In my last post, The New York Times on the digital tools of abuse. I commented on a recent article about abusers adopting technology as a means of harassing their partners. That article chronicled the dangers of reporting the unfamiliar phenomenon of household devices that shut down, speakers that blare, doors that lock and lights that flicker, seemingly of their own accord.
Most ominously for victims of this emerging type of harassment is the fact that women reporting it have been perceived as mentally ill; one woman was even detained for a mental evaluation after she reported that devices in her home were acting outside of her control.
American jurisprudence has a bad case of “blame the victim.” Women who are raped are promiscuous; women who are harassed are crazy. My own experience with technology-based harassment as a victim of real estate mobbing at the hands of an unethical neighborhood watch in northeast Seattle hasn’t been much different. In my case, not only does the crime I describe make me sound crazy; in fact, the “mobbers” have countered my reports and attempted to mislead investigators by telling them I am “paranoid schizophrenic.” This crime takes full advantage of a phenomenon I wrote of in an earlier post, the “Martha Mitchell effect,” in which the truthful reports of a victim or witness are taken for delusion.
Wikipedia notes that it is common for cyberbullies to accuse their victims of harassment. This can be regarded as a keynote of cellphone “mobbing” (bullying) and other forms of cyber-harassment. Given the emerging trend for victims of technology-based harassment to be regarded as mentally ill, I suggest that investigators be made aware of this keynote of a growing predatory and personal crime. Whether investigators are told by a claimed victim that her devices are acting against her or told by those she accuses of harassing her that she is mad as a hatter, investigators must be wary of accusations of mental illness by interested parties or of their own presumptions when they hear unusual victim stories. Frankly, I would hope that investigators who are well trained always question the use of defamation. Based on my experience in this matter, however, I believe that investigators should regard accusations of mental illness or the assumption of mental illness based solely on unusual description as a keynote of the use of digital crime in stalking and harassment.
And since there’s a strong possibility that women are the greatest victims of this presumption that exacerbates an already horrific crime, the police, investigators, mental health professionals, and attorneys should not only be educated about the phenomenology of technology crimes, they must begin to unlearn their gender bias or at least cultivate awareness of it and learn to refrain from acting on it in their professional capacities. Additionally, rules should be promulgated to stop those who are not licensed mental health professionals—especially attorneys who are apparently permitted to challenge competency at whim—from exceeding their qualifications, making challenges to competency to discredit or intimidate witnesses, or as courtroom strategy.