Tuesday 5 March 2013

Abuse and Predicting Outcomes

Last week's Law and Order: Special Victims Unit episode has gotten me thinking.  Although they're very clear on stories not being based on real life (to avoid being sued), this one was clearly based on the incident between Rhianna and Chris Brown.

(For those who don't remember, Chris Brown beat up Rhianna right before the Grammy awards, badly enough that she went to the hospital.  People were outraged when she forgave him and continued to have a relationship with him.)

In the episode, the relationship continues to spiral into greater and greater abuse until she's killed.  Every cycle is predictable: he hits her, she's upset, he apologizes, she forgives him and drops charges, he hits her again.

The sad part is that this cycle is predictable in real life, too.  (Although generally a little more stretched out.)  The character in the episode is nineteen and she behaves just like a typical 18-22 year old, believing him every time he says it will never happen again.  The detectives are getting hugely frustrated dealing with her, trying to get her to see and understand that her life is at risk.

I was watching and it occured to me: Why are they getting frustrated?  As special victims detectives, they must have seen this cycle often enough to know how it plays out.  They must know that getting frustrated only drives the victim into deeper solidarity with her abuser.  Then I remembered an oft repeated statistic on Dr. Phil how the ability to predict long-term consequences for our chosen behaviours doesn't come fully online until our mid-twenties.

Maybe this is one of the ways women get trapped in abusive relationships.  They literally aren't able to see that the pattern is only going to get worse if it's allowed to continue.  I don't know the statistics but from a lifetime of watching Oprah and Dr. Phil, a lot of women who are there to get help for abuse say they met their husband/boyfriend as a teenager or in their early twenties.  Once they're stuck in the pattern and everyone else seems to be against them, they're isolated.

If this really is a factor, then we might need a different model for preventing abuse other than trying to make the woman aware of the risks.  A teenager can glibly recite statistics and patterns but never believes in his or her heart that it will happen to them, be it about smoking, drugs or other dangerous activities.  Add in the emotional hormone-driven high of a first intense relationship and a first sexual relationship and the odds really are against anyone making logical, clear-headed decisions.

I have seen friends in abusive relationships.  I have watched them accept things which are unacceptable.  And I've watched the silence fall over them as they realize the rest of the world isn't sympathetic if they're not prepared to leave.  They put on brave faces and hide what is going on, lying to themselves just as consistently as they lie to everyone else.

It's sad to watch someone be broken by both a sadistic SOB and the expectations of society.  I think we expect too much logic and rationality of ourselves.  It leaves us vulnerable to the power of our emotions.  We all have had a time where we knew what we should do and we didn't do it because of emotional reasons.

I don't pretend to have a solution.  But isn't acknowledging there's a problem supposed to be the first step?

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