Abuse and its Consequences: From the Interpersonal to the Genocidal
Updated: Feb 2
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Photo Description: A pro-Uyghur liberation rally; for quite some time, the Uyghurs have been the subject of a genocidal campaign by The Chinese Communist Party
By Eric A.S. Harvey, JD
Abuse can breed more abuse. It occurs across many spectrums. It affects individuals, and it influences the collective experience of cultures across the globe.
It is the purpose of this paper to illustrate that a causal relationship is present between various forms of abuse, mental and physical illness, and (in cases involving oppressed peoples worldwide) the radicalization of those peoples. In the wake of political abuses, it seems to be the case that these peoples go on to commit atrocities.
In instances where a causal relationship seems not to be present, it is at least the case that a disproportionate number of offenders share traumatic pasts. Research on this topic suggests that, undeniably, a relationship between past and present abuse are profoundly correlated, if not causally related. In addition, scholarship indicates that a sense of powerlessness in the abuser tends to motivate the abuser to perpetuate the abuse onto others. This is true of individuals acting independently of organizations within the political sphere, and it occurs within other populations, as well.
According to sexual abuse researcher A. N. Groth, in Sexual Trauma in the Life Histories of Rapists and Child Molesters, “Evidence of some form of sexual trauma during their developmental years (ages 1 through 15) was found in the life histories of 31 percent of the offenders.” Available at: https://www.ncjrs.gov/App/publications/Abstract.aspx?id=72986, Accessed 7 August 2019.
This may be a minority statistic; however, in other scholarship, it is indicated that a disproportionate history of abuse in perpetrators exists. Groth cites a preponderance of statistics, which indicate that a vast swathe of offenders suffered abuse themselves prior to the sexual offense they committed. Groth refers to case studies, ranging from clergy-perpetrated sexual assault of children to adulthood incidences of rape. Ibid.
That said, in an interview I conducted over this past Summer, trauma and marriage and family therapist David Ibrahim, operating out of Los Angeles, CA, observes a relationship between childhood abuse and radicalized and abusive behaviors. He claims that, in his clinical studies, he has observed that members of White Nationalist groups, such as those that recently committed the atrocities in Texas and Ohio, have experienced traumatic pasts, involving physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. He has of course not treated these particular perpetrators. However, his experiences suggest the importance of past abuse, and he went so far as to engage in political observations about hate groups, despite his having only expertise within the treatment of predominantly apolitical abuse survivors.
According to Ibrahim, abusive peoples have often suffered this abuse at the hands of their parents, teachers, and family friends. He suggests, like so many other scholars covered within this paper, that a causal relationship exists between past and present abuse. Furthermore, he theorizes (and has observed) that a sense of powerlessness in the abuser (engendered by past abuse) serves as motivation for radicalized peoples and current domestic and sexual abusers to attempt to re-assert their power through violence against vulnerable parties.
Similarly, in another interview I conducted not too long ago, author of Carefontation: Breaking Free from Childhood Abuse and highly recognized Los Angeles-based trauma therapist Arlene Drake, PhD, has observed comparable findings in her clinical practice.
While Dr. Drake says all of her patients have not engaged in present abuse, a disproportionate amount of her patients has experienced both homicidal and suicidal ideation. The homicidal ideation is almost always directed at the abused party’s perpetrator, given a few factors (a discussion of which are beyond the scope of this article) are present; however, it can also manifest in harmful attitudes toward anyone the abused perceives to be a threat to their safety. While this is just ideation, the tendency towards violence (resisted successfully in her patients) manifests even in the rehabilitated victims of abuse. Thus, abused peoples share an important sense of their position in the world with full-fledged perpetrators who have also survived abuse. It is important again to emphasize that I am not advocating for rights that perpetrators do NOT deserve. I am merely engaging in intellectual observations.
Ibrahim lends credence to Dr. Drake’s argument about the existentially (or identity-reinforcing-related) positive value of therapy. It seems that within Ibrahim’s conception of therapy, treatment preempts the abused party’s possible need to re-enact the abuse onto vulnerable peoples, whether it be in terms of realized homicidal ideation or any other of the varied forms of violence. Like Dr. Drake, Ibrahim asserts that his patients have not re-enacted their abuse, but he has said they do indeed experience suicidal and homicidal ideation.
