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The issue that’s missing from the Republican debates? Sexual violence.

The US Centers of Disease Prevention and Control reports that 1.3 million women annually are victims of predatory sexual violence. They regard it as a public health crisis. One could reasonably expect that this epidemic of sexual violence would be of vital concern to our leaders, but did you hear it raised in the Republican debates? I didn’t. Planned Parenthood. Immigration. The budget. Building a wall on the Mexican border. Hillary Clinton’s emails. Syria. There was lots of anger and sparring on these issues. Sexual violence? No opinion.It seems the candidates regard the war on women as a lost cause. Either that, or it’s so unimportant to them, they don’t give it a second thought.
There is no reason for our leaders to be so complacent. Nothing has improved.  While other types of violent crime have decreased, the incidence of rapes and sexual homicides have skyrocketed. Even simple measures could make a difference. For example, rapists are known to follow their victims as they walk home along darkened streets. City councils could be providing better street lighting. Getting rid of the backlog of untested rape kits would make an even bigger difference. The Joyful Heart foundation reports there are hundreds of thousands of them. Yet it’s so often the case that after DNA testing leads to an arrest, it turns out the perpetrator was a serial offender. By failing to test rape kits, cities allow serial rapists to roam free, attacking more women.
Sexual violence is not an issue that galvanizes our leaders. They don’t debate it, they don’t campaign on it, they don’t ask women’s organizations, “what can I do to help make a difference?” They regard it as a non issue. Is it cynical to think that if 1.3 million males were raped annually in the USA, crimes of sexual violence would be a recurring topic in the Republican debates?

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B.T.K. wants to tell his story. Is that a good idea?

In August 2005, Dennis Rader pleaded guilty in a Kansas courtroom to 10 murders. Addressing the judge in a monotone, Rader, otherwise known as the B.T.K. Strangler, provided graphic details about each murder. He might as well been reading a shopping list. Rader’s flat delivery in the witness box added to the horrors he was describing. There was never a hint of remorse. Rader seemed to enjoy having everybody’s attention, and the TV cameras proved that he was no longer a nobody. Pausing in his testimony, he instructed the judge on the difference between “trolling” and “stalking.” His manner resembled a boring headmaster The only times there was a glimpse of the monster inside was an occasional smirk, quickly suppressed.

Since Rader is serving ten life sentences in the El Dorado state prison, one could reasonably expect that would be the last we heard of him. But not so fast. Serial killers are highly narcissistic. Rader was no exception. The attention-seeking prisoner missed being the spotlight. He even considered writing a book. Why not? He couldn’t profit from it of course, because of the Son of Sam law, but he would be back in the headlines. Luckily for the victims’ families as well as the rest of us he didn’t write his self-serving memoir. However, last year, Katherine Ramsland, a well-respected non-fiction author of 54 books, reached out to him. She wanted to write a book to help investigators and criminologists understand serial killers like Rader: would he co-operate with her? Would he what? Rader didn’t need any persuading. He embraced the idea.

Katherine Ramsland is a professor of forensic psychology at DeSales University in Pennsylvania who has in mind, she says, a “non sensationalist” book. Rader has in mind something different: a return to public attention. It’s a pity he will get it. Shortly after agreeing to co-operate, Rader sent a four page handwritten letter to a Kansas newspaper, to announce a book was on its way. The letter was labeled “From the Desk of: Dennis L. Rader.” He claims his intention is to help the victims’ families. “I can never replace their love ones, my deeds too ‘dark’ to understand, the book or movies, etc. is the only way to help them.” Obviously he’s hoping that his story will reach the big screen, too.

I’m not sure profilers will learn anything about the mind of a serial killer that they don’t already know. From the 1980s on, FBI researchers and criminologists have interviewed hundreds of serial killers in American prisons. There is also a first rate book written by veteran profiler John Douglas and Johnny Dodd called “Inside the Mind of BTK”. Still one has to applaud Professor Ramsland’s fortitude: I can’t imagine a more odious and unpleasant task for an author than to be in regular contact with Rader. Getting the truth from him is also going to be hard. As a psychopath, he will be determined to control the material. He might believe he can manipulate Professor Ramsland. He’s wrong of course. Ramsland is a highly respected psychologist who will recognize such tactics, but I don’t envy her the tug of war. The only person who will be enjoying himself is the subject. Just when you thought you had heard the last of him, Dennis Rader is back.

