Victim Monsters

Victim Monsters

Belief Systems

Belief systems are powerful, and when shared by a population, they build civilizations up or burn them to the ground.

Before he died, a distant relative sat down with me and humbly told the story of how he gave his wife a black eye. He did this with all the boys in our extended family at a time when we were old enough to understand but young enough to shape our belief system. He wanted us to grow up with a deeply held belief that it is never okay to strike a woman.

Belief systems define who we are and are difficult to change. I could post a hundred scenarios where you think a woman deserved to be hit, but my subconscious completely rejects the input as absurd or rationalizes why it does not matter. Belief systems are powerful, and when shared by a population, they build civilizations up or burn them to the ground.

Bailif, club this man

A “Men’s Problem”?

Recently, I was at a domestic violence conference where a speaker asserted that “domestic violence is a men’s problem.” He went on to say something about not caring if it offended people, that it should offend people, and his belief was backed by statistics saying women are overwhelmingly the victims. In other words, that is his belief system, and he will rationalize why any contrary information does not matter. So, let me give you that contrary information, and then tell you why it does not matter

First, let me tell you a little bit about my experience with domestic violence. Not only have I seen it in my professional practice, but I’ve witnessed it with family and friends.

Case 1

Arnold and Ann have a child together. Both parents have drinking problems. When Ann gets drunk and upset, she throws things at Arnold. One day, Ann became especially angry and started throwing items at Arnold and punching his head and body while he was holding their baby. Arnold kicked Ann out, and she called the police and had Arnold arrested. Ann, it turns out, has done this with at least two other boyfriends. The truth was only revealed later when she attacked the wrong person.

Case 2

Previously, Ben was arrested for beating his wife, Betty. The attack was so severe that she required hospitalization. But he used the kids as leverage to get his wife to come back, and she never prosecuted him. One day when they were both drunk, they had an argument, and Betty locked Ben out of the bedroom and passed out. Ben decided to retaliate for his prior arrest by filing a false report that Betty pointed a gun at him. Police records showed multiple inconsistent statements on Ben’s part, including bizarre claims that Betty’s prior injuries were due to her own clumsiness. And yet, because Betty doesn’t remember anything, she is labeled a perpetrator and indicted for family violence assault with a deadly weapon. “She pointed a gun at me” almost always wins over “I don’t remember what happened.”

How do you tell who is the victim and who is the abuser? The victim is probably the one you don’t like. Think about it. Is it the popular kid being beaten up at school, or is it the popular one doing the beating? Abusers are masters at manipulating other people’s belief systems – not just their victims’. It is downright creepy hearing the support an abuser receives from family, friends, and fellow church members against the victim. I wish I could repeat some of the things they say.

Anecdotal versus Statistical Evidence

These examples may not matter to you because they are anecdotal evidence, which refers to evidence derived from individual stories and experiences. It is often dismissed as immaterial because it is considered less reliable than large scientific studies. This, however, is another belief system that you should challenge.

Your belief system may prevent you from considering this latter possibility and questioning the validity of your assumptions.

While statistical evidence is more reliable, it is only as reliable as what it measures. For example, if I go to the courthouse and count the number of men and women in suits, I should get a good indication of how many lawyers are there. Why do it that way? Because it is more efficient than asking everyone to show a bar card. It’s important to remember, though, I am not measuring lawyers, I am counting people in suits and assuming that is a good proxy. My assumption sounds reasonable, but it could be way off. Domestic abusers do not carry around domestic abuser cards. We can only count arrests, admissions, complaints, or some other proxy. Nobody can go back in time to see what really happened.

In my anecdotal experience, the number of male and female victims are about even, and the number of wrongful arrests and incorrect findings of domestic violence is frustratingly high. In the two examples above, a study counting arrests would find three female victims and one male victim. Case 1 revealed one female victim when it was actually one male victim. Case 2 showed one male victim when in reality the female was a victim twice. So, the study is flawed.

Maybe my anecdotal data is completely unreliable, and I am an outlier in the statistics. Or, it could be that studies matching my experiences better reflect reality. Your belief system may prevent you from considering this latter possibility and questioning the validity of your assumptions. See, for example, this story: “Women more likely to be perpetrators of abuse as well as victims“. University of Florida News (last visited October 30, 2017).

Being a Victim

At this point, it may help to talk about why victims return to their abusers. As I said before, abusers are masters at manipulating people’s belief systems. An idea that they instill in women is that if they leave, they will lose their children forever. For men, the notion is that if they leave, they will be arrested, ruining their lives and reputations. Thanks to the belief system that domestic violence is a men’s problem, this is sadly a very real risk.

If you are not willing to have your belief system challenged and instead want to silence or shut out contradicting information, then you are part of the problem.

