justice and redress. Frankly, that’s been on shaky ground anyways for a long while. However, the last 4 years have exacerbated and highlighted inequities.

What makes this especially relevant are not just those who incite sedition or commit insurrection. They are the tip of the iceberg, the most visible element and that which gets most attention. But there are also the enablers. Those who create and echo lies, engage in the gaslighting, mislead others, often for their own profit. Those who denigrate facts for their own benefit, and to the detriment of others.  I’ve written before about enablers (most recently about the documentary Athlete A), and why more people don’t report crimes committed against them.  To repeat:  It’s not just the perpetrators, though they are a critical ingredient.  It’s also those who support perpetrators.  Those who engage in distraction, gaslighting, and threats to intimidate those targeted and garner support from bystanders.    Not just the Trumps, but the Giulianis, Alex Joneses, and Steve Bannons, who stand to gain from their support but at the expense of others.

Stay tuned for more living through interesting times.