There is no justification for violent aggression, such as spouse, child, or sibling abuse, criminal assault, rape, bullying, or any other physical harm or psychological insult to another person. You do not have to be a helpless "punching bag" or a timid Casper Milquetoast or a frightened scapegoat. You do not have to hide your feelings. What can you do? Express yourself assertively (chapter 13), if possible. Of course, if your life is in danger (and it is if someone is threatening or hitting you!), do whatever helps you reach safety. The problem is we don't know with any certainty how to protect ourselves from all grave dangers. For example, some abusive men have killed their wives for reporting their abuse to the police. Yet, research indicates the best approach to spouse abuse is to report it while protecting yourself; only 15% of abused wives who reported an assault to police were attacked again in the next six months, but among those who did not report the abuse 41% were assaulted again within six months (Lore & Schultz, 1993). All other things being equal, reporting aggression and abuse is the best thing to do.
If you are being treated unfairly, you can more effectively correct the situation by acting decisively and rationally--assertively (see chapter 13)--than by using angry counter-threats and aggression. Harburg, Blakelock, and Barchas (1979) called this controlled approach "reflection." Your blood pressure stays the lowest if you first take enough time for everyone to calm down and then "set down and reason together." Women use this approach more than men.
Rape is a Horrible Crime
It is a hateful, cruel power move. It is terrifying because overwhelming force and threats are used to the extent that the victim frequently fears for her life. This fear of dying is not an unreasonable fear because many well publicized rapes have ended with murder. And some rapists make it clear that they are in a rage and determined to dominate and degrade the victim. When you are being threatened with a weapon, knocked or thrown to the floor, and your clothes are being ripped off... that is terror. It is one of the worst of human experiences. It is humiliating and embarrassing. It is painful to think about and tell someone about. So, perhaps, it is not surprising that rape is reported to the police only 5% of the time; 50% of the time the woman tells no one. (Other research says only 1/3 of rapes are reported.) It is rightly considered an atrocious crime.
In a rape or an aggressive sex act, varying degrees of force and pressure or manipulation are used to dominate and get sex. Not all unwanted sex experiences are carried out in a brutal manner; sometimes it is subtle seduction, but that is still controlling another person for selfish purposes. Added altogether, rape, date rape, and other forms of sexual abuse are fairly common. For example, one in four girls is abused by age 14; one in three by age18, many by family members. One in 6 boys is abused by age 16. Among college women, about 5% experience a rape or an attempted rape every year; that brings the total to a 20-25% chance of an unpleasant sexual experience sometime during the four years of college. 84% of these victims were attacked by someone they knew (57% by a "date"). Russell (1982) reports that 35% of college males confess that there is "some likelihood that they would rape a woman if they could get away with it." Also, 28% of "working women" have been sexually assaulted, 60% by someone they knew. Russell also interviewed almost 1000 women and found that 14% had been raped by their own husbands or ex-husbands. Remember, think of rape as a violent act. Man has an astonishing history of raping women (Brownmiller, 1975), including raping the women of conquered countries. Almost 700,000 women were raped in 1990; 30% were between 11 and 17; another 30% were under 11! The attacker was known by about 75% of the victims.
Should you resist rape and if so, how? Some people suggest that you not fight back at all. Others have recommended fighting back, screaming, vomiting, and doing everything you can to resist the rape, because only about half of the women who strongly resist are raped while almost all who don't resist are raped. The problem is very complex, e.g. if a women forcefully resists physically--hitting, kicking, using martial arts--and if the rapist has a weapon, she is more likely to be seriously injured. If she vigorously resists verbally--screaming and yelling--she is less likely to be raped but she is just as likely to be physically injured in other ways (Ullman & Knight, 1993). Nonforceful resistance--fleeing, pushing, pleading, begging, reasoning--doesn't seem to reduce the frequency of rape or of other injuries. It appears that many violent rapists continue their attack even if the victim resists vigorously physically and verbally (or doesn't resist). The latest advice is: with very physically violent rapists, resistance probably won't help (and increases the danger); yet, with a more verbal and less physical assailant, strong forceful resistance may help. But, we are talking about stranger rape. How can you quickly diagnose what type of rapist this is? Also, this advice may not be very good with acquaintance rape. In short, no one knows the best response with any certainty.
If you are raped, even if you are very upset, it is important to go to a hospital emergency room as soon as possible (see next paragraph for phone numbers and sites about where to go if you don't know). You need to be carefully checked, usually by rape examination specialists. Do not shower or clean up. Evidence needs to be collected. Pregnancy and STDs need to be considered. Injuries need to be treated. All sexual abuse should be officially reported, even if you escaped before being hurt. Rapists and abusers are repeaters. As a society, we must reinforce reporting sexual assaults and harassment. As long as offenders can get away with it, it will continue.