How do men become victims in the first place? Like me, many men are instilled with the belief system that it is never okay to strike a woman. They live in fear that if they lift a finger in their own defense, they will be prosecuted. Women have fingernails, hands, feet, and whatever weapons are handy that are capable of inflicting damage and pain. Imagine you are that guy in school who was beaten up all the time. Now, you are being hit by your wife, and your self-esteem is entirely wrecked. If you call the police, you risk being arrested. If you leave, you also risk being arrested. In either case, do you really have any options?

Whose Problem is It?

The more important the problem is, the more ideas and perspectives are necessary to solve it.

So, how can we determine whether domestic violence is a men’s problem? In my opinion, that’s the wrong question. The question should be, “What use is a belief system that says domestic violence is a men’s problem?” All around us, there are victim monsters in pretty floral dresses with bright eyes smiling at you, and victim monsters wearing dashing suits giving you friendly handshakes and pats on the back. Does it matter if 4 or 40 percent of victims are men? The children in their homes see horrible treatment and abuse of their mothers or fathers. What belief systems are being wired permanently into their little brains? Let’s focus on that.

If you are not willing to have your belief system challenged and instead want to silence or shut out contradicting information, then you are part of the problem. You may see yourself dedicating your life to standing up for what you believe in, but you aren’t. The more important the problem is, the more ideas and perspectives are necessary to solve it. And yet, today we do the opposite

Listening is Better than Pontificating

Aren’t some things worth a broken ego? How about we don’t shut out ideas we don’t want to hear? Why not put the problem of domestic violence above our belief systems and listen? Are ideas that challenge our deeply held beliefs scarier than the monsters they might be creating?


Scientific Evidence

Scientific Evidence, Politics, and Convictions – The Deeper Civil Rights Implications of Academic Freedom

Science Doesn’t Lie

I recently saw a sign from the “March for Science” saying, “Science doesn’t lie.” Is that true? Is it even scientific? It is an important question because every day attorneys ask jurors to evaluate scientific evidence in cases from DWIs to rape and murder.

Under the rules of evidence, an expert may testify about scientific evidence “if the expert’s scientific…knowledge will help the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue.”1 The testimony must be “based on sufficient facts or data;…the product of reliable principles and methods;” and the expert must have applied the methods and principles reliably.2

What good does it do to subject your theory to peer review when all of your peers agree with you?

Generally, to be admissible, scientific testimony must pass the Daubert/Robinson test. In Daubert the Supreme Court provided guidance for judges and juries to evaluate the reliability of scientific evidence.3 The Daubert case involved a drug that parents believed caused their childrens birth defects. The court upheld the dismissal because there were no peer reviewed studies to support the claim. In Robinson the Texas Supreme Court outlined some factors that could be used to evaluate scientific evidence, including:

  • whether the methodology has been subject to peer review,
  • whether the methodology or opinions are generally accepted within the scientific community,
  • the extent to which the theory can be tested,
  • and the error rate4

Or Does it?

But what happens when the scientific community is dominated with monolithic political views? What good does it do to subject your theory to peer review when all of your peers agree with you? In 2015, Behavioral and Brain Sciences published a paper arguing that academic psychology has lost nearly all of its political diversity in the last fifty years, “most likely due to a combination of self-selection, hostile climate, and discrimination.”5

The paper argues that bias resulting from the lack of diversity (studies suggest only 5%-8% of social science professors in the United States identify as conservatives) reduces the quality and can “undermine the validity of social psychological science.”6 Researchers can imbed their values into their theories and methods, negative attitudes can cause researchers to mischaracterize conservative values, and confirmation bias can cause them to look only at evidence that supports their assumptions. The paper cites examples of this. For instance, if you disagree that “we will soon experience a major environmental catastrophe,”then you are charactarized as in “denial of environmental realities.”7 Or, if you agree that hard work gets results, then you are engaging in “rationalization of inequality.”8

So what if it does?

This has profound implications in law under Daubert. Take for example a child custody evaluation. Child custody evaluations are a wonderful tool and I use them. But let’s see an example of how the political environment in higher education can have implications that people don’t think about.

A psychologist evaluates a child and parents and may come up with a numerical score to make a recommendation on who should be making moral, religious, and educational decisions concerning the child. It all sounds so objective and scientific if numbers don’t lie and science doesn’t lie. Take a moment to consider how insidious this could be.

Mental health professionals are increasingly used in criminal cases.

The psychologist  may have no bias whatsoever. The psychologist is most likely trying to be as fair and objective as possible. The bias is imbedded in the number. The number came from a methodology which is based on research embedded with values that half the country does not share. The methodology is accepted because everyone has the same biases. Because of this, the bias is built into the rules of evidence under United States and Texas Supreme Court decisions. This probably has not happened yet, but the bias on college campuses has only been getting worse over the years. How will things look 20 years from now? 30 years?

