Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Jodi Arias Trial Part I - Predictors of Violence

The world has been captivated by the Jodi Arias trial for months and the defendant’s accusations regarding her former boyfriend, Travis Alexander, have been cataclysmic and have come at a huge price for victims of domestic violence around the world. This post is going to attempt to explain why I believe that significant damage has been done to the victims across our nation. The woman on trial says she was abused and claims to be suffering from “battered women’s syndrome” (BWS). The word syndrome by definition is a pattern of symptoms indicative of some disorder. Battered persons who have endured the isolation, indoctrination, demoralization and the pain inflicted upon them develop these patterns of behavior – observed as symptoms – in order to survive. When people without observed or documented symptoms use this defense it minimizes the plight of abused persons around the globe. There are numerous features that constitute BWS and if Jodi truly does not meet those criteria, the results of this trial could be catastrophic to battered women everywhere and undo the legal successes of those that have suffered at the hands of an intimate partner. If she does not meet the established BWS criteria, a verdict less than premeditated murder has the potential to ignite and repeat threats that occurred for months after the verdict was announce in the Nicole Brown-Simpson murder. The damage from that verdict was felt by many victims of domestic abuse: a number of my clients reported that their perpetrators threatened them with variations of “You better watch yourself or I’ll give you some OJ with your breakfast.” While Jodi's defense team’s attempt at saving their client’s life may be successful, they potentially risk the safety for thousands of people unquestionably suffering from BWS. After evaluating the testimony and the evidence presented, along with my work in the trenches with victims of domestic violence, I’ve concluded that this is indeed a domestic violence case. Unfortunately, based on the information publicly available, my belief is that the wrong person is getting all the attention as the victim. Travis, a strong and powerful man, became a victim long before his murder was committed. With this in mind, I am going to share my conclusions about how this tragedy could – and should – have been predicted, based on my professional knowledge and the information presented prior to and during the trial.

Part I will look at predictors of violence from Travis' perspective and share how future victims could learn from this tragedy.

Predictor 1: Travis and his friends knew that something wasn’t right with this relationship. According to interviews with friends, many tried to warn him after his tires were slashed multiple times. They all believed they knew who was responsible, yet no police reports were ever filed. Destruction of personal property is against the law and is punishable so you may ask why he didn’t follow through. Simple: society tells men they need to put on their big boy boxers and man-up when put in this kind of position. Victims – especially male victims – should just write off their partner's bad behavior and assume the temper tantrum will end soon.

Predictor 2: Travis verbally forecasted his own death by warning his loved ones that if he didn’t show up then they would “know who to blame.” Many victims prepare for and express concern about their impending deaths. They often make wills, tell people how to take care of their kids, write goodbye letters or leave pictures of the abuse so their killers will eventually be caught. Travis expressed discomfort with what was happening; yet nobody acted on this or took the cues seriously. Was his discomfort because Jodi had demonstrated behaviors he thought were not-quite-right (NQR)? Perhaps, though we'll never know for sure. Notably, as a society we have normalized psychotic behavior by devaluing the word 'crazy.' I often hear generalizations such as, “Oh that Bitch is crazy!” When people hack into emails, voicemails and enter bedrooms without being invited, they should be considered dangerous and may indeed be insane—this type of intrusive, abnormal behavior could really be because a person is crazy.

Predictor 3: Travis began hiding his relationship with Jodi from others. He was meeting her secretively because his friends didn’t understand why he would keep seeing her. Victims often lose friends and loved ones when they refuse to abandon an intimate relationship; the friends feel distress and unease watching the abuse and simply remove themselves from their source of discomfort. So why would a battered person remain in an abusive relationship? Most people don’t understand that danger and love excite the same part of the brain. Although his internal alert system was partially functioning, Travis was likely confused by the exciting sex, the amazing weekend excursions and the thrill of secrecy. Abusive relationships involving male victims could figuratively be viewed much like the mating ritual of the praying mantis. The male knows there is an element of danger, but he risks his life anyway in order to mate. Sometimes he gets lucky and escapes; other times the female rips the male's head off and tears him apart limb-by-limb.

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