As a society, we must start early to face and correct the macho, hostile, insensitive, "sick," ignorant sexual-sadistic urges in men and boys. Several Web sites focus on preventing rapes, female and male rapes (oh, yes, it occurs): Kate's Feminism Page, AWARE: Arming Women Against Rape, and Men Can Stop Rape (if they learn to take sober responsibility for their sexual/hostile actions).
If you need help or are unsure about getting an exam or reporting the offense, call The Rape/Sexual Abuse Hotline at 1-800-551-0008 (serving only certain areas) or Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network at 1-800-656-HOPE. This latter number automatically re-routes your call the nearest local rape crisis center or treatment/examination facilities. A very good list of actions-to-take is given at Healing from Sexual Assault.
Rape is a very scary and dangerous situation. It is highly emotional--you may have many feelings and thoughts. It almost always has serious long-term psychological and psychosomatic ramifications for the victim. Yet, sadly, very few rape victims seek psychological help. Treatment for the victim is usually important, even if it is years later (Koss & Harvey, 1991; Bass & Davis, 1988, 1992). Other books can be especially helpful to rape victims: Warshaw (1988, 1994) writes mostly about date rape, and Ledra (1986) or Maltz (1992) address many aspects of various kinds of rape. Specific cognitive-behavioral programs have been written, e.g. for rape survivors (Foa, Hearst-Ikeda & Perry, 1995), to reduce the long-term emotional trauma. Psychological help for men who have been sexually abused in childhood is given by Lew (1990) and Sonkin (1992).
Web sites can lead you to many books and articles about specific rape and abuse issues: 4Women.gov (a big site with many links), Sexual Assault Services, and International Child Abuse Network. Several kinds of offenders were mentioned above (see emotional abuse and Norcross, et al., 2000) but I'll repeat only the Professional Exploiter here. Date rape is also discussed in chapter 10.
The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you murder the hater, but you do not murder hate... Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.
-Martin Luther King, Jr.
Many writers have suggested ways of coping with difficult, aggressive people (Solomon, 1990; Felder, 1987; Elgin, 1985; Carter, 1990). Driscoll (1994) trains you to develop a mental shield to deflect the other person's anger. NiCarthy, Gottlieb & Coffman (1993) deal specifically with how women can deal with emotional abuse at work. Bramson (1981) says you will encounter three kinds of angry people at work: the Sherman tank, the exploder, and the sniper. The "Sherman tank" is ready to arrogantly crush any opposition; he/she is always right and knows what everyone should do. The "exploder" has temper tantrums; he/she launches a raging attack on whoever frustrates him/her. Bramson recommends handling the "tank" and the "exploder" as follows: (1) let him/her have a little time to run down. (2) Assertively intervene by looking him/her in the eye and saying, "John/Mary, come here and sit down, I want you to clearly understand a different view or approach." You have a right to be heard; so do others. However, never attack a "tank" or his/her ideas directly, you're likely to get crushed. (3) State your opinions briefly, forcefully, and clearly. (4) Try to be friendly and open to compromise.
With a "sniper," who shoots you down with comments or gestures behind your back while smiling to your face, (1) don't let him/her get away with the back stabbing. (2) Confront and ask him/her to state his/her views openly but don't accept the sniper's views right away or let him/her take over. Instead, get other viewpoints and have the entire group get involved in solving the problem. (3) Prevent future sniping by having regular problem-solving meetings and call on the sniper often.
If you are concerned with continuing the relationship after the disagreement is settled, it means more time and caution may have to be taken. Listen to him/her, perhaps privately. Try to see his/her side. Don't try to explain or defend yourself until he/she is finished. Admit your mistakes. Accept his/her anger--let him/her vent it. Be prepared to compromise. Perhaps forgive him/her.
Some people seem compelled, emotionally driven to be angry. You probably can not change such a person (although you should give it your best try for a while). In an organization where trouble makers can't be fired, the best you can do with some perpetual "haters" is to isolate them and, thus, try to minimize their destructive influence.
Reducing the other person's frustration and aggression
First of all, recognize you aren't a therapist. It isn't your job to cure someone of hatred. But, you may be a parent dealing with an aggressive child or teenager (Eastman & Rozen, 1994; Farmer, 1989). And you, of course, want to do whatever you can to bring about peace and cooperation in your group. There are some things to keep in mind
Since persons who feel they have been wronged are more likely to be belligerent and violent, you should be sure they have been dealt with fairly. In addition, it would be wise to help them meet as many of their needs as possible without reinforcing their aggressiveness or discriminating in their favor. Likewise, avoid interactions with them that encourage intense emotions or threats of violence. Certainly do not interact with your angry "enemies" when they are drinking or carrying weapons. Say or do nothing that would incite more anger or, on the other hand, cause you to appear to be scared, weak, and a "pushover."
