Thursday, March 22, 2007

Growing old ain't for sissies

A study published in the February 2007 issue of The Gerontologist found that over a quarter of senior women have experienced domestic abuse in their lifetimes. This figure correlates with earlier estimates that one in four women will experience domestic violence sometime in their lives.

The average duration of abusive relationships was about 10 years, and most women endured two or more types of abuse (physical, sexual, psychological/verbal abuse).

The researchers found that health care costs for abused women are 19% higher than for non-abused women, and costs remained higher for over 5 years after the abusive relationship ended. Researchers also suggested that this figure is likely an underestimation of the percentage of women abused because women participating in this study group had more consistent health insurance and higher levels of education than average. Both these factors correlate with lower rates of domestic violence.

However, only 3% of these women had ever been asked by their health care providers about domestic violence. How can that be? Whenever I visit my doctor, she always asks about the possibility of abuse along with my possible use of alcohol, tobacco or drugs. I had assumed this was now a standard of care.

See this article for more information.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Pattern, Interrupted

A man walked into the women's locker room--and Denise was there alone. To listen to the MP3 file, click here. And read below.

Denise works in an medical research lab. Her job entails working with special mice, ones with no immune system that needed special germ-free rooms. To gain access, all the scientists and technicians have to go through special locked locker rooms, shower, and put on surgical clothing. Afterwards they needed to shower again before changing into street clothes. Denise was finishing up one Saturday afternoon. She had showered and changed, and was just drying her hair, when the door unlocked and a young man entered. Men are not supposed to know the combination to the women’s locker room (and vice versa), let alone enter! She did not recognize the man, though she knew most of the scientists and technicians. She looked straight at him as she began peppering him with questions: who are you, who do you work for, how did you get the combination, why are you here, who’s your supervisor. She stepped forward. She gave him no time between questions to answer. She repeated those questions over and over, loudly. The man turned red, began backing off, and stuttered that he really didn’t mean anything, just wanted to see if the women’s locker room looked like the men’s. She kept up her machine-gun pace of questioning until he turned and ran.

Denise used four self-defense pattern interrupts here. A pattern interrupt is where you violate a potential assailant's expectations of how you will act as a victim, which decreases your risk for assault. (1) the Question/Conversation Web, where she kept control of asking questions, putting the man on the defensive. (2) the Broken Record, where she kept repeating the same statements (here, her questions) over and over again. (3) Asserting her space when she stepped forward, deflating a possible assailant’s expectation of a cowering victim. And (4) direct eye contact, again deflating expectations of a cowering victim.

Was Denise afraid? You bet she was! But she was able to find within her the resources to turn some of that fear into anger and direct it at the guy who entered the women's changing room. Can you think of instances where someone's tried to make you afraid when you should be angry at their manipulations?

Monday, March 05, 2007

Waving Red Flags

This past Sunday's Seattle Times' front page article on one police officer's pursuit of a foster father accused of sexually molesting the girls in his care can be read as a case study of all those red flags that should be screaming ABUSE, ABUSE, ABUSE!!! The article also can be read as a case study of what happens when people waving those flags do so furtively, briefly, tentatively, fleetingly, as if they want to say something but don't want to be responsible for blowing the whistle. Please read the article for the details of all these red warning flags that signal abuse.

Redmond police Detective Jennifer Baldwin, according to this story, traced all these shadowy flags and pieced together the criminal case against Enrique Fabregas. Her work is also instrumental to the $45 million suit that the adopted and foster daughters are bringing against the state of Washington.

Described as an exceptional investigator into child sexual abuse, Baldwin was initially inclined to believe Fabregas' explanations for the allegations against him. Even though there were red flags flying during Baldwin's initial interview of Fabregas, his funny and likeable persona almost convinced her that he was OK. Until one of his victims came to meet her. Unlike most of us, when holes began emerging in his story, she pursued them and ultimately arrested him.

I take two critical lessons from this article.

  1. As a safety skills instructor, I'm always telling clients to pay attention to their instincts. At the same time, I tell clients that good con artists are skilled at quickly figuring out what YOU want to hear and see, and putting on that front. Most of us, unlike Detective Baldwin, would have created stories to confirm our view of Fabregas as a good guy.
  2. Most often, most of us don't rely on people for justice, we rely on our institutions to negotiate the truth. Our justice institutions are full of people who do really care, but they are overwhelmed with work. I know several people who've left government social service jobs because of their frustration at increasing caseloads and decreasing support. "I was accused of getting too personally involved in this case," Baldwin said. "Maybe that's because I was the only person to take it seriously." Systems on their own don't automatically crank out justice. Only people do.
In summary, (1) you and others around you will be a lot safer if you can look into yourself for what unmet needs are simmering and attracting con artists; and (2) become the change you want to see: if you see abuse, wave that flag!