The following is respectfully quoted from “To Have or To Harm” by Linden Gross:
In Los Angeles, that solution includes mandating counseling as a condition of probation or parole, and diverting some criminal cases to psychiatric treatment programs such as the one John Key cofounded along with psychiatrist E. Eugene Kunzman. The Center Against Abusive Behavior is an outpatient mental health clinic that combines biological, psychological, and sociological approach to treating perpetrators of domestic violence and stalking. The nonprofit organization is staffed by treatment providers with expertise in the area of physical, emotional, psychological, and sexual abuse. Kunzman provides whatever psychiatric care or medications might be required based on a mental status examination and subsequent testing for any contributing biological factors.
Key bases his therapy on cognitive behavior model and focuses on controlling each new client’s abusive behavior as his initial priority. A movement contract requires stalkers to call in as often as twice a day to report their whereabouts and activities. To help keep track of them every moment, Key also demands a daily itinerary. Spot-checks, he finds, help to keep stalkers honest.
After reviewing police and court records, Key has stalkers tell their side of the story from beginning to end. Then he confronts them with any discrepancies between the two versions. “Because somewhere between the two lies the truth,” he says. A determination about what kind of counseling is required follows.
Whether the perpetrators wind up in individual or group therapy or both, the ultimate goal of such counseling is to get them to acknowledge their actions, in part through monitoring their own behavior, and then to recognize the errors in their thinking that make their actions seem logical to them. Call it a reality check. “These people indulge in fantasy and the suppression of thought. Everyone comes in here saying, ‘I didn’t do it. I just want to put this behind me and move on,’ says Dr. Key, whose background includes working as a hostage negotiator, a suicidologist, and a master trainer for the management of assaultive behavior. “Until they take responsibility for some of what they did and see themselves not as the victim [who’s been inappropriately hounded by the criminal justice system], they won’t make any progress. They’ll just step into the same river twice.”
During this process of cognitive reframing, patients are repeatedly asked to consider and talk about the mental process behind their actions. What prompted their decision to stalk or act out violently? Psychological imbalances, seemingly unrelated traumatic experiences in their pasts, and social conditioning that have contributed to the problem are explored. “My contention is that you can’t move until you understand what has created the path to violence,” says Dr. Key. “So my task is to bring it up in as many different ways as I can to get them to think about it.”
His approach allows perpetrators to deal with deep-seated issues that have provoked their conduct and to challenge ingrained responses and behaviors that have become well-worn paths. Take the work he did with a dark-skinned Hispanic woman who became obsessed with– and ultimately stalked — her former Anglo boyfriend. During the first three months of counseling, she gradually grew aware of her self esteem problems, many of which were tied to negative feelings about her dark skin. Eventually, she was able to recognize that her obsession with her blond girlfriend stemmed from her need for the affirmation she habitually denied herself. In short, by helping her navigate through his cognitive emotional problems, and by monitoring his movements, Key was able to start him on a path to recovery that would include impulse control and techniques to redirect destructive feelings.
The Los Angeles system, however, is not without its glitches. While warehousing disturbed stalkers in overcrowded prisons is certainly not the answer, mental health can’t always help. Alian Petroy, for example, mailed the target a bullet while in counseling, and fully resumed his stalking behavior once his parole (along with her court-mandated counseling) had come to an end. Even when psychiatric treatment does make a difference, there are no guarantees that psychotic stalkers who have biochemically stabilized will continue to take their medication once they’re on their own, especially if the drugs either induce unpleasant side effects or make the individual feel so good that he deems the medication superfluous.
An ideal approach for those recalcitrant stalkers, according to Key, would be to initially work with perpetrators in a locked psychiatric facility. Once the stalker is ready for outpatient treatment, electronic monitoring would supplement restrictions on his movements for as long as necessary. Probation or parole would aggressively monitor the quality of treatment and progress being made. Adjustments to the surveillance, the restrictions, and the counseling sessions would follow accordingly, until finally the rehabilitated stalker would be weaned off the counseling program altogether.
As indicated in chapter 16, procedural disagreements also exist on the Los Angeles law enforcement front. Although the TMU recommends that most of its victims obtain restraining–or protective–orders, a number of experts in the field strongly believe that these only worsen a case. Indeed, because the orders essentially constitute a response from the victim, they can actually encourage a stalker and reinforce his behavior.
“A restraining order can be a valuable tool if it’s used very early on in a case. But later on, it can be the worst thing you can possibly do,” asserts Gaven de Becker, who cited case after case where a restraining order provoked a stalker and led to homicide. Consider Laura Black, Kristin Lardner, Maria Navarro, along with so many others in his book.
An intervention can put an end to certain unwanted behaviors when the stalker never intended harm. But in cases that have escalated and carry the definite possibility of danger, interventions of any kind can aggravate the situation. “It amounts to a form of Russian roulette,” says de Becker. “Even though the odds are good, five to one in your favor, no reasonable person would want to play.”