If you are in a position to do so (e.g. a parent), you might extinguish the other person's aggressive responses. For instance, don't meet their demands but agree to discuss the issues calmly. Ignore the teenager's foul-mouth but invite a rational discussion. Or, you might try punishing the anger but this is tricky because your punishment models aggression (thus, taking away their privileges or your services to them would be a better punishment). In most cases, strong retaliation against an aggressive person is the worst thing you can do (Kimble, Fitz, & Onorad, 1977). Nastiness begets nastiness. Hostility escalates. Baron (1977) says punishment might work under certain conditions: (a) if you can punish almost every time, (b) punish immediately, (c) punish in socially acceptable ways, and (d) do not punish harshly or become overly angry. Threats of punishment may also work. Remember punishment is only effective while the punisher is observing--watch out for subtle rebellion.
If you can divert the angry person's attention to some meaningful task or to cartoons or TV or a calm discussion of the situation, the anger should subside. Also, offer him/her any information that would explain the situation that upsets him/her (Zillmann, 1979). Point out similarities or common interests between him/her and the person they are mad at (you). Let him/her see or hear about calm, rational ways of resolving differences. Almost anything that gets him/her thinking about something else will help. Baron (1977) distracted irate male motorists (blocked by a stalled car) with a female pedestrian on crutches, in a clown outfit, or dressed scantily. All three drastically reduced the cussing, gestures, and horn blowing.
The Institute of Mental Health Initiatives (202-364-7111) provide a brief list of ways to calm an angry person: reduce the noise level, keep calm yourself, acknowledge that the irate person has been wronged (if true) or, at least, acknowledge their feelings without any judgment, ask them to explain their situation (so you can tactfully correct errors), listen to their complaints without counter-attacking, explain your feelings with non-blaming "I" statements, show that you care but set limits on violence ("I'd like to work it out with you but I'll have to call the police if you can't control yourself").
The angry child or teenager
Several books describe the development and treatment of the aggressive, acting out child (Parens, 1987, 1993; Crowell, Evans, O'Donnell, 1987; Feindler & Ecton, 1986; Bartocci, 1985). Eastman (1993) helps parents deal with a child's "sulks and storms." Paul (1995) helps us understand that a child's anger is a normal way of saying "I need something." Several games, books, and programs for controlling a child's anger are available from Childswork/Childsplay, The Center for Applied Psychology, Inc., P.O. Box 61586, King of Prussia, PA 19406. Fighting among siblings is natural, so how can you tell when it becomes excessive? See Ames, 1982. Research Press in Champaign, IL have books and videos for controlling aggression in the class room. Vivian Tamburello at the John Hopkins Counseling Center in Baltimore have a self-control program for adults and children. Aggressive children can be taught to tolerate frustration and to handle the situations without getting belligerent (Gittelman, 1965). Role-playing and lots of practice were effective.
Bullies, boys and girls, have and cause serious problems. It is more common than you might think. Perhaps as many as 20% or 30% of children have some experience--doing or getting--with bullying during any one school term. Psychology Today has a good article about bullying (Marano, 1995). Boy bullies use physical threats mostly ("let me have your bike or I'll kill you"). Girl bullies use social threats ("I won't be your friend if you don't..." or "I'll tell them you are a slut if you..."). How are bullies produced? By ineffective parenting: parents repeatedly make requests ("Stop bothering your brother") and then threats, but nothing is done when the child is defiant. Thus, defiance is taught. Finally, at least for boys, the parent blows up and hits the disrespectful child, teaching that brute force and meanness gets you your way. The bully, if untreated, will eventually alienate everyone, except other bullies and outcasts. Then, they are likely to progress to antisocial behavior, unemployment, drugs, poor mental health, crime, spouse abuse, child abuse, etc. The victim, usually an already sensitive, scared, tearful, physically weak, socially passive, easily intimidated person, is at risk of also being rejected by peers, remaining passive, frightened, insecure, unable to cope, and eventually becoming self-critical, lonely, and depressed. This is not behavior to be neglected. It isn't just "boys being boys." Bullying requires community attention. Sweden outlawed bullying in 1994 as part of a society's effort to make hostile aggression unacceptable.
