"Distancing Langauge and Sexual Assault"
by Peter Hyatt
The pronoun, "you" is often associated with distancing language, and rightly so. Sometimes it is physical distance (geography), while other times it indicates emotional or psychological distance.
For the analyst, distancing language may be readily spotted, but it may be more difficult to classify.
Some use of the word "you" is called:
"Appropriately Distant", which is to say, 'universal.'
"If you drive too fast, you're going to end up with a ticket" is an example of distancing language that is appropriate, as the subject is speaking in a universal manner. "You" is not "If I drive too fast..." which signals, "distance", but the word "you" applies to any driver.
"If you treat others the way you want to be treated, things go a lot better" is a 'universal' distance, that is, applied to all. This makes it very personal when someone says, "If I treat people the way I want to be treated..." and quite important.
Athletes are notorious for using distancing language, even when there is nothing "universal" about hitting (or missing) a 97 mph fast ball.
"You put the bat on the ball and you see what happens" sounds universal, but it is only universal for ball players.
But in failure, the analyst may conclude that the distancing language is a form of minimization.
"You try your best out there, and sometimes you strike out", says the ball player who took the "Golden Sombreo", a most rare infamous distinction of having struck out each time up. Few will say, "I tried my best but I stuck out 4 times."
In fact, when you are attempting to discern the distancing language, as context is key, you must always note when someone consistently uses the word "you", suddenly says, "I" in the statement; making this portion of the statement very important to the subject
The analyst makes the call based upon years of experience. Period. There is no substitute, no matter how well the principles are memorized.
When the topic is 'up close and personal', the word "you" now becomes critical in 'entering into' or understanding the statement.
Some of the most "up close and personal" topics include:
a. Parenting or something related to one's children
c Home theft or invasion (assault in the home, break ins, stalking, etc) where the "home", that is, the place of 'safety' and rest, is no longer secure. This can include language associated with the bedroom as well.
The grandmother of a "missing" child knew her granddaughter had not been kidnapped as claimed, and was covering for her son who likely sold her a story of an "accident." She said,
"It's when you're waiting for the police to call you" and later, in attempting to bolster the "kidnapping" hoax, she said, "it's someone watching your home..."
In both cases, there is nothing universal about a missing child, nor about a home being 'watched' or 'cased'; this, with the entire statement, was indicated for deception, in the case of Ayla Reynolds.
Question: What about "identity theft"? Isn't this very personal?
Answer: I have not had enough statements regarding identity theft to date, to have a strong opinion on it. I likely will, as more cases are studied.
Question: What about "Rape" and distancing language?
"Rape", however, being a most acute "up close and personal" form of evasion, can actually produce distancing language; not as a signal of deception, but as a signal of minimization/denial. This is why the language of sexual assault is a study unto itself.
"You freeze. You just wait till its over. You just tell yourself to breathe..."
It goes pyschologicalyly even further:
"The rape occurred..." is found in both truthful and deceptive statements.
How can you know, therefore, the difference, since passive language is used? This makes sexual assault heavily reliant upon pronouns, and specific indictors.
In the allegations against Bill Cosby, we had several full interviews and were able to discern through the process of analysis that Cosby did, in fact, rape the victims analyzed.
Following the assailant, "Bill Cosby" means to see the relationship between the accused and the victim.
When is he:
a. Bill Cosby
c. Mr. Cosby
e. him, he
In a victim's interview, she used all of these terms, so we simply ask, "When is he 'Bill Cosby'?" and if, in context, the rape took place, is there a change?
We learned that when the assault was described, he was no longer "Bill" (friendly, first name) but "Cosby" and sometimes just the pronoun use. Prior to the assault, during times he was courting her for fame, he started as "Bill Cosby", introduced, but then onto the familiar "Bill"; but once the assault took place, there is a change that represents a change in reality. No more is the word "we" found between them. "We" may have gone to dinner, but after the assault, the "we" is gone, and so is all personal and friendly words used.
This is consistent. It is also why the context is key.
Also, extreme distancing language can take place where the subject is lying about rape.
"The rape occurred..." is passive voice. Rape does not just "occur" but "he raped me."
This phrase, and similar ones, show up in both truthful and deceptive. Context becomes key.
Passivity in language is used to conceal or hide identity and/or responsibility. "The gun went off" is to avoid saying who pulled the trigger. "The gun was in the bed" avoids saying who put the gun in the bed. Passivity conceals. When, for example, a gun went off in a crowd and the subject does not know the identity, passivity is appropriately used.
Here comes the curveball:
When a rape victim is truthful but uses passive language the interviewer must consider that the victim experienced sexual abuse in childhood that was very early, possibly even pre-speech.
This is to say that if you, the detective, believe that the victim was raped, and she uses passivity, explore background. Here is why:
When a child is a victim of sexual abuse, the child may disassociate during the assault especially if the sexual abuse was continual.
