Stalkers profiled in new study

The most frightening stalkers may be the ones who make themselves known. But the most dangerous are those who try to avoid being noticed by their targets.

The most obsessive go to extremes such as obtaining a private detective’s licence or hiring a helicopter to continue surveillance of their victims, according to a new study.

“Predatory” stalkers are often only glimpsed by their victims, who may report not being certain about being followed, but these offenders are often preparing for a sexual attack, researchers found when analysing 145 Victorian cases: “One predatory
stalker sought help having reached the point of equipping an isolated house, acquiring ether and ties and being poised to abduct the victim.”

Professor Paul Mullen, of the Victorian Institute of Forensic Mental Health, is the main author of A Study of Stalkers, which is to be published in next month’s American Journal of Psychiatry. He reports that stalkers fall into five categories.

“The rejected” stalk after a relationship breakdown, most frequently with a partner but sometimes with a mother, friend or colleague. They are motivated by a sense of loss as well as anger and vindictiveness.

“The resentful” stalk to frighten and distress the victim. Some pursue a vendetta against an individual – usually an ex-partner – while others choose targets at random: “An example was a young woman persistently pursued because she had appeared, when glimpsed in the street, to be attractive, wealthy and happy at a time when the stalker had just experienced a humiliating professional rejection.”

“The incompetent” understand that their affections are not reciprocated but hope their efforts will eventually succeed. They include intellectually and socially limited people who either have no understanding of normal courting or are unwilling to try low-key social interaction as a first step to a relationship.

“Intimacy seekers” want to be close to the object of their unwanted attentions, whom they see as their true love.

Sixty four per cent of stalkers studied had made threats and 36 per cent were “assaultative”. Threats and property damage were most frequent among the resentful, but the rejected and “the predatory” categories committed most assaults. The duration of stalking studied varied from four weeks to 20 years.

Forms of harassment included multiple telephone calls of up to 200 in 24 hours, grotesque “gifts” such as dead cats or mutilated photographs of the victim, and the ordering of unwanted services ranging from early morning pizza deliveries to emergency ambulances.

Eighty per cent of stalkers were men, 40 per cent were unemployed and more than half had never had an intimate relationship. Victims included former partners (30 per cent), professional contacts such as doctors (23 per cent), work colleagues (11 per cent) and strangers (14 per cent).

First published in The Age.

The politician, the victim and the sisterhood

CARMEN Lawrence, who grew up Catholic, would know about mortal sins. Her generation of parish-school children was taught that they were the worst sins, so grave that they killed off the grace in your soul until you repented.

Catholics have softened their line on what constitutes a mortal sin in the years since then. Have feminists?

Lawrence has been acquitted of charges that she knowingly gave false evidence to the Marks Royal Commission about the Easton petition. Her defence was that she could not remember being told of its details before it was tabled in the Western Australian Parliament.

The petition contained misleading allegations by businessman Brian Easton about his estranged wife, Penny, and the then Opposition Leader, Richard Court. Four days after it was tabled, Penny Easton killed herself.

Lawrence, at her trial, conceded that the petition might have been discussed with her before its tabling, although she could remember no such event. She acknowledged that she could not say firmly one way or the other, given that she had no memory of the meetings at which the petition was allegedly discussed.

The jury accepted that she was not guilty of lying, but her line of defence leaves open questions about the train of events in Perth in 1992. For feminists, they pose a particular dilemma.

The picture painted in her colleagues’ testimony is of a politician who committed the cardinal sins of the feminist catechism. To use a petition full of false claims to bolster one’s political position would be to abuse institutional power.

In this case, the person on whom events rebounded – the suicidal Penny Easton – was an icon of feminist victimhood: a fragile woman persecuted by a vindictive ex-husband who managed to harness the full weight of the patriarchy to his cause.

Where does all this leave the sisterhood?

Many women admired Lawrence’s personal style: intelligent, dignified, direct, seemingly focused more on policies than personalities. She showed up the aggro strutting of pigeon-chested pollies and personified the hoped-for feminisation of politics, its transformation from a Boys’ Own blood sport to a calling that could be respected.

Lawrence’s public image dovetailed with the idea that the purpose of getting women into the system is to change the way the system works. But if high-profile feminists defend those of their own who do not play the game so differently from the “boys”, does this mean they see it as more important for trailblazers to succeed in the system than to transform it?

Early Australian feminists never doubted that women should use their political power differently to men. Marilyn Lake, professor of history at La Trobe University, tells of suffragist Rose Scott, who believed that the women’s franchise would infuse public life with kindness. (“Yeah duh-uh,” Bart Simpson would say to that idea, but Bart always has had a wobbly moral compass.)