The Cannibal Cop Leaves Jail

Wow! This breaking news story is hard to wrap my head around. Why was Gilberto Valle released after being found guilty in 2013 of conspiracy to kidnap? Oh yes, the judge who heard his appeal, decided the former New York City cop presented no danger to the women he made plans to rape, torture, dismember and cook. In other words, despite tracking down their addresses, and researching ways to abduct, kill and cannibalize their remains, he was harmless. Just a regular guy —like Jeffrey Dahmer was a regular guy.

“This is a conspiracy that existed solely in cyberspace,” said the judge, Paul G. Gardephe. Well, I’m never going to get to meet you in person Judge, so I’ll just have an imaginary conversation with you in cyberspace.

I disagree with your decision, Judge Gardephe. I believe you’re wrong to regard the internet as a forum where psychopaths reveal murder fantasies to each other to great applause, but that’s as far as it ever goes. Recently, Elliot Rodgers went online to PickUpArtists, another website where men express hatred of women. Rodgers outlined his plan to shoot as many women as he could, and he went out and completed the task. He killed six people and wounded 13 others near the University of California before his rampage was ended.

Now, a question. If you had been given a transcript of Elliot Rodgers’s chat room conversation where he announced his intention to murder women, would you have dismissed it as insufficient to prove intent to harm? If you had, that decision would have come to haunt you. Well, Judge, like Elliott Rodger, Gilberto Valle was writing of his intent. And you have released Gilberto Valle. I hope that decision doesn’t come back to haunt you.

You ruled that a plan to commit a crime if it is shared on the internet —no matter that the research has suggested extensive planning—should not be taken seriously. I can assure you that if a plan to kill the President was discussed on the internet and the offender had been to scout out the White House, it would be treated as a credible assassination plot. No federal judge would release the prisoner from jail so he could walk free around Washington. DC.

And what if you were the intended victim? If a rage-fueled individual with a hatred of the justice system shared his plan online to break into your home and abduct, torture and kill you, and if he had located your address and followed you there, would you dismiss it as harmless fantasy and sleep peacefully in your bed at night? I doubt it.

So, what is it about the internet in this particular case that makes it a crime free zone for you? I don’t understand why you believe Mr. Gilberto Valle—a man with a manifest rage against women—did not have the intention to carry out his heinous plans. After all, he made plans. What if plans for the kidnapping of the famous Lindbergh baby had been discovered before the event actually occurred in the 1930s. Should a judge dismiss such plans as ‘fantasy’ because the child hadn’t yet been kidnapped? Should the conspirators be given their freedom even if they had tracked down the address of the Lindbergh baby, and had started lurking outside? Of course not. They had intent. And in the case of the Cannibal Cop, he had crossed the boundary from planning into action. He had taken the risk of illegally searching for his proposed victim’s addresses on a law enforcement data base, and he had begun to stalk them. Doesn’t that imply intent to kidnap and kill?

“The highly unusual facts of this case reflect the Internet age in which we live,” you ruled. When it comes to sex crimes, the boundary between fantasy and realization isn’t as thick as the Great Wall of China, Judge. It’s thin. Every criminal profiler knows that. In the 1980s FBI profilers interviewed hundreds of homicidal sex predators in jails around the USA. John Douglas recalled: “One of the things we clearly established was that in any sexually related predatory crime, the fantasy always precedes the acting out.”

Roger Depue was head of the FBI’s Behavioral Sciences Unit at Quantico at the time. In his memoir, he wrote that it is inevitable that once a violent fantasy takes root, the homicidal sex predator becomes obsessed with figuring out how to bring it to life. Other interests are pushed aside. I’m guessing Gilberto Valle didn’t have much time for other hobbies while he was researching torture. The guy was a ticking time-bomb.

But let’s give the last word to serial killer Edmund Kemper who brought mayhem, death and suffering to eight women. “I knew long before I started killing that I was going to be killing, that it was going to end up like that. The fantasies were too strong. They were going on for too long and were too elaborate.”

You should have done your homework, Judge Valle before you let the prisoner walk.

Rape and PTSD recovery

There was an excellent op ed piece in the New York Times today by a war veteran, who described what PTSD feels like to him. He also made the point that it is experienced by the people who care about the sufferer, too. He expressed his gratitude to his wonderful family for their support.

As I read, I thought about victims of rape, who also experience PTSD, and the kind of support they should be able to expect not only from their families but the rest of us.

Almost one in 5 females in the USA have been sexually assaulted. One in 4 girls at college experiences a sexual assault before she graduates. One could describe rape as a national epidemic. One could describe it as a war. Both descriptions fit. Either way, this country should all be doing more to fight sexual violence.

