In­side a sadist’s mind

The Star Malaysia - - Focus - By SHAGUFE HOSSAIN

RAPED on a bus, killed and thrown off on the street. Raped at a party. Head shaved by fam­ily mem­bers af­ter rape. We read, we vent, we dis­cuss, we for­get, we are re­minded again the next day. And worse things keep hap­pen­ing.

Much of the con­ver­sa­tion re­volves around what hap­pened to the victim, where she was, what she was do­ing, whether she was alone, whether she was with a friend, what she was wear­ing, what eco­nomic back­ground she was from and the list goes on. By the end of the week we would have a de­tailed char­ac­ter sketch of the victim and noth­ing about the per­pe­tra­tor.

Maybe we en­gage in such thor­ough anal­y­sis of the victim’s life and char­ac­ter be­cause it helps us un­der­stand that this can hap­pen to any­one, not a cer­tain kind of woman, or per­son. But the prob­lem with this con­ver­sa­tion is that it leaves out a very im­por­tant as­pect. It fails to ask the ques­tion: Who rapes and why?

Umme Kawsar Lata is a lec­turer and as­sis­tant ed­u­ca­tional psy­chol­o­gist at the Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tional and Coun­selling Psy­chol­ogy of Dhaka Univer­sity.

I sat down with her one evening, pri­mar­ily be­cause I was per­plexed.

I wanted to ex­plore why peo­ple rape in­stead of why peo­ple get raped; why the rel­a­tives of the rapist feel the need to shave the heads of the victim to fur­ther shame her in­stead of hold­ing the rapist ac­count­able; why peo­ple feel en­ti­tled to rap­ing peo­ple at par­ties; why peo­ple feel en­ti­tled to at­tack­ing some­one's body be­cause she is on a pub­lic trans­port; what psy­cho­log­i­cal fac­tors play a role in per­pet­u­at­ing rape and the rapist mind­set.

But also, I was tired. I needed some re­as­sur­ance that not ev­ery man on the street is a rapist.

So, we sit at a cafe in Dhan­mondi and I ask Lata: “Tell me, you’ve stud­ied this. What are some psy­cho­log­i­cal fac­tors that mo­ti­vate vi­o­lence?”

“Some peo­ple are sadists. Sadism, like any other dis­or­der, is an ill­ness. In some peo­ple, you can de­tect a per­va­sive pat­tern of cruel, de­mean­ing, and ag­gres­sive be­hav­iour, be­gin­ning by early adult­hood, or even child­hood. But even if you are pre­dis­posed to vi­o­lence, you will need some form of a trig­ger. Sex­ual sadism is a sub­set of sadism, where one de­rives sex­ual plea­sure from in­flict­ing pain upon oth­ers.”

“But,” I in­ter­rupted, “there is a prob­lem with that nar­ra­tive, no? I mean, are all sex­ual as­sault per­pe­tra­tors, nec­es­sar­ily sadis­tic? Also by talk­ing about gen­der-based vi­o­lence as some­thing that is per­pet­u­ated by a men­tal ill­ness, we risk stig­ma­tis­ing men­tal ill­nesses. In gen­der the­ory, we talk about gen­der as a so­cial con­struct. ‘Gen­der-based vi­o­lence’ and ‘vi­o­lence against women’ are terms that are of­ten used in­ter­change­ably as most gen­der-based vi­o­lence is in­flicted by men on women and girls. But the ‘gen­der-based’ as­pect of the con­cept is re­tained as this high­lights the fact that vi­o­lence against women is an ex­pres­sion of power in­equal­i­ties be­tween women and men. So, we see vi­o­lence pri­mar­ily as a re­sult of un­even power dy­nam­ics, which makes it a so­cial prob­lem rather than an in­di­vid­ual’s prob­lem.”

“Well, that’s what I mean by trig­ger. Sadism can be trig­gered by a num­ber of fac­tors, so­cial, per­sonal, etc. Any dis­or­der, in or­der to be ac­ti­vated, needs a trig­ger. Even if I have a cer­tain kind of nat­u­ral dis­po­si­tion, I don’t nec­es­sar­ily need to turn into a vi­o­lent per­son,” she said.

“So then, un­like say schizophre­nia, sadism isn't ge­netic?”

Lata shakes her head. “There’s no re­search that I know of that con­firms that it is. In fact, I think the dif­fer­ence be­tween an ill­ness like schizophre­nia, for in­stance, and sadism is that sadism is mostly learned be­hav­iour. The so­cial learn­ing the­ory of Al­bert Ban­dura iden­ti­fies two ways in which in­di­vid­u­als learn. Firstly, through mod­el­ling so you see things hap­pen around you and you learn. For ex­am­ple, if a child grows up in an abu­sive house­hold, he will learn to nor­malise abuse and vi­o­lence. And sec­ondly, through trial and er­ror, where learn­ing oc­curs through ten­ta­tively try­ing var­i­ous re­sponses and dis­card­ing some un­til a so­lu­tion is at­tained. But for learn­ing to oc­cur, the learner must be def­i­nitely mo­ti­vated.”

I con­tem­plate that with fur­rowed brows.

So, you may nor­malise vi­o­lence if you are reg­u­larly ex­posed to it. But then, there is a cul­ture of im­punity when it comes to sex­ual vi­o­lence, a “boys will be boys” nar­ra­tive that en­ables men to get away with what they are do­ing, be­cause no­body holds them ac­count­able for their ac­tions. What does that mean for some­one with a sadis­tic per­son­al­ity?

In 1984, John Old­ham MD be­gan work on a per­son­al­ity sys­tem for nor­mally healthy peo­ple based on the neu­rotic cat­e­gories of the Di­ag­nos­tic and Sta­tis­ti­cal Man­ual of Men­tal Dis­or­ders (DSM). Sadism was pre­vi­ously con­sid­ered as a dis- or­der in an ap­pen­dix of the DSM.

Ac­cord­ing to the DSM, those who demon­strate sadis­tic ten­den­cies are usu­ally of the “Ag­gres­sive” per­son­al­ity style which is char­ac­terised by Com­mand which means they take charge, and Hi­er­ar­chy, which means they op­er­ate within tra­di­tional power struc­tures and Guts.

If I were to map a rapist’s psy­cho­log­i­cal jour­ney then, in or­der to un­der­stand why they would rape, it would need to start with an ac­knowl­edge­ment of the fact that he is look­ing to ex­ert author­ity and power over the victim’s body. A sys­temic em­pow­er­ment that pro­motes the male gen­der over other gen­ders, i.e. pa­tri­archy, then per­pet­u­ates a kind of hi­er­ar­chy that is his com­fort zone.

And fi­nally, a le­gal and so­cial sys­tem that fails to hold rapists ac­count­able gives him the guts to face dif­fi­cult and dan­ger­ous sit­u­a­tions with­out be­ing dis­tracted by fear or horror.

So, re­gard­less of whether the rapist is learn­ing through mod­el­ling be­cause of ex­po­sure to vi­o­lence at home, on TV, on so­cial me­dia, on the streets, or through trial and er­ror where so­ci­ety al­lows him to get away with smaller acts of vi­o­lence un­til some­thing big­ger hap­pens, we have cre­ated a sys­tem that en­ables him. So he does what he does, gets away with it, re­peats.

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