This means that the child is being sexually abused, but during the abuse, uses her imagination to naturally 'escape' or distance herself (the brain protecting itself from the trauma, even if the sexual assault did not induce pain) from the event, itself.
Picture a one time assault where the child, confused and wondering, simply thinks about being at a park.
Now, picture it happening again. The assailant is sexually molesting her, including touch that might even feel 'good' (this often makes the repercussions worse), and she is, in her mind, "at the park."
Now, picture it happening over and over, including the fact that she does not possess the linguistic sophistication to express what she is experiencing.
This is the element of "silence" which is often attributed to threats by the rapist. "If you tell anyone, daddy is going to leave you", "you don't want your uncle going to jail, do you?" all the way up to, "if you tell anyone, mommy is going to die."
These are real "silencing" threats but they are not the only limitation to speech;
the brain must process, linguistically, as we are created to do, otherwise: the damage to the brain is even worse.
Picture a child silenced by fear, and you can understand why "mouth" and words like "being heard" are so sensitive.
But picture a child who is too young to articulate what has happened to her, and you have the ultimate damage due to silencing. Not only can the brain not process through language, the brain does not have the ability to process what has happened.
It seems that, in many cases, at this point, the body takes over and "processes" the vileness done to the child and mental health experts scratch their heads at why the 15 year old is having random, dangerous indiscriminate sex, and utterly destroying herself. As they seek to get her to speak, she is not "resisting" telling you (the expert) about it,
She is incapable of doing so, or so it seems.
Hence, the extreme value of a mental health or social services professional proficient in Statement Analysis can offer more help than anyone else because she (or he) knows the linguistic signals, has studied them, and can offer relief to the victim, even allowing the victim to vent about not having the words.
They do sound like "liars" and can be dismissed, especially if collateral interviews deny any sexual abuse, but the trained professional can also recognize something body language analysts love to say:
the body doesn't lie.
In this sense, I agree.
Back to our child and the park.
Question: Where is the child during the assault?
Answer: She is at the park.
Question; How, then, does she know she was assaulted?
Answer: Because she 'watched it' happen.
This shows itself in the language of passivity, with some samples sounding as if the victim was 'floating above the room' or a 'fly on the wall' and can even employ not just second person language, but third person.
Question: Isn't this extremely rare?
Answer: Not as much as I wish.
I analyzed a letter from an elderly mother to her grown daughter, who had experienced horrific sexual abuse. There was the expected minimization, some denial, some casting of blame, and even some passivity. The mother blamed herself, but added that she was sorry for not being "intelligent enough" to spot the abuse.
What is this?
An abdicating or neglectful parent feels almost unbearable guilt. Just like a child victim, the parent also has a brain that tries to protect itself from trauma and it is traumatic to consider one turned her back upon a child so that the child could be sexually abused. This comes in many forms and ways, including mothers who, if they tell, lose their homes, income, status in the community, etc. This often infuriates the victim.
In protecting one's own status, the guilty parent sometimes re victimizes the child. How?
"I'm sorry I was not intelligent enough to read the signs" actually does more than just seek to cast off some blame: it makes the victim feel sorry for the negligent parent. Victims do not need any help in feeling bad. Many blame themselves for "destroying" the perpetrator's life, even though they may have been a toddler when the abuse began! This "apology" is not seeking forgiveness, but is a form of manipulation, increasing the pain of the victim.
Yet, there is more.
We note signs within the note, as in the statements of so many neglectful mothers, that they, themselves, were victims of childhood sexual abuse.
This is the generational 'blindness' that often takes place and even in denial, the next generation of children are put at risk.
The intelligence level notwithstanding, it has happened to women of all backgrounds. Some overcome and some do not. All suffer, however.
When a victim uses distancing language, there must be a 'slowing down' of moving towards a conclusion of deception in analysis.
I have analyzed more than a few statements of rape that were false allegations. It happens and we often look for the word "left" to enter the language of the false accuser after the alleged assault as sometimes it points to the reason why the allegation was made. The alleged perpetrator's "leaving" is very sensitive, and in context, is rarely associated with "rushing, time, traffic, etc" that is our norm. In each of the statements where I concluded false allegation of rape, an admission (or confession) was obtained. In public statements analyzed, prosecutors have dropped the cases. The overall conclusion of the analysis was not "iffy" but deception was readily seen, even when the accuser had a history of childhood sexual abuse. This perseveration also came through in the language. Only once did a subject deny childhood sexual abuse, to only later admit it.
There is no substitute for years of practice in analysis, to uncover why distance language exists, and what has caused it, for those with formal training.
It is sometimes a signal of guilt in a parent of a missing child, "that boy"; or it can be something as innocuous as a poor report card, or just 'universal' language.
The context is key and in sexual assault, this is another reminder that we need not only deep, detailed analysis of very small points, but also of the large context of the statement.
A counselor or therapist with proficiency in Statement Analysis is worth his or her weight in gold.