If you missed Joy Behar on Wednesday night, we discussed the criminal responsibility of the women involved in the Warren Jeffs case (the cult leader on trial in Texas for allegedly raping young girls under the guise of polygamous “marriages”) and in the Jaycee Dugard case (the wife who helped her husband kidnap, enslave, and rape Dugard for decades). Some in the media have described these women as mentally ill and/or “brainwashed” and I explained how those terms give the women a pass that they don’t deserve. Their minds clearly work well enough for them to recognize child abuse when they see it. That’s been demonstrated by the fact that some of the women in Jeffs’ cult have actually gotten themselves and their kids out. As for those who’ve chosen to continue living in one of the group’s compounds (which resemble something straight out of the movie “The Village”), if they want to have menages a trois, quatre, cinq, or whatever number, with Jeffs and his cronies, that’s fine, but when they involve their daughters, they become active accomplices in child sexual abuse.
Why would any mother stay in a cult and watch her daughter be raped? It involves the concept of “group cohesiveness,” the attractiveness of a group to its members. It’s kind of like what we see with the female genital mutilation that goes on in some obscure, backward tribes on the other side of the world. It’s an extreme example of what can happen when a person spends a lifetime inside of a cultural group and then has a hard time imagining life outside of that group. Continued acceptance by the group then can become so important to the person that the person can start rationalizing that whatever’s going on inside of the group is better than whatever’s happening outside of the group, and the group reinforces that, both by preaching it and by isolating members from the outside world. The person might even choose to believe something as ludicrous as the idea that there’s something holy about a 12-year-old being raped by a 50-year-old.
But there’s definitely a choice involved in embracing such intellectually-ludicrous beliefs. It’s not a delusional disorder that just happens to befall these women and deprive them of their ability to reason. People can believe what they want to believe, but the law requires that every person capable of thinking actually think about right and wrong. Otherwise, people like NFL star and convicted animal abuser Michael Vick could be absolved of responsibility for crimes committed as an adult by arguing that childhood caregivers modeled and/or taught that same criminal behavior. Nice try, but an adult with a minimally-functional mind is expected to recognize animal abuse or __________________ (insert another major crime of your choice here) when he/she sees it, regardless of what his/her caregivers did or taught. If we demanded any less, we’d have a pretty chaotic society.
In the Dugard case, I don’t buy for one second that the husband cast a “Svengali”-like spell over the wife. Have you seen this crazed-looking troll of a guy? He doesn’t look like he could’ve charmed anyone out of a paper bag. No, I think his wife’s behavior is psychopathic in its own right. In other words, I suspect that for her, it was all about her. She had opportunities to release Dugard and Dugard’s two children while the husband was away, but she didn’t. Maybe she wanted to please the husband so he’d keep her around, and/or maybe she enjoyed participating actively in the crimes. Who knows, and who cares? Either way, she indulged/gratified herself at the expense of Dugard and her kids, and for that, she’s 100% personally-responsible and belongs in prison for life.
Also on Wednesday’s show, we discussed a child-custody case in Oregon in which the judge actually ruled against a mother who wanted the judge to prevent her children from visiting their father after the father married a woman who previously killed two children and was acquitted by reason of insanity. This was one of the more poignant examples we’ve had in a while of what I always say to single parents: Your sex/love life needs to take a backseat to your children’s best interests at least until your children are 18 years old. That means that whenever you think about introducing a romantic interest to your children, that decision is guided not by what you want, how lonely you are, etc., but by what the person might add to or subtract from your children’s lives. You have to get to know that person inside and out over a long period of time, which in and of itself implies to me that you’re probably depriving your children of your time when they’ve already been deprived enough (of an intact household). If you insist on dating anyway, anything in your significant other’s history that might suggest a risk to your children makes introducing that person into your children’s lives a nonstarter. And if a parent isn’t smart enough to prioritize his/her children voluntarily, it’s a family-court judge’s job to do it for that parent. As a child-custody expert, I’m appalled.
In other Lawpsyc news:
Casey Anthony got a temporary reprieve from an order that she return to Florida to complete probation in connection with her prior check-fraud convictions. The judge in that case says he intended for her to complete a year of probation whenever she got out of jail, but Anthony’s attorneys argue that she already completed the probationary term (because she remained in jail awaiting her murder trial for over a year beyond the jail term associated with the check fraud case) and that returning to Florida would put her life in danger. A hearing is scheduled for later this week to determine who’s right. I hate to tell you this, but I think there’s a good chance that Casey’s lawyers will win this one.
In the sentencing phase of his captial murder trial, a mental health expert testified that Anthony Sowell, the Ohio “house of horrors” serial killer, has had brain dysfunction since suffering heart attack that has limited his cognitive processing speed and capacity. Hmmmm, looks to me like a lot of my “three p’s” — planning, preparation, and practice — were present throughout this guy’s killing spree, and if his mind was working well enough to lure 11 people into his home, kill them, and conceal their bodies over an extended period of time, then I say his mind’s probably working well enough to face the maximum penalty under the law.
