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Legal Abuse Syndrome
8 Steps for avoiding the traumatic stress caused by the justice system
By Karin Huffer, Wilene Gremain
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2013 Dr. Karin Huffer, M.F.T.
All rights reserved.
The kidnapping of the soul
"I do not feel free or able to pursue happiness in my country." -Ken, LAS Victim and American citizen
Invisible Crimes – The Dilemma
Victims are created in two ways: by violence or by deceit. Either type of assault immediately renders the victim hostage to the perpetrator(s). Victims feel as helpless as small children. Personal control becomes the issue. Adult autonomy is formed by a perception of trust. Psychologist Erik H. Erikson (1963) calls this feeling "basic trust." The child must sense this degree of invulnerability in order to grow. The long, hard battle to adulthood is accomplished when one has the ability to take charge of one's own life (Bard, 1986). The belief that the world is manageable allows a sense of psychological relationship. It is like a kidnapping of the soul. Equilibrium is lost. Regardless of the individual's ability to accommodate stress, all victims must work out of a hostage relationship with the offender.
Violent crime dominates the headlines and consumes most of the moneys that are allocated for victim assistance, yet white-collar crimes are rising faster than violent crime (Kropatkin, 1986; Kusic, 1989). It is naïve to believe that victims emerge from these assaults unscathed.
All professionals who respond to the crimes-lawyers, judges, police officers, IRS agents (who always show up at the end of the ordeal), the media, and health professionals-bear responsibility for the protection of the victims' mental and emotional health in the aftermath of crime. (The worst serial killer receives millions of dollars to protect his rights, his health, and his well-being. The victim is just beginning to gain recognition of his needs. Still, survivors and victims too often fade into a neglected judicial oblivion. Unlike violent crime, deceptive assaults quietly wound that very sacred, inner place which is the essence of self. (Shown in Figure 1 are examples of invisible crimes and betrayals). Although the attack is invisible, it is as brutal as violent assault. Profound changes take place in the victim's life, yet they can go completely unnoticed. The victim becomes isolated. He or she may rise everyday, go to work, come home, appear at family functions, and look relatively normal; however, it is as if layers of cellophane wrap have enveloped him in a numb cocoon.
Symptoms of the Hostage Stage
Intrusive thoughts and nightmares seep in through the numbness.
There is difficulty concentrating.
Memories are painful; flashbacks are unrelenting.
The victims will route themselves around reminders, and cringe from people, songs, news stories, or events that trigger memories and intense distress.
Ordinary activities require tremendous energy; the victim is mentally, emotionally, and physically exhausted.
The victim now trusts no one.
Not trusting has reached the point that it has begun to erode the quality of the victim's life.
He or she feels off-balance.
Creativity is blunted.
Intensity of interest in the world around the victim is dulled.
Tension/ anxiety/ depression cycle sets in; the victim may self- medicate with alcohol or drugs.
Fear is the main motivator of life's decisions. The victim becomes hyperreactive, hypervigilant, and obsessive.
Physical changes take place as stressors continue to pound away at those victims who try to stand up for themselves.
Physical symptoms will manifest in 85% of the victims. There is significant evidence that fat in the diet, cigarette smoking, salt and lack of exercise have much less to do with coronary heart disease and other stress-related illnesses than do rage, anger, and frustration (McQuade, 1990).
When a Hostage Seeks Justice
Jeopardy becomes the theme of the victim's lifestyle when he/she then acts as a witness or litigant. The assault may be only a traumatic first step in a protracted legal process. Typically, the victim remains an emotional hostage for many years. Not only does the justice system move slowly, delays are used as strategy by attorneys to weaken their opposition economically and emotionally. Delays will cause further losses in the victim's life as pressure is sustained on family life, work life, physical health, and the bank account. All facets of the victim's life are at risk and under attack during litigation.
Helplessness in the face of jeopardy is the formula for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The citizen is never more jeopardized or helpless than when his entire protective system is clearly functioning as a selfish taker instead of a protector. How did majority opinion and need become disarmed within our justice system?