If you are the victim of violence or bullying
Handling a rapist, a mugger, a spouse abuser, a bully, an abusive boss, etc. is a complicated, risky matter. But the first rule is: if someone is seriously threatening you, protect yourself immediately. Take no chances. Especially, if you have already been hurt by this person, protect yourself from further attack, because repeated attacks are common. You must recognize that there are dangerous risks when dealing with any irate teenager or adult. Anger kills. If an angry person is highly emotional and threatening or violently yelling at you, leave him/her alone, it is unsafe to be near him/her.
It is smart to know how to protect yourself (Rafkin, 1993), but in situations where violence is threatened or possible, it is better to let someone else handle the aggressor. Examples: If another person threatens you physically, call friends or the police for help. If you are mistreated at school or work, there are official ways to effectively complain. Don't hesitate to report a bullying, threatening person to authorities or to the police (assuming you can protect yourself after the authorities leave). Please report all aggressors; they are likely to go on hurting others if the community doesn't do something. If we let a bully get away with it, we are insuring that others will be emotionally abused.
If the person is very mad (but not dangerous) and seems determined to dislike you, avoid him/her as soon as you recognize his/her fixation on hating. He/she needs to cool off. You might approach him/her later, never alone but with supportive friends, parents, or school officials. But, you can not "make" anyone like you, so don't try.
How to handle a bully: (1) avoid them! (2) Be assertive, "Leave me alone or I will tell the teacher... police... my parents... the supervisor" (AND DO IT!). (3) Have a friend accompany you. (4) Build a bunch of friends and recruit support. Get several people--other victims, school officials, your parents, the bully's parents, counselors, police, etc.--to come together and jointly confront the bully demanding that he/she stop forever. (5) Take self-defense or social skills, such as assertiveness, courses. (6) Role-play over and over handling the situation. (7) Become active in sports, build your body and strength--get self-confidence. But, DO NOT FIGHT (violence is a bad idea even for a good cause, and the bully is almost always stronger and meaner). There are some good books for children (or to read with children) who are upset by bullying or teasing (Carter & Noll, 1998; Namka, 1996; Verdick, 1997; Cohen-Posey, 1995). It is very distressing to the young person to be picked on. They often need help coping with mean peers.
Be aware that victims of violence are often pressured by society and their own psychological fears and needs to use poor "survival strategies." These might involve several reactions: (a) denial of the abuse ("It didn't happen"), (b) minimization ("It doesn't matter, I'm OK"), and (c) self-blame ("I started it all"). As abuse is repeated, we become more helpless and more willing to accept the blame. Guard against such thinking. Walker (1990) describes the situations of battered women who used these poor strategies but finally kill their abuser (often in kill-or-be-killed situations). Get help to get out of those situations (see discussion of abuse in this chapter and in chapter 9). Most communities have emergency phone numbers for child abuse, sexual abuse, women's crisis center, and, of course, the police. If you have trouble finding help with domestic violence, call the National Organization for Victim's Assistance (NOVA) at 1-800-TRY-NOVA or 1-800-879-6682. To find Women's Shelters in your area call the National Domestic Violence Hot Line at 1-800-799-SAFE.
Social-educational solutions to violence
A major part of the violence problem in this country is that we, as a people, do not believe human aggression can be controlled. Aggression is seen as man's nature. Lore and Schultz (1993) and Eron, Gentry, & Schlegel (1995), however, make the point that violence can be controlled. These researchers review the causes of violence, such as guns and gangs. There is clear evidence that aggressive animals, including humans, are able to inhibit their violence when it is beneficial for them to stop it. It is a choice; it is optional! On the other hand, it isn't proven that stiff laws inhibit murder and assault. Delayed, uncertain punishment through the criminal justice system hasn't worked yet. For one thing, violence is usually carefully hidden so the law breaker won't be caught by the law much of the time. Moreover, the rate of violence is influenced by many much more subtle social factors--violence on TV, crime reports, empathy for the disadvantaged, glorification of police work, and even going to war (our murder rate goes up after a war, especially if we win). We must pay attention to our social environment. For instance, action TV shows and films with a lot of violence are immensely profitable to the film maker because dramatic shows of this nature can be sold around the world. Every culture understands a chase, a fight, and a little sex without a translator. We can stop the bloodshed.
Violence in America will probably not be solved until social-economic conditions become more fair and parent-school efforts focus more on childrens' mental health, self-control, and morality. Deutsch (1993) advocates that schools utilize cooperative learning, conflict resolution training, controversy-centered teaching techniques, and actual mediation of real conflicts by students. He called this "educating for a peaceful world." Our focus in this book is on self-help, not education, but each of us can insist that our schools and all parents do a better job of producing better children.
References cited in this chapter are listed in the Bibliography (see link on the book title page). Please note that references are on pages according to the first letter of the senior author's last name (see alphabetical links at the bottom of the main Bibliography page).