Thursday, October 16, 2014

Deja Vu All Over Again

Another headline, another hidden perpetrator, another brave wife, more individuals wounded grievously in childhood . . . when is it ever going to end?  When the Stephen Collins' story first broke last week, the sordid tale of molestation, betrayal, manipulation and deceit triggered my own quieted grief and anger.  It was deja vu all over again so it was not hard to feel great empathy for his wife--not hard at all.

While the details and timetable of the Collins' situation are still somewhat sketchy, with what I have gleaned from numerous sources, it seems that the pattern of behavior is quite typical of what many partners/former partners have experienced.  Deja vu--it has "already been seen" before.

And maybe by looking at the typical pattern of behavior of a pedophile/perpetrator we can find pieces of information that will prove helpful in formulating an earlier detection plan.
  • He targets an unsuspecting woman and pursues her as a romantic partner, playing to her insecurities and vulnerabilities.
  • When the relationship is secure from his perspective, he manipulates, deceives, minimizes and distorts her perception of reality (gaslighting) if she suspects anything is off in the relationship.
  • He is now free to molest because he is perceived as a "safe" person in that he has a wife and family of his own.  His plan to create just the perfect cover for deviancy is now in place and she has no clue she is part of this grand scheme.
  • If and when his perpetrating behavior is revealed, either through voluntary disclosure, discovery or involvement with the criminal justice system, he feigns just enough remorse and contempt for his behavior to lull her into believing that there is hope, with help, for their relationship.  She believes whatever explanation he provides because he is just that good at fooling others.
  • He agrees to therapy, accountability, boundaries, honesty, etc. in an attempt to persuade her that he really is going to change or truly address his deviant behavior.
  • When she has relaxed a bit into believing he is in "recovery," he will abruptly leave the relationship, either by actually leaving the marriage or by a pseudo-leaving.  Pseudo-leaving involves being even more unavailable for relationships as his disease and preoccupation with perpetrating behaviors escalates.
  • All the while he is engaged in illegal activities, he will project all of the blame and shame for the relationship difficulties onto her.  She may balk at carrying the heavier responsibility for the marital woes but far too often carries it anyway.
  • When he no longer wants of feels that he needs her, he will change his stripes dramatically.  He may become vindictive or retaliatory, work hard to disrupt or destroy her reputation, friendships or relationships with their children and be incredibly selfish with their joint assets.  He becomes the man he has always been on the inside--predatory--and she is shocked because she discovers that the man she thought she married never existed.

With all the stories that are dominating the news about yet another actor, youth pastor, teacher or counselor preying on children, what gets lost in the lurid details is the pattern. These guys are not very creative and it seems behind every one of them is a woman who is absolutely devastated by the behavior of her partner.  And while the public scrutiny and shock is initially correctly placed on the behavior of the perpetrator, eventually the tide turns and her behavior is called into question as well.  This has been so clearly illustrated in the Stephen Collins' story.  One actress was quoted as saying, "He was such a nice man."  Meanwhile his wife has been portrayed as a money-hungry extortionist who probably broke the law by secretly recording their conversations.

It is easier to believe that the affable, sweet man who charms us and is sensitive and kind is less guilty than his innocent and betrayed spouse.  The individual who has caused such irreparable harm to children is judged less grievous than his romantic partner who is just trying to survive a world that has suddenly and inexplicably turned upside down.

There is a "tedious familiarity" to these stories and they definitely are "unpleasantly familiar."  If we fail to learn from them, however, they becomes just another horrendous tragedy with no redeeming element.  There is a pattern; it eventually becomes detectible with enough education and awareness.  Perpetrators are actually quite predictable and that is how we can catch them earlier. 

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