Here’s what FBI criminal profiler John Douglas says on the subject.
“Violent predatory crime is a scourge that has become intolerable.  When violent predators go unchecked in society, we all become victims…We either become victims of the criminals themselves, or we become victims of fear for ourselves, our families, our children.”

But there has been progress. While sex crimes have risen in number, in the aftermath of such crimes, victims have become more proactive about pursuing justice in the courts. Rather than stay silent and “forget about it” as well meaning family members used to advise, victims in increasing numbers are trying to put their rapists behind bars so they can’t hurt others. And often times, families are sitting with victims in the court room, adding their support.

What’s particularly brave is that often the victims speaking out, are doing so despite their struggle with PTSD.
“ Victims traumatized by abduction for sexual purposes usually experience degrees of post traumatic stress disorder that impacts victims for the rest of their lives.” explains Dr Eric Hickey, a leading forensic psychiatrist: “ We need to be as compassionate toward these victims as we are as passionate about punishing the offender” .

But are we compassionate enough? What is shocking to most of us is the way aggressive lawyers will try to rip the reputations and shred the credibility of those traumatized victims. This is not to establish the facts of what happened as much as it is to intimidate the witness. Speaking of his work with Linda Fairstein, head of the Sex Crimes unit from of the Manhattan District Attorney’s office from 1976 to 2002, criminal profiler John Douglas reflects: “Everyone is entitled to a vigorous defense, but neither Linda Fairstein nor I can quite stomach the perceived need to revictimise someone who has already experienced the worst at the hands of the man now being given every conceivable benefit of the doubt.”

As for a defense attorney who comments on what the victim should have done to avoid being raped, “I’m always outraged” says Douglas. “Perhaps it’s my own perversity that I’d like to see that individual faced with the same situation himself.”

Unlike the lawyer hammering away at her in court, the rape victim didn’t have wisdom in hindsight. Like a soldier in battle, she had to figure out what to do at the moment the shocking situation was unfolding.

The fact she survived is a tribute to the choices she made, but it’s even more heroic that she would put herself through the psychological wounds inflicted by criminal defense lawyers in order that the rapist won’t be free to harm anyone else.

Revictimizing rape victims is still common procedure in courts all over the country. And the knowledge that is likely to happen to them is enough to keep most traumatized rape victims from pressing charges.

What can lawyers do differently? They can begin by according the victim the same respect and courtesy they give their own client in court..
What can judges do? They can inform juries that rape is a crime against humanity.

Dr Marie- France Hirigoyen is a world renowned psychiatrist who writes upon on the impact of psychological abuse. Her statement below on ‘respect’ is relevant to both rapists and aggressive counsel.
“To respect another person is to value their humanity and acknowledge the suffering we can inflict upon them.”

So what can friends and family members do to help survivors of rape recover ?

We can recognize that there is no one way that trauma behaves. Just as with soldiers suffering from PTSD, there is no time frame for recovery, because every person’s journey is different. The trauma is expressing itself rather than the other way around.

Often the victim struggles with the sense she has lost control over her life. She also grieves for the past when she was happier and more carefree. It is a period of deep mourning.

John Douglas who has worked with countless victims of sexual crime advises “Any woman who emerges from a sexual attack alive should be recognized for her courage and resourcefulness, and no-one should ever second-guess her tactics in handling the crisis.”

While Douglas states emphatically that “ it is completely insensitive for anyone to set what he or she believes is a reasonable time frame for someone else’s recovery”,  he does go on to reassure loved ones that “victims do generally recover, and go on to lead fulfilled lives” especially with our ongoing support.

Stranger stalking

Stranger Stalking

In previous posts I’ve spoken about the most common form of stalking which occurs after an intimate relationship ends, and one party- the stalker- has refused to let go. Their behavior is vindictive. He – or she- has determined their ex partner will not have the opportunity to build a new life without them at the center of it. They’re also intent on settling imaginary scores.

But what about the stranger stalker, and the erotomaniac? What do these stalkers have in common with the intimate partner stalker?

Well, firstly, they’re all obsessive, and highly narcissistic individuals. They are controlling. And manipulative. They lack empathy. Some of them – the psychopaths- lack a conscience, as well.
“All stalkers have personality disorders,” explains forensic psychiatrist Dr Park Dietz. “None of the people who engage in stalking behavior are normal individuals”.

