Posts Tagged Violence

Rape Culture, Sexual Assault, and Domestic Violence

EJ Graff has been on FIRE at the American Prospect with a series of posts about the rape culture, sexual assault, domestic violence and ways to confront and change the world.

I don’t think it’s stretching things to say that sexual assault and domestic violence are linked.  Before I go to far, I want to point out that women can be perpetrators of both sexual assault and domestic violence.  And, importantly, men who commit both sexual violence and domestic violence are the minority.  The goal eliminating sexual assault and domestic violence no matter the gender of the victim.  Women are far more likely to be victims of both than are men.  In a recent post, Graff addressed the Steubenville case and called for a move from rape culture to respect culture.

Some background is necessary on Steubenville.  The basic outline feels all too familiar.  A group of local school athletes have been accused of raping a 16 year old.  The case went viral when a video surfaced:

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Mass Shootings and Mental Illness and Life and Death

At Freethoughtblogs, Ashley Miller wrote:

But I’m asking you–begging you, really, to not decide that Lanza had a mental illness. I’m asking you not to make “being a good person” the standard for mentally healthy.

Do not try to rationalize this away with mental illness. Stop talking about how it could have been schizophrenia, stop saying he had to have mental health issues. You do not know.

All of which is reasonable.  She expands her argument:

I don’t want them [people with mental illnesses] torn up with worry that they could be the next shooter, to isolate themselves because they ‘could be dangerous’. I don’t want their friends to worry for their lives. People with mental illness are four times as likely to be the victims of violence. They are more likely to suffer than perpetrate.

You want to care for the living? You want mental health care to be better? Stop making mental illness the scapegoat. You are causing stigma. You are making it harder. You are part of the problem. If today, seeing a therapist was free, treatment was covered as long as it was needed, do you think everyone who needed it would go? If the dominant narrative is that only ‘crazy people’  shoot schoolchildren?

I worked in a research lab developing and testing therapy for schizophrenia when I was 18, where in part, I interviewed participants and tagged along on treatment sessions. To this day, when I mention it–one of the best experiences of my studies–the common reaction is to ask about my safety. My safety from people who patiently let a teenager ask them incredibly personal questions for hours, who let me into their homes and lives. People with mental illness are not inherently dangerous. These attitudes are.

All of which I agree with.  Stigmas about mental illness often prevent people from seeking treatment.  Our mental health care system doesn’t work.  But . . .

The argument cuts both ways though.  The stigma around mental illness means people don’t seek treatment when they should so at least some folks who are mentally ill end up doing horrible things, which creates even more stigma.  Even people who have actual diagnoses often can’t get treatment.  Lots of people who should receive treatment, and get a diagnosis, don’t get it.  So Adam Lanza may well have had an undiagnosed mental illness, which means he got no treatment, simply because our mental health care system operates so poorly.  We can’t say, “Oh we was mentally ill.”  But it’s also fair to argue our system works so poorly that even if he were mentally ill, he probably wouldn’t have been diagnosed or received treatment.

For me, there’s a struggle between recognizing that clearly someone who commits a mass shooting is not in their right mind and knowing, as Ashley Miller argued, that I can’t know that they’re mentally ill.  The what ifs are vast and varied – otherwise psychologically healthy people can do extreme and even shockingly immoral things under the right circumstances.  That’s the whole point of Philip Zimbardo’s book The Lucifer Effect.  Zimbardo takes the metaphor of the bad apple and flips it around – what happens when you put a good apple into a bad barrel.  To put it more simply, someone like Adam Lanza could be entirely psychologically healthy but immersed in a situation so toxic that his moral choices are distorted by it.  People who are abused – physically and pyschologically – are affected by it.

Years ago, I was told that by a psychiatrist friend that many mental health professionals consider someone who is suicidal mentally ill by definition – wanting to your end your life is regarded as evidence of a mental illness.  Someone who commits suicide by cop or someone who guns down others then themselves, that certainly seems coherent with evidence of some sort of mental illness. And yet, even that behavior may not be evidence of authentic mental illness.  Back in the day, crowds would gather to watch lynchings and have a picnic with the kids in the shade of the tree while the victim was strung up and choking to death in its branches.

In a case like the mass shooting at Newtown, there are multiple tragedies playing out and multiple systemic failures – everything from lack of adequate gun licensing laws to a dysfunctional mental health care system to a culture which valorizes guns and redemptive violence.  In a very real sense, blaming mental illness is simplistic.  Dorothy Otnow Lewis documented the histories of many convicted felons and found that many of them were victims of severe abuse, suffered from the after effects of abuse and many had physical injuries which impaired their abilities to make decisions and predict outcomes of their actions.

By itself, if the Newtown shooter was mentally ill, by itself that’s not enough to lead to a mass killing.  Other things play a role as well.  It’s difficult for me to look at the shooter’s actions and not believe he was almost by definition mentally ill, but even if he were, that doesn’t mean he was also dangerous.

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Some Reactions to the Aurora CO shootings

John at Americablog:

Americans do a great job of proclaiming our collective shock and outrage when some nut for the gazillionth time opens fire on a crowd of innocent bystanders at a movie theater, a college, a high school, a museum, or a post office, but at some point, if we aren’t going to do anything about it, maybe it’s time we stopped the charade of pretending we actually care.

How man times does someone have to drown in front of us, while you do nothing, before it’s time to conclude that perhaps we are part of the problem?

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