The alternative? Radical nonintervention, where the goal is safety rather than prosecution. “That doesn’t mean you don’t do anything,” Dr. Park Elliott Dietz explained in a lecture about threat management. “It means that the subject is not aware of the actions you’re taking.”
With this approach, preventing encounters between the stalker and his target becomes the primary objective, rather than trying to control or discourage the pursuer’s behavior. “We need to change the only person we can change,” says de Becker. “The stalker may be crazy. He’s unreasonable. He’s culturally ill. There’s no button that can be pushed to reliably improve his mental state or control his conduct indefinitely. But the victim’s behavior can change in ways that will put him or her out of reach. Eventually, the majority of stalkers transfer their attention to someone else.”
The first step in this strategy involves having the victim cut off all response to what the stalker does (including asking police to warn him off), and then watching and waiting to see what happens next.
That means not even responding to a threat. “Threats are not guarantees of action. They’re not a contract,” says de Becker. “They’re like promises.” Indeed, whether those promises are kept depends largely on how the target reacts. It’s that reaction that gives the threat its value, and the stalker his or her power. “Engage and enrage” is how de Becker describes the dynamic of many cases gone bad.
This doesn’t mean that you do nothing. They key is to protect yourself by taking precautions that the stalker never becomes aware of, and then to try and outlast him. A far-ranging plan can help you live with the situation for as long as it takes the stalker to go elsewhere, which the vast majority will do.
An important step at this stage is to avoid dealing with the stalker alone. Informing your neighbors–as well as your supervisors and co-workers–of the problem can facilitate that, especially if you enlist their assistance. Some victims have set up a pool of neighbors to meet them when they arrive home from work each day. Others summon help by sounding an alarm each time the stalker is sighted. By prearrangement, the neighbors respond at the sound of the siren or bell. These kinds of deterrents frequently discourage a stalker and persuade him to transfer his focus to someone more accessible.
Victims can always opt for direct intervention should their case become extremely dangerous. However, once intervention has been attempted, the victim can never go back to a watch-and-wait policy. It’s like opting to deal with a lesion on your kidney by surgically removing the entire organ. Once that decision has been acted upon, a less aggressive course of action is no longer possible.
Should intervention become necessary, a trespass arrest can bring the same results as a restraining order violation, but with less risk. The city, rather than the victim, becomes the prosecutor, which helps to depersonalize the situation. The stalker is convicted of a crime rather than just the violation of a civil order. And the conviction term is essentially the same.
Los Angeles has also drawn fire because of some of its legal tactics. The ACLU deems the practice of bail enhancements (raising the bail to an amount the defendant can’t pay in order to keep him in jail) an infringement on the Constitution’s Eight Amendment, as well as on state constitutional mandates that dictate that the court consider only the seriousness of the offense, the defendant’s criminal record, and the probability of his or her appearing in court for trial when determining the amount of bail. (Whether the perpetrator poses a danger to his or her victim is often not a consideration.)
In 1993, deputy City Attorney John Wilson was brought up on charges after he grew concerned over a particular case and ordered a psychiatric evaluation of a stalker. “The obligation of a prosecutor who is specially trained is to prevent future dangerous conduct, even when it may have nothing to do with the current case,” says Wilson. So when the evaluation judged the alleged perpetrator to present a clear danger to others, he was placed on a seventy-two-hour psychiatric hold.
Wilson, however, neglected to consult with the public defender who had already been assigned to the case. The public defender’s office errupted. By ordering these psychiatric exams, they argued, the city attorney’s office had attempted to deprive people of their right to have counsel present (guaranteed by the Constitution’s Fifth and Sixth Amendments), and force them into involuntary mental health treatment. Further, they took issue with the reliability of the tests. “Psychological research has shown that the least predictive way to gauge dangerousness is through interviews,” says Los Angeles criminal defense attorney Neal Osherow. He points to studies showing that psychiatrists trying to assess an individual’s dangerousness fail more than 50 percent of the time.
The accurate prediction of physical violence is impossible, agrees forensic psychiatrist Kaushal Sharma, M.D. For though most people–including many in the field of psychiatry–incorrectly equate it with dangerousness, there’s no guarantee that a dangerous individual will act out or that a nondangerous one one won’t. “Nobody can predict the future. If we could, we’d all be playing the stock market instead of working,” he says. “But increased risk or the likelihood of violence can be assessed.”
Maureen Siegel, chief of the city attorney’s criminal division, sees nothing illegal, unethical, or immoral about her office’s attempts to determine either a defendant’s potential for violence or his mental health needs, and then filing a case with the goal of diverting him into appropriate treatment. To the contrary. “A lot of these defendants pose a danger to the victim and themselves, and are in desperate need of mental health care,” she says, adding that drug addicts and batterers are routinely diverted into treatment. “But the role of the public defendant is not therapeutic in nature–it’s to protect the defendant’s criminal justice rights. By focusing solely on those rights, the defendant can often beat the judge home for lunch.”