Take for example, the stranger stalker. Typically this stalker has a history of failure with the opposite sex. He’s usually alienated from other people. If he’s employed, it’s likely to be in a job he hates, and probably because he lacks friends, he’s lonely. He wants the woman he has his eye on, to transform his wretched life into something positive and happy.

Retired FBI profiler John Douglas describes this individual’s need to compensate for feelings of insecurity and inadequacy as a red flag.. “Obviously not all insecure men become serial killers, rapists or stalkers, but it is an important element in the total picture and can often be the first warning sign. “  If the subject of his attention lets him know she isn’t interested in him, the stranger stalker can become violent.  His motivation is now to possess and control.
To prevent a stranger’s fantasy life from including us,  experts advise that women shouldn’t be too forthcoming in their  interactions with strangers or semi-strangers.
One prominent expert on stalking, Dr Park Dietz says in his experience it’s friendly, wholesome looking girls who are the most at risk from an approach by an inadequate personality, simply because they seem unguarded.
John Douglas saw the same thing when he was working as a criminal profiler. As he writes in his book, ‘Anatomy of Motive’ :
“ My daughters are both young women now, but I am tempted to advise them against being true to their warm and friendly natures: don’t talk to that man behind you in the supermarket line. Don’t say “Excuse me” and smile at that guy you bumped into on your way to the bathroom at the movies”

What about erotomania?

This stalker is completely delusional.  Erotomania is a mental disorder, resulting from schizophrenia or psychosis. The stalker believes the person he is stalking — often a stranger — is actually in love with him. As with John Hinckley, the man who stalked Jodie Foster.
Some erotomaniacs believe they have already had sexual relations with the victim. Some have deluded themselves that the victim wants to marry or co-habit with them. Though females as well as males can suffer from this delusion, men are more likely to act upon it.

Erotomania is the cause of most celebrity stalking, but erotomaniacs can also fixate on ordinary citizens. Without the bodyguards and tight security that a famous celebrity has at their disposal, a victim must resort to varying her routine and changing locks, phone numbers, passwords and residences.

Stranger stalking in general is a terrifying experience because the adversary is invisible and unknown. It is left to the target’s imagination to try and figure out who her pursuer might be.
In fact even when a target knows the stalker is her ex partner , she is not exempt from the psychological trauma that stalking involves. Not knowing what he intends to do , or when the stalker will strike, victims say, is the equivalent of finding yourself hiding in the darkness from a Ninja assassin.

The serial killer and women’s liberation.

Sex crimes are more prevalent than any time in U.S. history. In fact, in the words of veteran FBI profiler John Douglas “violent predatory crime is a scourge” that has become “intolerable.”

Back in 1980, the famous ‘golden boy’ serial killer Ted Bundy blamed Women’s Liberation for the rapid rise in sexual homicide. Tempting though it is to laugh at this ‘insight’,  we shouldn’t, because  there are plenty of serial killers of his generation who actually agreed with him.

As Bundy saw it, he had raped and murdered because the temptation of having – in his words- so many “women floating around” was irresistible. We were looking at a serial killer epidemic he said, ‘because women have a great deal more freedom to move here and there. They are no longer stuck in their homes. They are not watched over.”

So what’s a sensible response to this kind of warped thinking? Are North American women going to climb into burkas and live in walled compounds? That’s not going to happen. But there are other things women and girls can do to actively fight those climbing sexual assault statistics. It all starts with becoming as serious about sex predators as they are about us.

Serial rapists and killers plan carefully.  Usually he circles the hunting grounds where he has been lucky before: malls ,bars, highway roads, bike paths, parking garages, whatever his favorite location happens to be. Then the sex predator selects one female from among the other possible victims.

How does he choose her? By watching for signs of vulnerability, like a girl who leaves a club a little tipsy, or a young person he figures he can manipulate into ‘helping’ him, with a ruse or pity ploy. Some predators prefer isolated areas where they might find a victim who has fallen behind her group on a hiking trail, or a cyclist on a remote road.

As Ted Bundy indicated, serial killers and rapists regard any female on her own as tempting prey. Even so, the predator knows he can’t carry out a successful rape or murder if there is a chance other people might be within hearing distance. He needs privacy and control. That’s why it’s a smart idea for women and girls to learn the most common ruses predators use to obtain that isolation, as well as their favorite stalking locations. And in case of attack, we should know the best gadget to carry on our person, and how to fight back effectively.

In my new book, ‘The Girls Guide to The Criminal Mind’ I will deconstruct the sex predators’ basic habitats, camouflage, and techniques so you’ll be able to recognize them instantly.

Predators study us. Isn’t it about time we studied them?