The Bill Cosby and UVA rape allegations are causing a stir especially here in Virginia.
Rape not only decimates a woman’s confidence, self-esteem and the underpinnings of her emotional well being, but it sidelines a mother, wife, co-worker which negatively reverberates throughout our entire society.
As unpalatable as it can be to try and understand such pathological behavior, in mental health we believe problems can’t be solved if we don’t understand them.
Rape comes down to a combination of social and interpersonal dynamics.
Socially, we live in a culture where men are encouraged to pursue women and congratulated for not taking no for an answer. Think “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” “One Fine Day,” and “Something New.” The line between celebration and outrage over a woman giving in is more complicated than we like to think.
Individually, men who force anyone to do anything lack empathy or an ability to put themselves in their victims’ shoes. Additionally, they have narcissism, meaning they make what should and could be a democratic decision into a dictatorial one. These are elements of a character flaw. Meaning, something went sadly wrong in their development.
This leads us to the many studies that conclude: One hundred percent of perpetrators were victims themselves.
It’s natural to think a victim would be less likely to commit a crime. This is not always the case. For one, remember empathy is something that develops through demonstration. If someone is mistreating their child, obviously their empathy is flawed and therefore they can’t teach their child any different.
Also, children tend to deal with such horrors by using an unconscious defense/protection we call: identifying with the aggressor. Becoming a perpetrator balances victim vulnerability, gives a sense of control, and waters down the fact that their parent is mentally ill. After all, how mad can you be at a father who sexually mistreated you if you also sexually mistreat people?
Another defense involved is skewed reality. Although this defense can help people get through difficult situations (“there’s always a silver lining”), a perpetrator uses it to give himself a free pass (“she really wants it”).
This combination of societal miscues, flawed empathy, narcissism, identifying with the aggressor, and a skewed reality adds up, in some men, to rapist.
It also adds up to possible solutions: prevent predator development (parenting classes for the emotionally damaged), treat predators (educate them about inappropriate defenses and help them develop healthier ones), and protect women (teach them to develop their critical judgment so they can spot men with pathological defenses).
One last problem in dealing with this societal scourge? Distractions.
Coping with a dizzying change in perception (sweet, paternal Dr. Huxtable a rapist?), legalities (none of the cases have been proven and the UVA allegation is falling apart), other disturbing facts (men can also be victims), and grief over the fact that even the most talented, privileged and gifted men among us can be perpetrators can and should not distract us from putting in every effort to understand and eliminate rape.
Laura F. Dabney, M.D., trained at Eastern Virginia Medical School and practiced emergency, in-patient and consult-liaison psychiatry at all the area hospitals including Sentara Norfolk General and the Veteran’s Hospital in Hampton. As a doctor of psychiatry, she treats patients with medication as well as all of today’s popular therapy techniques. As a physician, she can figure out if your symptoms are due to a medical or an emotional problem. Many medical problems, such as hypothyroidism, can cause emotional symptoms and thus be mistaken for a psychiatric problem. A medical background provides Dr. Dabney with the ability to give you an accurate, safe diagnosis. Dr. Dabney keeps up to date with her medical training as a member of various professional organizations. For more information, visit www.drldabney.com, call 757-340-0800, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.