In addition, according to Ibrahim, therapy also serves as a non-violent alternative to the abusive method for re-asserting one’s identity — such as the use of sexual violence in a perverse and depraved attempt at dominating someone such as a child or a battered woman, a party in the depths of powerlessness.
Consistent with Dr. Drake’s clinical observations is Ibrahim’s claim that his own patients tend to experience homicidal and suicidal ideation, too. Thus, again the tendency towards violence (also successfully resisted in Ibrahim’s patients) is present in Ibrahim’s clinical experience both in successfully treated abused parties and untreated abuse victims that go on to perpetrate more violence. It is important here to emphasize, however, that plenty of abused parties do not go onto commit sexual violence or violence of any kind against vulnerable parties. This is just a general observation within the context of the relationship between the abused and the abusive.
That said, it follows from what can be at least loosely inferred from Ibrahim’s clinical and therapeutic experiences with a hate crime victim he treats — who has experienced both suicidal and homicidal ideation — that presence of a self-destructive and/or criminal mindset in victims of abuse exists. The existence of that mindset suggests that abuse often leads to more abuse. Victimsofrcime.org observes that:
“A child who is the victim of prolonged sexual abuse usually develops low self-esteem, a feeling of worthlessness and an abnormal or distorted view of sex. The child may become withdrawn and mistrustful of adults and can become suicidal.”
Available at https://victimsofcrime.org/media/reporting-on-child-sexual-abuse/child-sexual-abuse-statistics, Accessed 7 August 2019.
Such a statement adds to Ibrahim’s and Drake’s conclusion that a sense of powerlessness results from abuse. To add to this, two articles in the New York Times published over this past Summer draw a relationship between past and present abuse.
In an article titled Bomber Who Went After Democrats Receives 20 Years,” journalist Corinne Ramey covers the recent criminal history of Cesar Altieri Sayoc — the man who mailed 16 bombs to 13 victims, including former President Barack Obama, former Vice President Joe Biden, and actor Robert DeNiro. Ramey writes:
“Lawyers for Mr. Sayoc said a sentence of about 10 years would be appropriate. They said mental illness, sexual abuse by a teacher, and excessive steroid use pushed him to the margins of society.”
Ramey goes on to say that Sayoc found solace and empowerment in President Trump’s prejudiced aggression against his adversaries. Ramey quotes the judge:
“It is perhaps, then, not surprising that someone of Mr. Sayoc’s emotionally fragile nature not only became infatuated with a public figure, in this case, Donald Trump, but also came to view Mr. Trump’s political opponents as demons who were out to destroy not just Mr. Trump but Mr. Sayoc as well.”
In other words, in feeling powerless in the face of threatening forces, and in having been abused as a child, and likely having a sense of powerlessness in the face of authority, the bomber attempted to re-gain his sense of power by acting out violently.
While the article is of course supposed to be objective, as it is written by a journalist, it is the case that the author is not necessarily arguing that a sense of powerlessness motivated the bomber. However, in the framework posited by the two aforementioned therapists, it seems likely that Sayoc was motivated by a sense of powerlessness.
Likewise, in another article published in the same edition of The New York Times, journalists Daniela Hernandez and Parmy Olson cover the shootings that have occurred in Texas, Ohio, and New Zealand. They write:
“Recent mass-violence incidents in America share common threads: disaffected individuals who feel powerless, radical ideas that that blame particular groups and the use of social-media platforms that bring these factors together.”
“Radicalization, researchers have found, is driven by a need to matter and be respected. Violence is often a means to that end, especially when it is in the name of a cause, like fighting against immigrants who are viewed as invaders upsetting white people’s dominance in the U.S.”
These journalists claim that a sense of “cultural homelessness” results from marginalization. They posit that these perpetrators, emboldened by controversial intellectuals and politicians like French conspiracy theorist Renaud Camus (who claimed that white Europeans are subject to a “Great Replacement,” which involves the perpetration of political, social, and geographical displacement and irrelevance on Caucasians by immigrants) are motivated to commit violent acts by a sense of weakness and political, social, and cultural irrelevance.