In her coming book, Getting Equal: The History of Feminism in Australia, Lake writes that Rose Scott deeply mistrusted traditional politics as full of selfishness, combativeness, greed and pomposity, but she knew that women had to enter political life in order to change the world. Her solution: women should avoid party politics.

Fellow activist Vida Goldstein agreed, arguing in 1903 that if women joined existing parties, they would have to “adopt men’s methods and men’s aims and simply help in perpetuating the old order of things”.

Today, institutional feminists too often analyse political power as just another right denied to women, just another career path barricaded. They criticise the unfairness of expecting a higher moral standard of women politicians, arguing that it turns them into “God’s police” and makes it harder for them to survive their inevitable mistakes.

The double standard does, indeed, suck.

Women do have to work much harder to succeed, and they are hounded longer and louder and more viciously when they fail. They are being sent into the piranha pit of politics but are forbidden to use the usual tactics to survive.

It shouldn’t be like that, but the fact is that it doesn’t let them off the hook with regard to their own choices. It doesn’t justify their losing sight of the reason they are there, which is to make a difference.

The standards are justifiably higher for feminist politicians, as opposed to women politicians generally, because they espouse a particular ethical stance with regard to the use of power. The rhetoric of feminism is empty if those who choose to wear the label do not uphold its ideals.

It’s not so old-fashioned a notion. That other child of the iconic post-modern family, Lisa Simpson, is every bit as much an idealist as Rose Scott. Simpson would no doubt argue that if politicians let the system determine their behavior, their behavior would never end up changing the system. She’s that kind of girl. Maybe she has no future in politics.

First published in The Age.

Over the top: men at war

WAR is hell – except for the pleasures of slaughter, almost sexual in their cycles of tension and release. This, says the historian Dr Joanna Bourke, is the untold story of the battlefield; that ordinary decent men, who loved their families and lived unremarkable civilian lives, routinely experienced an almost ecstatic exhilaration when they killed in wartime.

Take Henry de Man, writing of his experiences in World War I: “I had thought myself more or less immune from this intoxication until, as trench mortar officer, I was given command over what is probably the most murderous instrument in modern warfare

“One day … I secured a direct hit on an enemy encampment, saw bodies or parts of bodies go up in the air, and heard the desperate yelling of the wounded or the runaways.” He yelled aloud “with delight” and “could have wept with joy”. “I had to confess to myself that it was one of the happiest moments of my life.”

Looking back, he mused, “What were the satisfactions of scientific research, of a successful public activity, of authority, of love, compared to this ecstatic moment?”

Other soldiers reported killing to be like “getting screwed for the first time”; it gave men “an ache as profound as the ache of orgasm”. Reported one US marine, a Vietnam veteran: “I was literally turned on when I saw a gook get shot.”

In World War I, men caressed their bayonets lovingly and thought of their women as they thrust the blades into the enemy.

Bourke’s new book, An Intimate History of Killing, certainly lives up to its name.

Her interest was sparked when writing a previous book that required her to delve into the Great War. Reading soldiers’ letters, she found the elements traditionally reported in military histories: “Trauma, horror, mud, lice, fear, shellshock and breakdown.” But she was startled to also find persistent accounts of bloodlust, and some men’s diaries revealed that they never felt so intensely alive as when they were killing other men.

She believes guilt over this murderous pleasure, so illicit in peacetime, is the reason many veterans refuse to discuss their war experiences with civilians, whom they feel would never understand.

Not surprisingly, the book has angered Britain’s military establishment and veterans’ organisations.

“It’s something that people have difficulty talking about, how `We enjoyed mass slaughter, we got off on it, we weren’t just doing it to save the world from Nazis or communism or whatever, and that we committed atrocities too’,” says Bourke. “Some people will read this and say, `Joanna is critiquing us; is she saying that we’re just as bad as the Nazis?’ No, I’m not saying that.”

In fact, she was forced to abandon some half-baked pacifist assumptions about men and war. “I believed all the cliches. I think I always looked very warily at the military as somehow different to the rest of us. And, being a feminist, I regarded (war and killing) as the dark side of manliness.

“But I sat there in an archive reading the letters of people who are just like my friends, like me. I would read letters from a man to his wife. He would say, `I felt really horrible yesterday. It was the worst day of my life; my neighbor has gone crazy with fear. However, I had my first battle. I have never felt so good. It was so exhilarating every time I bayoneted someone. I thought of you, my love. It is a beautiful sunset tonight. Goodbye, give my little daughter a kiss…’

“It was so distressing, because you’d be thinking, `What a lovely guy’, and then you’d come across one of these descriptions. These men were very human and much more complex than the traditional feminist/pacifist line gives them credit for.”

