Saturday, 28 April 2007

Violence Prevention Toolbox

This is a post that recently appeared on the blog of Dr Helen Smith, a Tennessee psychologist.

One of the ways to prevent violence is to have a repertoire of techniques to use depending on the context of the violence one is about to encounter--no one technique is always the answer, so I am always looking for good books to add to my violence prevention toolbox. I found one in IronShrink's book, Surviving Aggressive People: Practical Violence Prevention Skills for the Workplace and the Street. How does IronShrink (or Shawn Smith, his real name) tell us to do this? By using psychological techniques and understanding of those who wish to commit violence against us to stop aggression before it starts.

Smith divides aggressors into two categories: The Desperate Aggressor and the Expert Aggressor. The Desperate Aggressor is one of the most common and is someone you might encounter in a work situation who feels that they have run out of options. "Violent crime in America is often spontaneous: someone loses their temper and the results are tragic. When an otherwise rational person reaches a high level of emotion, when they perceive no solution to their problem, then violence--normally not something they would even consider--may seem to them like their only option." These aggressors don't like to feel helpless and seek to regain their feelings of control. They are poor at problem solving and often another person who is skilled can help them to restore their composure. The book gives suggestions in concrete form on what to say and how to do this. Finally, Desperate Aggressors display verbal and physical indicators of stress. They might feel cornered, panicked and ashamed.

I enountered a situation like this very early in my career when I worked for the state of New York as a psychologist. A patient who had been living in the Willowbrook State School where he had been living a hard life was assigned to me. The first time I met him, he was holding some staff keys that I needed. Stupidly, I reached out my hand to him and said, "Give me the keys, please." The next think I knew, the patient punched me full force in the face and sent me flying into the wall behind me. I realized immediately that I should never have extended my hand outward and it threatened him. From then on, if I needed something from this patient, I would ask him to drop it on a nearby table and learned never to extend my hand to certain patients--it was seen as too much of a threat.

The Expert Aggressors are a different lot than the Desperate Aggressors in that rather than seeing violence as the last option, they view it as the preferred option. They are interested in social or material gain, in taking something that does not belong to them. They tend to attack those who are suitable victims and choose those who offer the greatest chance of success. They use "testing rituals" to determine the willingness of a victim. Some people will tolerate being attacked more than others. Those who are too trusting, kind or loving make the best victims. There are some very good techniques in the book to keep the Expert Aggressor from going too far. I have first hand experience in working with thousands of clamaints for disability evaluations who were Expert Aggressors. Some of the claimants would initially come in and try to use threats to get a positive evaluation or try to take over my personal space. When they saw that I put a stop to that immediately, and was not intimidated in the least, they stopped the nonsense and were fairly cooperative.

My only real criticism of the book is that Smith has a section on "weapons and gimmicks" and warns readers that weapons can be used against them, may not work, or may be used by younger members of the family. I have noticed that almost all psychologists have to plant a seed of doubt about weapons--their liberal training almost demands it. Weapons have saved the lives of multitudes of people. With the right training, they can work wonders; rarely are they turned on their owners. Does it happen? Yes, but not often. In my opinion, the willingness to use whatever works in an aggressive encounter, including weapons, and violence oneself may be the difference in whether one survives or gets out unscathed. Don't believe it when you are told not to use weapons to defend yourself, it is often psychological propaganda intended to erode our second amendment rights.

That said, I do recommend this book for those of you who work in Human Resources departments like the Evil HR Lady or are in a management position where you hire and fire. The techniques look sound and could even save your life or that of one of your employees. I must say that in my career, I have dealt with thousands of potentially aggressive people and used similar techniques to keep myself safe--if you understand what and who you are dealing with, you can often reduce the chances that aggression will take you by surprise.

Wednesday, 18 April 2007

High Court may lead to workers comp discrimination: HREOC

The Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission has noted that the High Court decision in Attorney-General (Vic) v Andrews (2007) HCA 9 upheld workers’ compensation laws allowing large companies to opt out of compulsory state schemes. This decision may have unintended consequences for workers in same-sex relationships according to Human Rights Commissioner Graeme Innes AM.