Finally, in another interview I conducted, Santa Monica-based autodidact and independent foreign policy researcher Zambas claims that, while the relationship between radicalization and abuse may be dialectical in nature, it is certainly the case that radicalization can follow abuse.
By dialectical in nature, Zambas means to say that it is too simple an interpretation of the relationship between radicalization and abuse to say that the former necessarily results from the latter. However, he has observed that the incidence of terrorist activities across the globe are undeniably related to how terrorists feel as though they’ve been wronged by the authorities that they claim have disenfranchised them.
The narrative about 9/11 suggests Zambas’ observation, he says. Osama bin Laden preyed upon his followers’ sense of powerlessness, which they believed to be a result of American involvement in the Middle East. In addition, Zambas observes that Hamas (the organization that rules the Gaza Strip) is motivated to be militarily aggressive towards Israel insofar as they feel the Jews have illegitimately exercised authority over Arab countries.
While many Uighurs’ affiliation with ISIS predates China’s mistreatment of them, it certainly has become a significant problem following the abuses perpetrated by China. Finally, outside of the political spectrum, it is this author’s opinion that this pattern may be found in spheres outside of the political amongst disaffected youths. It has been covered extensively that the Columbine shooters, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were influenced by a sense of dissatisfaction with the proverbial establishment, which they believed undermined their sense of power. On April 20, 1999, now twenty years ago, they stormed into their high school in Columbine, Colorado, using assault weaponry to kill 12 students and one teacher. It is poetic in a disturbing way that military-grade guns and knives were used insofar as it at least seems to me that the use of assault weaponry symbolically draws a parallel between the militarily-influenced terrorist responses to governmental abuses (across the globe in both the privileged and third world parts of our planet) and the egregious and unjustifiable activities of two disturbed nobodies (made into celebrities by the press) operating outside of a political context. In other words, it in one way or another strengthens my argument about the strong relationship between past and present abuses across all spectrums of society where abuse is present.
Outside the context of the aforementioned narratives of abuse, it is now important to refocus on a slightly different, but related line of thinking in the study of abuse and resulting behaviors.
In Sexual-Assault History and Long-Term Physical Health Problems: Evidence from Clinical and Population Epidemiology, Jacqueline M. Golding infers a causality between sexual assault and a variety of pathologies. Her work speaks focuses on the presence of physical ailments in abuse survivors, but it also has ramifications for whether past and present abuse are causally related. The presence of mental illness in abuse survivors is often characterized by suicidal and/or homicidal ideation, as my interviews with Ibrahim and Drake also indicate. While Golding may deal primarily with physical ailments, the mental disease resulting from abuse is still given some attention in her work. However, Golding spends a lot of time laying to waste the notion that depression accounts for a great deal of diseases that manifest in sexual abuse survivors.
Instead, she points to a preponderance of evidence that suggests these pathologies occur not just in victims who experience co-occurring depression, but also in victims who exhibit mental health that is far more stable.
In other words, while Golding claims too many observations about the effects of sexual assault attribute resulting pathologies to poor mental health, she claims that the symptoms a survivor experiences may often be the result of conditions not affecting mental health. Nevertheless, she does still acknowledge the presence of mental disease, often characterized by suicidal and/or homicidal ideation, in abuse survivors. Examples of physical conditions she points to as occurring independently of mental health are:
“[…] chronic pelvic pain […] menstrual pain or irregularity, excessive menstrual bleeding, pelvic inflammatory disease, gynecologic surgery, multiple yeast infections, sexually transmitted diseases, sexual dysfunction (reviewed in Golding & Taylor, 1996) […] fibromyalgia […] chronic headaches [and] gastrointestinal problems.”
Ibid at 192.
Pointing to these physical ailments, Golding broadens the understanding of maladies that affect survivors.
