Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Distancing Language and Sexual Assault

                        "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
b.  Violence
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.
d.  Murder

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
b.  Bill
c.  Mr. Cosby
d.  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.


John Mc Gowan said...

Distancing language "You/your"

Although this is not a sexual assault case. I believe it is a prime example of the second person distancing language.


remember the case of Australian professional golfer Robert Allenby who was allegedly drugged in a club, kidnapped, thrown in the trunk of a car and dumped miles away from where he said he was. Police said there was no foundation to support his story.

"I was separated from my friend in the bar after we had paid the tab at 10:48pm and he went to the bathroom and next thing you know I'm being dumped in a park miles away".

Here he uses the second person "You" to describe what happened. This is not universal to us all, people do not get drugged, kidnapped and thrown in the trunk of a car and dumped elsewhere everyday. I would expect him to take ownership with the first person singular "I". This was just one red flag amongst others.

Read more:

Anonymous said...

a few more quotes from the golfer

'I only know this part because a homeless woman found me and told me she saw a few guys pull up and throw me out of the car. That is where I got the scrapes above my eye from the sidewalk.'

'I don't care about the money or my cards or anything like that. I am just glad I have survived this one.'

He is sensitive about his injury and explaining how it happened. It's not his money, it's the money, but it's his cards.

I'm thinking he's either inside the closet and got beat up, or he got really wasted and fell down, either way he has to explain away his injuries in a non-embarrassing way....

Anonymous said...

okay so i now realize the golfer story was back in january. Looks like i guessed right, got drunk and fell down LOL....

Anonymous said...


I just had a convo with my new boss. It was supposed to be 10 mins but we are both ramblers so we went on for an hour.

He is ex-military and we have worked in the same department for several years, very closely a few years ago. We are only a few years apart in age. We are both white males.

Here are a few of the comments that he made about his expectations moving forward.

“I would never ask my team to address me as ‘sir’.”

“The past two teams I’ve lead people have over time called me ‘sir’”

We were briefly interrupted, a co-worker delivered him a report, he asked a question and then responded with “thank you, sir”

Thanks to your blog I realize his EXPECTATION is to be addressed as “SIR”!

And I will be doing just that!

Statement Analysis Blog said...


good pick up! What we say in the negative is sometimes more important than what say in the positive.


John Mc Gowan said...


In the VT below. His pause's between statements are deafening and speak volumes. He struggles to fill the silence's while searching for words to say.

Obama on Cosby: 'This country, and any civilized country, should have no tolerance for rape'
President weighs in on allegations against 77-year-old comedian

President Barack Obama weighed in on the mounting sexual assault accusations against Bill Cosby on Tuesday.

When asked whether he would consider revoking the comedian's Presidential Medal of Freedom, Obama said there was no mechanism for doing so, and while he would not comment on specific accusations, he said that giving drugs to another person in order to have sex amounts to rape.

"If you give a woman or a man for that matter without his or her knowledge a drug and then have sex with them, that's rape," Obama said at the White House in response to a question about Cosby during a press briefing on the Iran nuclear deal. "This country, and any civilized country, should have no tolerance for rape."

Obama's comments come on the heels of Cosby’s admission that he gave Quaaludes to at least one woman he wanted to have sex with — a revelation in a 2005 deposition that was unsealed last week.

The entertainer's attorneys fought to keep his testimony secret, but U.S. District Judge Eduardo C. Robreno granted a request by the Associated Press to unseal the deposition, saying Cosby is a public figure whose comments about moral issues, combined with the serious allegations against him, put the release of testimony in the public interest.

After the admission was made public, a rape survivor advocacy group launched a petition on the White House website asking the administration to revoke the medal. As of Wednesday morning, it had 10,000 sigatures.

The 77-year-old comedian has been accused of sexual assault by more than two dozen women, including many who say he drugged and raped them in strikingly similar encounters over a four-decade span.

Lawyers for Cosby have denied the allegations, and he has never been criminally charged.

Judd Apatow, one of Cosby's most vocal critics of Cosby in Hollywood, said we shouldn’t need him to admit guilt to believe his alleged victims.

“I don’t think there is anything new here,” Apatow said of Cosby's admission. “It is only new to people who didn’t believe an enormous amount of women who stated clearly that he drugged them.”

But several of the alleged victims said Cosby's admission amounts to corroboration of their allegations.

Janice Dickinson, who alleges that Cosby violated her in 1982, said she feels "validated."

"It shows that he and all his people knew all along that we were telling the truth," Dickinson told People magazine.

Singer Jill Scott, who defended Cosby last year, said the revelation was a turning point.

"About Bill Cosby," Scott wrote to her Twitter followers. "Sadly his own testimony offers PROOF of terrible deeds, which is ALL I have ever required to believe the accusations."

Katprint said...

I have worked on literally hundreds of automobile accident cases. It is very common for incapacitated people to use distancing and/or passive language. From their point of view, things are happening to them / being done to them; they are not taking an active role in (for example) being extricated from their vehicle or receiving emergency spinal protocols from the EMTs. In fact, I would see active language as a red flag, for example, if someone said, "I told the ambulance crew that I had a neck injury and I told them to put on a cervical collar on me."

Similarly, people who undergo medical procedures while under conscious sedation -- having wisdom teeth removed, or undergoing a colonoscopy, or receiving spinal steroid injections -- tend to use distancing/passive language. Ideally, they don't have a strong experiential memory of the medical procedure.

I would expect distancing and/or passive language from victims who were raped while drugged. However, I would also expect variances from passive to active as they metabolized the sedatives/quaaludes they were given. It is not uncommon for sedated people to float in and out of higher levels of consciousness.