Under the Commonwealth workers’ compensation scheme, the same-sex partner of an injured or deceased employee is not entitled to workers’ compensation, whereas state workers’ compensation schemes do provide this protection.

“An opposite-sex partner of an employee covered by a federal workers’ compensation scheme has the security of knowing that he or she will be financially supported if his or her partner dies or is injured on the job. A same-sex partner has no such security,” Commissioner Innes said.

“The Comcare system should change to give people in same-sex relationships the same workers’ compensation coverage protecting opposite-sex couples.”

The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission is currently finalising the report of the National Inquiry into Discrimination Against People in Same-Sex Relationship regarding Financial and Work-related Entitlements (Same-Sex: Same Entitlements).

The Inquiry covers discrimination against same-sex couples and families in several areas of federal law including:

employment laws (personal and parental leave, workers’ compensation, travel entitlements for federal employees)
tax laws
social security and veterans’ entitlement laws
Medicare and PBS Safety Nets
superannuation laws, and
aged care laws.

Link to HREOC

Decision in Attorney-General (Vic) v. Andrews

Challenge to Red Cross HIV policy

Ever since the AIDS epidemic commenced in the 80's, and after initial failures to provide safe blood, the Red Cross has maintained a screening process for categories of blood donors so that gay and bisexual men, for example, are not accepted as donors.

Gay advocate Rodney Croome notes on his blog about how a Michael Cain has complained to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission that the Red Cross is applying old data and is discriminating because it fails to take into account whether the individual donor is engaging in safe sex, irrespective of their sexuality.

Croome notes that HIV infection through blood donations in Spain and Italy has dropped greatly since they changed to a policy of relying on the individual and their approach to safe sex.

Rodney Croome's blog

Howard proposes end to HIV migrants

In recent comments to the media, John Howard has proposed that HIV positive people should not be able to migrate to Australia.

If this were to occur, this would be the same restriction to migrants and tourists to the US who are required to declare their HIV status, and if positive cannot arrive in the US.

Wednesday, 4 April 2007

US: spousal maintenance to transgendered man to continue

Lambda Legal reports that in Florida, Lawrence Roach sought to stop paying spousal maintenance (alimony) to his wife Julia, because Julia was now transgendered and had become Julio Silverwolf.

The Florida court said that payments should continue, but that Julio was not recognised as a man in Florida.

Lambda Legal

Whither Federal ALP?

Just as Victoria seems to be adopting the Tasmanian scheme of registering same sex relationships, gay activist Rodney Croome suggest that the Federal ALP is likely to do the same.

Rodney Croome

Tuesday, 3 April 2007

Vic gay couples may get new rights

The Age reports today that there is growing pressure within the Victorian Government for a relationship register, similar to that in Tasmania, allowing gay and lesbian couples to formally register.

There is no intention however to allow same sex marriages or civil unions.

Link to The Age article

Extent of Husband Abuse

Few topics are more argued about than the extent to which men are abused by their female partners. Some male advocates assert that the majority of victims of domestic violence are male. Some female advocates assert that whilst male victims occur they are rare, and it is usually the woman acting in self-defence.

A very useful paper has been published on the Canadian Government's website setting out both these and other arguments as to the current research concerning husband abuse.


Article about gay domestic violence

I have just come across a very interesting and well informed discussion paper by Dr Kevin Kirkland published on the Canadian Family Violence Clearinghouse website.

It is a useful synopsis of much recent research about gay domestic violence.

Link to Abuse in Gay Male Relationships: a Discussion Paper

Monday, 2 April 2007

Domestic violence- what you can do


The worst thought for EVERYONEwho has been the subject of domestic violence, whether gay or straight is that they are alone.

Usually the thought pattern includes: "I'm alone"- which is untrue, "It's all my fault"- also untrue, and "there's nothing I can do"- also untrue.

