Why do domestic violence victims recant?
Science Daily covers new research that analyzed prison conversations and explains the method by which abusers manipulate victims into recanting:
“Perpetrators are not threatening the victim, but are using more sophisticated emotional appeals designed to minimize their actions and gain the sympathy of the victim. That should change how we work with victims.”
After analyzing the calls, the researchers identified a five-step process that went from the victims vigorously defending themselves in the phone calls to agreeing to a plan to recant their testimony against the accused abuser.
Typically, in the first and second conversations there is a heated argument between the couple, revolving around the event leading to the abuse charge. In these early conversations, the victim is strong, and resists the accused perpetrator’s account of what happens.
“The victim starts out with a sense of determination and is eager to advocate for herself, but gradually that erodes as the phone calls continue,” said Bonomi, who is also an affiliate with the Group Health Research Institute in Seattle.
In the second stage, the perpetrator minimizes the abuse and tries to convince the victim that what happened wasn’t that serious. In one couple, where the victim suffered strangulation and a severe bite to the face, the accused perpetrator repeatedly reminded the victim that he was being charged with “felony assault,” while asking whether she thought he deserved the felony charge.
“Finally, he wore her down and she agreed with him that he didn’t deserve a felony charge,” Bonomi said.
What happens next in this second stage, though, is the critical step in the process of recantation.
“The tipping point for most victims occurs when the perpetrator appeals to her sympathy, by describing how much he is suffering in jail, how depressed he is, and how much he misses her and their children,” Bonomi said.
“The perpetrator casts himself as the victim, and quite often the real victim responds by trying to soothe and comfort the abuser.”
In the third stage, after the accused abuser has gained the sympathy of the victim, the couple bonds over their love for each other and positions themselves against others who “don’t understand them.”
The fourth stage involves the perpetrator asking the victim to recant her accusations against him and the victim complying. Finally, in the fifth stage, the couple constructs the recantation plan and develops their stories.
“They often exchange very specific instructions about what should be done and said in court. They seal their bond as a couple and see themselves as fighting together against the state, which they view as trying to keep them apart,” Bonomi said.
If the accused abuser threatens his girlfriend or wife, she may hang up the phone or refuse to talk to him. Of course, the threat of future violence is always there for these couples, Bonomi said, but the perpetrators didn’t use threats in these calls to achieve their aims.
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