According to Golding, “Sexual assault is common in the population, with prevalence rates conservatively estimated to range from 13% to 27% among women and 3% to 16% among men” (Golding, 191). Golding defines sexual assault in the following terms: “Sexual assault can be defined as nonconsensual sexual contact obtained by physical force, or in situations in which the victim is unable to give consent” (Ibid & Koss et al., 1994).
The range of behaviors that may be categorized as sexual assault is broad, ranging from “unwanted kissing” to all forms of sexual penetration. Ibid.Golding writes:
“The inclusion of inability to give consent as one potential defining feature refers both to situations in which adults or adolescents are unable to consent […] and to children’s inability to consent because of their developmental stage or differences in power between themselves and older power.”
Sexual assault increases the likelihood of poor health, both mental and physical. Reviewing one study, Golding writes that, “the odds of persons who had been sexually assaulted having poor health was 1.63 times the odds of nonassaulted persons having poor health” (Ibid.& Golding et al., 1997). For Golding, poor health goes beyond ostensibly simple manifestations of pathology. It encompasses impairment of physical functioning, “such as staying in bed or otherwise limiting one’s normal activities because of physical health” (Ibid & Golding, 1996a).
Golding poses an important question throughout her piece, which she articulates in the following way: “The association of sexual assault is now well-established, but an important question remains unresolved: Does sexual assault cause health problems?” Ibid.
For Golding, causality between past abuse and present abuse may be inferred from “strength of association, consistency, specificity, temporality, dose-response relationship, plausibility, coherence, experiment, and analogy” (Ibid.& Hill (1965)).
According to Golding, vast scholarship exists on the topic of how strength of association and consistency (i.e. the regular occurrence of common symptoms across vast swathes of survivors) in this context indicates a causal relationship between sexual assault and subsequent co-occurring pathologies, from those involving mental illness to those that encompass physical symptoms.
Specificity is a bit more complicated, in that it, “refers to whether the association is specific to a risk factor or a health outcome, rather than being observed across a variety of factors or health outcomes” Ibid.
While works she refers to suggest that the criteria of specificity are not met in studies of sexual assault, she points to a study by researcher Bradford Hill in 1965, in which, “He concluded that lack of specificity does not mean causal inference is invalid.” Ibid.
Golding endorses that claim regarding the absence of dispositivity in lack of specificity. She writes: “Temporality means that the relationship between the variables thought to represent cause and effect is consistent with the actual passage of time.” Ibid. In other words, if the pathology manifests after the offensive incident, the pathology may be the result of the incident.
While she recognizes this is not a necessarily determinative factor in determining causality, she emphatically says that it, coupled with the other factors in Hill’s criterion for determining causality, points to causality. Golding highlights literature that indicates that the temporality element is met in the context of sexual assault and the subsequent pathologies, whether they be mental or physical.
A principle she references called dose-response relationship refers to how:
“[…] studies have found that persons assaulted more times (during childhood and adulthood) were more likely than persons assaulted fewer times to perceive their health as poor (Golding et al., 1997); to be limited in physical functioning (Golding, 1996a); and to have [other physical maladies].”
For Golding, the factor of dose-relationship response has been shown to be met across many studies in the context of sexual assault.
Plausibility, another factor essential to determining causation that she engages in line with Hill, is a far more complicated factor. However, Hill categorized this factor as incidental to inferring causality between sexual assault and subsequent maladies, both mental and physical. Plausibility may be evident in the most obvious of contexts where sexual assault results in easily-ascertained physical injury. I certainly feel that it goes beyond the possibility of evidence. In my opinion, this issue is a certainty.
“Coherence refers to the requirements that ‘the cause-and-effect” interpretation of our data should not seriously conflict with the generally known facts” (Hill, 1965, pg. 298 & Ibid). In other words, the more frequent subsequent maladies (both mental and physical) following sexual assault, the more likely they are to be causally related to sexual assault.
The final factor, analogy, “refers to the strengthening of causal interpretations on the basis of similar, established findings” (Hill 1965 & Ibid). If other studies have found a relationship between causes and seemingly resulting effects, and if current studies show the same relationship between these causes and effects, a causal relationship is suggested to exist. Ibid.