Bourke came to some uncomfortable conclusions about human nature, which she believes apply equally to women. “We like to believe that it’s difficult to kill; that the army is somehow different from us, that (soldiers) have had lots of training, or are people with an authoritarian personality anyway. But it’s not like that. Ordinary people – most of these men were conscripts – who are put into battle enjoy killing. Given the right conditions, anyone could.”

Except for soldiers who committed atrocities, the highest rates of psychiatric breakdown were in soldiers who never fought.

Bourke’s findings seem to support Freudian theories of two basic human drives, sex and aggression. But she does not subscribe to instinct theory. She explains the intensely sexual nature of men’s descriptions of killing as partly due to the adrenalin rush of the fight-or-flight response: “Tension builds up and there’s a sudden catharsis that feels subjectively like orgasm. Men after battle often say they just want to go to sleep.

“The more important explanation is that most of these men had probably never written a letter before. They are trying to explain to the people back home something that is outside all of their experience, and the sexual metaphor is the closest one they can find to convey (the drama of it). And killing is a rite-of-passage experience, just like your first sexual encounter is.”

Bourke’s previous books include works on Irish history and the working class. Her father was a doctor and her mother a nurse; they travelled the world as missionaries before settling in very unsettled Haiti when she was five. She loved Haitian life but its violence and bloodshed was also part of the backdrop of her childhood. Later she studied in England before completing her PhD in Australia. She returns here every year or two to write.

Her book examines how soldiers deal with the battlefield’s moral questions and how they resist becoming brutalised, despite the potentially seductive primal power of the experience. She analyses how military systems train and exploit men’s emotional responses and the factors that contribute to atrocities.

Her analysis of war crimes makes disturbing reading, not only because of the gruesomeness – the lighting of flares in Vietnamese women’s vaginas, the slicing off of Japanese women’s breasts – but because the perpetrators are “the good guys”: British, Americans and Australians. She reports that so many Japanese PoWs were being killed in the Pacific towards the end of World War II that an alarmed military bribed troops with offers of icecream and leave to keep prisoners alive.

The book’s worst atrocities involve American troops in Vietnam, the most lawless of the three wars she analyses. Some marines were encouraged to enlist by promises that they would be able to rape local women, and platoons on long stints of active service routinely kidnapped and slaughtered female villagers. Those who raped as well as killed were known as “double veterans”.

And then there is My Lai. In 1968, 105 American soldiers from Charlie Company entered the village and raped and sodomised women, ripped vaginas open with knives, bayoneted and scalped civilians and fired on unresisting crowds of old men, women, children and babies. They killed 500.

The lieutenant who led the attack, William Calley, was later sentenced to hard labor for life but, after a massive public outcry of support, was released, after less than three years of house arrest. Bourke contrasts this with the case of Dr Howard Levy, who served two years’ jail for refusing to teach medical techniques to Green Berets because he believed they would be used to harm rather than help people.

Australians were involved in atrocities too, she reports, citing rifleman Barry Kavanagh, from Avondale Heights, who told of a platoon in Vietnam opening fire on scuffling in the bushes. In the morning, “We discover it’s a party of schoolgirls who had been missing from a nearby village. The big Aussies shot the ones who were still alive so no one would start a nasty scandal.”

An Australian warrant officer, who used to protest every time an officer killed a Vietnamese prisoner, recalled learning to turn a blind eye: “Now, the officer just looks at the prisoner, and looks at me with one of those long, knowing looks. I go for a walk for a few minutes and when I come back they tell me the man was shot trying to escape.”

Again, Bourke points out that the men who did these things were ordinary people. A survey taken after My Lai found that more than half of civilian Americans believed they would shoot if they were a soldier ordered to destroy a village; so did one-third of Australians.

There were combatants who refused to cross the line into atrocity. An enraged US helicopter pilot who saw what was happening at My Lai landed and had his gunners hold Charlie Company troops at bay while he coaxed terrified villagers out of a bunker and took them to safety. In other incidents, soldiers warned villages of an impending attack.

Some resisted even legitimate killing, not firing their guns or firing over the enemy’s heads.

Bourke argues that most soldiers who killed did so not out of hatred for the enemy, but out of love of the comrades they saw killed and the commanding officers who were their father figures.

They resisted the numbing of their consciences: “Guilt is actually necessary in order (for most men) to be able to kill. Men who got pleasure from killing at the same time felt they should feel guilty for it. They say that their comrades who do not feel guilty for it are inhuman, and they avoid these people.

“To them, their guilt means that they are still human. They haven’t become animals. They still have a moral conscience. It allows them to go home unbrutalised (and is good for them) as long as the guilt isn’t crippling, which can lead to breakdown. It’s all about balance.”

Bourke does not expect her book to dent the warrior hero myth. “People need these myths in order to be combat effective. I don’t think they are ever going to die. We have to have them, otherwise war is just an overwhelmingly horrible experience.”