Going back to basics- a perpetrator of domestic violence is a bully. If we remember the schoolyard motto- "stand up to bullies". The sooner you stand up to a bully, the more likely you are to escape and to get on with your life. Be decisive. One of the most inspirational pieces I read on this mantra was by all people Rudi Guiliani in his book "Leadership". As he made plain, the longer bullies are allowed to get away with their bullying, the stronger they become and the weaker their target.

Focus on safety. The two key features here are to make sure that:
firstundertake a risk assessment
secondprepare a safety plan

It may be that one of your best moves is to have a protection order or similar (eg NSW an ADVO) in your favour. You may be able to get police assistance.

One of the key (shocking) differences between Australia and the United States as I recently discovered is that while in Australia in EVERY State and Territory can a person in a same sex relationship obtain a civil protection order. In some States in the US, even alarmingly in New York, a person in a same sex relationship cannot!

Make sure that you have a support network around you. This can be particularly hard coming from a same sex relationship as the group of friends and associates may be small and all may tend to go to the same clubs, bars etc. However, if you are to stay sane when it seems that everything has gone wrong it is essential to make sure you have a support network- people who do not judge you but accept you for who you are and will help you through. These may be family or friends or both.

Don't give up! As seen above, outside the Brisbane Magistrates Court is a sculpture which is used to describe going through the adversities of life and the system, or as one wag called it "Willy the Tapeworm". Life following a breakup, especially one involving domestic violence, is like that- it is tough. Someone who has bullied you before is not going to give up without a fight and might use a variety of means to humiliate you or to get you back. Make sure you've got a good lawyer!

Gay and lesbian domestic violence- background

Apologies for the delays in posts, which have been caused by my having a break, including speaking at a US conference on DV in Denver.

One of the topics that came up not surprisingly was that of same sex domestic violnce. So that this term is clear, it covers gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual people. In Australia we also talk of intersex and queer people, but these were not discussed.

One of the key themes coming out of this topic at the conference was how poorly documented same sex domestic violence was, and at some levels how poorly understood it was.

Historically the fight against domestic violence came from and largely still comes from the feminist movement, which had its upsurge in the 1970's. Feminists saw that male domestic violence towards them was part of a system of patriarchy- where dominant men are in control of all, set the rules and at worst use violence to perpetuate their power.

At the same time the gay revolution was occuring, and many gay and lesbians no doubt thought that upon escaping from the shackles of a heteronormative society that they would live in bliss.

To their shock, some have discovered that they were subject to domestic violence.


The key features essentially involve dominance and control. If you have two parties in a domestic relationship, and one seeks to exert dominance and control over the other, and is successful, then the dominant party will continue to use whatever power he or she might have to dominate and control the other.

These tools include:
-emotional abuse
-financial abuse- for example checking up minutely on what their partner might be spending
-social isolation- for example engaging in a pattern of behaviour to separate their partner from family friends or faith groups
-sexual abuse- this could vary from pornographic images of their partner being posted on the web to rape
-damage to property- for example hitting the partner's pet dog with a spade, throwing things at the partner
- physical assault-punching, hitting, biting, kicking,slapping, hair pulling, strangulation
- threats to commit these acts

What one sometimes sees in male/female relationships are some further dynamics:
- the man using his position as a man to justify his position "I'm your husband- I can have sex with you whenever and however I like"
- the man using religion to justify his position, most commonly qouting Ephesians 6 for wives to obey their husband
- that he will remove the children from her, that she will not be able to see them as she is a "worthless mother"

In same sex DV, most of these dynamics also come in play, but there are some slight changes:

-most significantly, threatening to out a partner to their family, workplace or church. I also came across this in a heterosexual relationship where the husband pressured the wife to enter into a threesome with his former girlfriend, then used it as a blackmail against his girlfriend that he would tell her religious family that she was a lesbian.

-threatening to remove the children from the partner. Most striking to me was how often it was stated at the conference that this seemed to be occuring in the US. Although this might also be occuring in Australia, Australian law under the Family Law Act allows a former partner to apply for the children to live with him or her,and to spend time with or communicate with those children even if not biologically not his or hers.

- seeking to humiliate a bisexual, transgender or intersex partner that they are not "normal" and having to prove that they are up to the mark.

NEXT POST- what can be done