All of that said, Golding infers, based on an analysis of how each of the aforementioned factors manifest in sexual assault survivors, that a causal relationship exists between sexual assault and many subsequent, and, therefore, consequent, mental and physical diseases.
In Psychological Trauma: Research and Practice in Turkey, A. Tamer Aker, Pinar Onen, and Hande Karakilic add to the vast studies on political abuse and trauma — the trauma resulting from torture and the incidence of PTSD caused by combat. They point to “traumas such as wars, concentration camp experiences, torture, physical, and sexual assaults, and technological accidents,” in addition to enhanced interrogation techniques. Early 20th century psychology researcher Mazar Osman, a founder of Turkish Psychiatry, observed the occurrence of symptoms (now associated with the clinically-recognized condition that is PTSD) in individuals who had experienced disasters, ranging from mere train accidents to mental disorders following violent situations. “[Osman] suggested that the traumatic experience itself might cause hysteria or neurasthenia and, in some cases, might even result in insanity,” Onen and his colleagues write (Onen et. al, 29). Statistical analysis that the aforementioned authors executed on the topic of the number of studies related to negative physical and mental symptoms following traumatic events suggest, when Golding’s framework for assessing causality is applied to the observations Onen and his colleagues make in their own article, that traumatic events such as the symptoms that follow torture and war and traumatic events are causally related. Onen and his colleagues write:
"Comorbidity risk for PTSD was found in the range of 64 to 100 percent, and it was reported that the move prevalent comorbid disorder is major depression (MD) . Although depression is well documented as the most frequent comorbid condition with PTSD, relatively limited data are available for other anxiety disorders.”
Onen et. al, 41.
The factors from which causality may be inferred — strength of association, consistency, specificity, temporality, dose-response relationship, plausibility, coherence, experiment, and analogy — all seem to be met. Observations made by Onen and his colleagues may not directly speak to each of these factors; however, throughout their article, their observations point to the occurrence of these factors within their trauma-related study of Turkish history and Turkish psychiatric scholarship on the effects of trauma. Their review of Turkish history refers not just to the aforementioned natural traumas such as natural disasters. They focus a great deal on the relationship between torture and war and manifestations of mental illness in peoples that have experienced that torture and those wars.
These authors list the following as “man-made traumas,” which are essential to an understanding of the causality between abuse and resulting negative behaviors:
“Research on manmade traumas in Turkey can be classified under five major categories: childhood psychological traumas, intimate partner violence and sexual assault, terrorist attacks and war, internal displacement, and torture.”
Onen et. al, 46.
These authors continue, as they develop their observation of the effects of trauma:
“Children exhibit different cognitive and verbal abilities from that of adults, and trauma may disturb the child’s normal development, affecting the child’s adaptation, cognitive function, attention, social abilities, self-concept, and motivation control. Thus, it may be necessary to work on developmental age-specific diagnostic criteria for PTSD. Treatment must be considered even if full diagnostic criteria for PTSD are not fulfilled. In general, the more mature the child, the more similar the clinical picture is to that of an adult. […] Families play a protective role in preventing the development of PTSD symptoms in children. For this reason, care should be taken to keep families together after traumas. […] Children with complaints of newly developed fears or regressive behavior should be examined for underlying possible presence of PTSD.”
Finally, Onen and his colleagues observe the high frequency of torture, violence against women, and traumatic political unrest within Turkey throughout its history. A relationship between these and subsequent (and, in the context of Golding’s framework, consequent) mental disease and political insurgency is implied throughout their article. Forced migration and internal displacement are listed as factors contributing to mental disease and political insurgency, as well (Onen et. al, 48–49).
As has been shown, a causal relationship between trauma and problematic behaviors and disease seems to exist. In addition, it seems that those who have been abused may very well be motivated to commit acts of violence as a result of their sense of powerlessness.
All in all, it seems that, given the psychological and political studies indicating the cyclical nature of abuse in interpersonal contexts and that of the political realm, abuse tends to only breed more abuse. And that repetitive pattern is just as present in cases of sexual abuse as it is in cases of genocide.
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