Criminal law has more profound implications. Mental health professionals are increasingly used in criminal cases. Imagine you are the Defendant in a self-defense case. The alleged victim had a gun and you claim you were being robbed. The prosecution says no, Defendant shot the alleged victim because Defendant is a racist. He puts on an expert who testifies that you have “white supremacist” tendencies. The expert’s conclusion is based on, among other things, the fact that the Defendant thinks taxes should be lower and likes to wear red hats — two things a hypothetical future study says are associated with White Supremacists. Would you want the guy holding the “Science doesn’t lie” sign to be on the jury?

So what if it doesn’t?

Confirmation bias affects everyone. “People tend to search for evidence that will confirm their existing beliefs while also ignoring or downplaying disconfirming evidence.”9 There are two recent cases where political confirmation bias may have influenced prosecutors. This is different than a political prosecution. When a prosecutor prosecutes someone because of his political beliefs or other invidious political reasons, then the prosecutor is engaging in political prosecution. On the other hand, when an investigator reaches a conclusion prematurely due to politics so that all of the subsequent evidence the investigator sees confirms it, then it is political confirmation bias. In other words it is unintentional.

The first case is the infamous Freddie Gray case. I won’t get into whether the officers were guilty or not guilty of anything, but there was a lot of conflicting evidence. Witnesses testified about the officers breaking bones that weren’t broken. His neck on video appeared to be broken prior to transport. The medical investigation found that Gray had sustained the injuries when he was standing in the van due to an abrupt change in direction. The prosecutor said the knife he was carrying was legal. The knife was in fact illegal under city code. The officers’ acquittals and subsequent lawsuits seem to indicate that the officers were over-charged because the prosecutor focused on evidence confirming her beliefs and ignored or minimized other evidence. The over-charging was likely due to political confirmation bias in the wake of violent protests. It may be that the officers would have been found guilty of something if they had been charged based on the evidence viewed objectively.

The officers’ acquittals and subsequent lawsuits seem to indicate that the officers were over-charged because the prosecutor focused on evidence confirming her beliefs and ignored or minimized other evidence.

The second case is the case against infamous police officer, Daniel Holtzclaw. Crime Watch Daily is doing a three part series on this case and you are welcome to reach your own conclusions. For purposes of this post, I am going to assume he is not guilty. As presented by the Hortzclaw family and CRTV, Officer Holtzclaw was accused of sexual assault by a woman he stopped. Detectives in this case immediately assumed that he was guilty. During the investigation, detectives went out in search of women who would say they were victims and found some. Among the conflicting statements the alleged victims made to investigators was that the white six foot one inch former linebacker was a short black man. Detectives minimized and even failed to look for evidence favorable to Hortzclaw, including tests to exclude innocent DNA transfer. Hortzclaw was tried for 32 counts of related offenses of which he was found guilty of 18.

Unfortunately for Holtzclaw the lab found DNA on his pants. That sentence sounds pretty damning. DNA is science; there was science on his pants! Immediately your brain relaxes because it doesn’t have to make a decision. Someone else already showed he is guilty with DNA. We love DNA! The problem is, DNA is probably the biggest liar in criminal law10. It convicts where it shouldn’t and exonerates people who are guilty of horrible crimes. The truth is, if you leave the house for a normal day, there is no way you are going to make it home without getting someone’s DNA on your pants. That could be you behind bars because you shook the wrong sweaty hand one day.

These are two cases where confirmation bias likely lead to criminal charges. In the first, science may have lead to unjust acquittals. In the second, science may have lead to an unjust conviction.

What are the implications?

“Science doesn’t lie” is a declaration that betrays the political irrationality of the declarant. What subject lies? History? Architecture? Badminton? As citizens, we need to be informed not compliant. What “Science doesn’t lie” means is that criticism of my beliefs is not allowed. That is not science. It corrupts science.

The implications are that attacks on free speech, the presumption of innocence, and the right to a fair trial cut deeply into our constitutional protections. There are consequences to firing a professor who asks a political incorrect question, and there are consequences to rioting to prevent students from hearing criticism of your ideas. These things prevent scientific discovery and advancement and lead to bad science. Bad science leads to bad evidence. Bad evidence leads to injustice.

Moreover, reverence for science is misplaced. When we are growing up our parents have all the answers. Once we are on our own it is tempting to believe that science has all the answers, so we treat it practically like a religion. We even say, “I believe in science.” But science isn’t something to believe in. It is a tool-one of many we need to build a just society11.

1 Fed. R. Evid. 702.
2 Id.
3 Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharm., Inc., 509 U.S. 579 (1993)
4 E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. v. Robinson, 923 S.W.2d 549, 557 (Tex.1995).
5 Duarte, J.L., Crawford, J.T., Stern, C., Haidt, J., Jussim, L. and Tetlock, P.E. (2015) ‘Political diversity will improve social psychological science’, Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 38. doi: 10.1017/S0140525X14000430
6 Id.
7 Id. at 4.
8 Id. at 5.
9 Id. at 7.
10 This may be hyperbole, but it is a hypothesis worth testing.
11 For more tools we need to build a just society, see The Dreyfuss Civics Initiative.