The deceased body of Celina Cass, the 11-year-old New Hampshire girl whose disappearance we discussed on Nancy Grace last week, has been found. Despite an autopsy, the cause of death remains inconclusive at this hour, but it’s being actively investigated as a homicide. It looks like there may some investigative attention being paid to Celina’s stepfather, who reportedly has a history of both paranoid schizophrenia and of threatening the life of an ex-girlfriend (he also reportedly had a sexually-charged web page as of last week). As I often say, the only good that can come out of this tragedy is if parents learn from it, so if you’re a parent, and/or if you know a parent, and you and/or they missed my post last week about the dangers to kids on the Internet, please check it out and/or pass it along. While I stand by every word of that previous post, it may turn out that what I wrote above about single parents putting their love/sex lives ahead of their children’s best interests is even more relevant. As I said on Nancy Grace last week, the stepparent/stepchild relationship is one of the most complicated relationships in all of the human condition. It typically gives rise to a lot of conflict even when everyone involved is mentally healthy. Add a mentally unhealthy person to the mix, and it can become dangerous and even deadly. Single parents really, really need to think about whose interests they’re serving when they bring significant others into their children’s lives. I’m not saying it never works out. I’m saying I’ve rarely seen it work out wonderfully, and I’ve sometimes seen it work out tragically. Single parents, please be very, very careful in deciding whether to date at all while your children are minors, and if you do decide to date, please be even more careful about whether and when to introduce your significant others to your children.
A public statement from a Miami Dolphins football star with a history of erratic behavior has drawn public attention to something called Borderline Personality Disorder. It’s a pervasive pattern of dysfunctional thoughts, feelings, and behaviors characterized by extremes of idealization and devaluation. In other words, people with this diagnosis tend to either love or hate, both themselves and others, to be uncomfortable with intermediate gradations of emotion, and to vacillate between behaviors that are narcissistic or clingy (when idealizing themselves and others respectively) and behaviors that are self-destructive or aggressive. They tend to be highly interpersonally manipulative (e.g. threatening to kill themselves if love interests leave them) and unpredictably emotionally-reactive (e.g. professing love one minute and hatred the next) and to engage in self-harm behavior (e.g. suicidal and parasuicidal gestures). While it may be good for the people to be gaining awareness from this guy about a clinical condition that may someday touch their lives, it’s essential that people — particularly those from whom this football star may be seeking absolution — keep this in mind: a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder absolutely does not force a person to behave in ways that are abusive of others and/or criminal in any way. If a person just feels like doing such things, but fights those feelings, we can all have sympathy for that person. But if that person then goes head and does such things, then I think it’s generally best, for everyone involved, to hold that person accountable.
Study this: A new large-scale study found that combat veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) really weren’t helped by antipsychotic medication. Hmmm, could that be because these guys typically aren’t psychotic? Seems like too many general practitioners, psychiatrists, and even nurse practitioners these days are throwing antipsychotic meds at too many problems that they simply aren’t succeeding in solving otherwise, without data to support benefits that outweigh the risks/side effects (I especially worry about children affected by this trend). I worked in a veterans’ hospital for a year during my clinical training, and I think part of the reason why veterans are sometimes reluctant to talk with mental health professionals about their trauma symptoms is that they fear that precise label, “psychotic.” Personally, I conceptualized their symptoms as their brains’ efforts to adapt to conditions and memories that simply and understandable exceeded their coping capacities, and while antidepressants seemed to help some of them somewhat, the ones who made the most progress in my experience seemed to be the ones who talked about their experiences enough to get help learning how/where to compartmentalize their traumatic memories such that they gained control over how/when those memories were experienced/expressed.
Finally, you may have heard about the awful assault case in Los Angeles in which two thugs attended a Dodgers baseball game, and in the parking lot afterwards, viciously attacked some fans of the opposing team, causing permanent brain damage to one victim who formerly worked as an emergency first-responder (paramedic). The perpetrators are in custody — now — but the primary perpetrator, the one who inflicted the brain damage on the paramedic, is among the best illustrations I’ve seen in a while of what I’m always saying about such individuals. His criminal history dates back to the age of 17 and includes such crimes as drug possession, resisting arrest, drunk driving, domestic violence, and at least two gun crimes. So my question, as usual is, “What the hell was he doing at a baseball game, where he had the chance to take his well-known violent tendencies to a near-deadly level?” We should’ve gotten tough on this guy long ago, locking him up and throwing away the key, at least until he appeared to be mellowing out with age. I’d like to think it’s a given that we’ll do so now, keeping him caged at least until his victim recovers 100% (which would probably amount to a life sentence). Do I think we’ll really do that though? Probably not, unless law-abiding citizens in California and across this country start demanding it of our legislators. I demand it on national television every chance I get, but I only get to cast one vote in one state. During the coming campaign season, I hope that viewers and readers in my state and others will amplify my call for stiffer mandatory minimum sentences nationwide. There’s no reason why this public servant in California has to be brain-damaged right now. We, as a society, had several opportunities to protect him and his co-victims, and we didn’t. Once again, I say let’s start.