An Intimate History of Killing: Face-to-Face Killing in 20th-century Warfare, by Joanna Bourke, Allen & Unwin, $49.95.

First published in The Age.

Pressure on mental health care

Report deplores inadequate services for troubled people branded with a `use-by date’
Elderly people with severe mental illness are often warehoused in dingy hostels and boarding houses and overdrugged with “industrial-strength” doses of superseded medicines, according to a survey.

The report by SANE Australia, ‘Senior Service?’, says negative attitudes towards older people with a mental illness are still prevalent in some health services.

The report says: “It is as though older people are approaching their `use-by’ date and are not worth investing resources in.”

The report was based on a national survey of 45 organisations and professionals involved in mental health care for the aged. It concluded that Victoria needed to improve medical care and social support for older psychiatric patients, as well as provide more community housing in which they are supervised by staff with mental health training.

SANE’S executive director, Ms Barbara Hocking, said people with psychiatric disabilities were living longer because of better treatment. Their baby boomer cohort is greying along with the rest of the population, and many need more help as their elderly parents die or become too frail to continue caring for them at home.

“It’s been called the second wave of homelessness, these people coming through in their 40s or 50s whose families have traditionally cared for them very well, without great support and at enormous cost to themselves,” she said.

Ms Hocking said she recently spoke to a woman anxious about what would become of her mentally ill nephew. His mother was in her 80s and had recently had a stroke, and the auntie could not take him in because she was the sole carer of her brain-injured daughter.

“When these parents can’t continue any more, their children tend to drop out of care and support altogether and move from one boarding house to another,” Ms Hocking said.

“They end up in hostels (for the homeless) like Ozanam House.”

Many are at risk of violence. “They may share boarding houses with young men with drug or alcohol abuse problems who can be quite aggressive.”
Survey respondents reported that many elderly people had not had their medication reviewed in decades and were on heavy doses of older medicines that, while effective, often had stigmatising side-effects such as eye-rolling and involuntary movements.

This added to their loneliness and isolation.

“If people who don’t understand mental illness see someone gyrating like that, they tend to recoil from them,” the report says.

The state Health Minister, Mr Rob Knowles, said Victoria was ahead of other states in its psychiatric services for the aged and that more people were receiving treatment and support, “but we can’t run away from the reality that there are still unmet

Mr Knowles said pilot programs were using mental health nurses to teach psychiatric skills to managers of special accommodation housing, and a taskforce was examining how to help older psychiatric patients connect with services.

Alone, vulnerable and lacking support Karen Kissane   “Max” has bipolar disorder (manic-depression) and takes lithium. He is well known in his local area as a colorful eccentric who rides his bike everywhere. Now that he is older, his blood lithium level is more unstable.

Last summer, during a heatwave, he was out on his bike in the middle of the day and became dehydrated.

He fell off his bike and was taken by ambulance to a general hospital and was found to be lithium toxic. He spent two months in a psychiatric hospital while his bipolar disorder was re-stabilised.

This could have been avoided if the supervisors at his accommodation house had known about the risks of dehydration with lithium therapy, had told him not to go out on the day, and had warned his GP that his lithium levels needed checking.

* “Eleanor” has had a limited education because schizophrenia has given her psychotic episodes since she was 15. She was abandoned by her struggling rural family in the 1940s and spent 20 years in a country mental institution.

When she was treated with the first anti-psychotic medications in the 1960s, she was discharged into the community. During the next 30 years she was re-admitted to hospitals 15 times, staying for up to 18 months.

Doctors and nurses kept reporting in Eleanor’s records that she could not manage in mainstream society and would turn up at emergency departments all over Melbourne at all times of day or night, desperate to be admitted. Now 75, she has no relationship with anyone apart from her case worker and refuses to stay in the accommodation offered to her. She is preyed upon by strangers for her pension money and other favors.

* “Stan” came to Australia to work on a hydro-electric scheme. Always a loner, he had jumped at the chance to leave his alienated family in eastern Europe. He was a heavy drinker and had his first episode of mental illness in the 1960s, when he was in his early 40s. In one alcoholic haze, he committed a serious crime and was jailed, but has not drunk since his release. He moves home often because of his paranoid delusions about other residents and staff, especially when he is becoming ill again. Because of this, and because management at accommodation houses changes often and those in charge have no training in mental health, the signs that Stan is becoming ill are frequently missed. Fine-tuning his medication at an early stage would avoid renewed breakdowns with re-hospitalisations and would help him to stay in one place and develop a sense of belonging.

These stories of older people with chronic, severe mental illness who do not have trained, home-based supervision, come from Dr Kathryn Hall, head of aged psychiatry at the Caulfield General Medical Centre.

First published in The Age.