An Evolution of Institutionalized Abuse of Power
The moral core which forms the foundation of American values is the lifeblood that sustains the victim's hope. Decency, our most cherished and delicate human resource, hangs in the balance of the scales of justice. If the system exists for protection of the citizen and is supported by tax dollars, it is assumed to represent common decency. Other than a few rascals, we expect to encounter professionals who sanction goodness as we persevere through the courts.
It is against this backdrop that judges, attorneys, regulators, and others, who elect to be solely self-serving, find their prey. Attorneys are reported to knowingly exhaust their client's resources and leave their clients vulnerable. They make "deals" to preserve their political status with their colleagues. Judges will find for the more rich and powerful in spite of evidence. These are the pathological elements that further betray victims. In such cases, judges, lawyers and others entrusted with the justice system become host-toxic parasites. They draw on courts but do not protect the system, rendering the courts non-functional for the purpose that was created. Therefore the court is simply not there to help people resolve disputes, punish offenders of the law, and protect the citizens (Marston, 1990; Dershowitz, 1983; Haskell, 1998).
EEK & MEEK by Howie Schneider
Keen tells us that in the 1800's, a man's character was comprised of citizenship, duty, democracy, work, building, golden deeds, outdoor life, conquest, honor, reputation, morals, manners, and integrity. He lived for the good of the community. Then came the industrial revolution, and the "self" has emerged beyond the community.
Warring entered the board room. Corporate giants, nonhuman entities who answer to stockholders based upon bottom line figures, go to court against individuals. The hearing is expected to be fair and provide equality. It is the duty of the judge to provide such a forum. XYZ Corporation versus private citizen, John Brown, is nearly impossible to equalize. John is fortunate if he can afford one attorney. XYZ will send a team. Every document costs John significant dollars. XYZ's team is on salary. John may have never contributed to a judge's campaign. XYZ contributes to all judges' campaigns. John cares about the system, his children, justice, and himself. XYZ's attorneys are out to be heroes for the corporation's bottom – line benefit at any price. Corporations were not created with a conscience or concern for the mental health of the nation. Serving of self has become paramount. These emotional hostages ask, "Do attorneys intend to destroy their country and to render all decent citizens mentally ill?" "Is it fair for the IRS to attack a citizen and hold him responsible for a business transaction simply because he is the only one they can locate?" "Are the courts only toys for the wealthy and tools by which the wealthy fleece the population?" or, "Are we experiencing a second, invisible economic holocaust perpetrated on middle America and the poor?"
The methods used by the criminal and his defense attorney would sometimes cause us to believe that this is true.
Deny - Facts and law were ignored
Delay - Time exceeded reason
Deplete - Expense exceeded reason
Destroy - Distortions replaced truth
Devastate - Money/beliefs/hope gone
Decay - System no longer useful to people
The disillusioned certainly have to wonder about the motives of those professionals who would lie, intimidate, and destroy as part of their "profession." Is it a warped rite of passage to economic manhood? Sam Keen, Fire in the Belly (1991), writes, "Could it be that men are determined to be greedy, aggressive, and brutish? Does excess testosterone condemn us to violence and early heart attacks?" He is questioning maleness. Yet it is found that where females have entered the law and the boardroom, softer, gentler styles have not been the rule. Obviously, gender does not dictate abuses of power.
Rather than the intent to destroy the system as mentioned above, except for a few unsavory instances, the matter seems more one of an evolution. It is, however, a dangerous metamorphosis toward specialization in the abuse of power and sophisticated violence. The adversarial system supports lies, slander, distortion, and attack if it is in defense of a client. The acts are too destructive to ignore and too serious for victims to simply blame and complain about. Kensteen Olsen, founder of "Justice for All," believes that the adversarial system will one day be viewed as ridiculously as jousting is today as a means of resolving disputes.
Profile of a Hostage
Let's look at the story of James. He is a young forty year old who fell victim to a deceptive crime and entered that judicial oblivion. His dark eyes flashed with conviction as he told a story that was a quagmire of legal entanglement. He related it took him about 15 years to gain the properties that became the booty of this crime.
The Story of James
(As shared by James and his wife)
James had worked seven days a week, put in long hours, and continually challenged himself by tackling tougher levels of real estate from selling houses to sophisticated commercial aspects of the profession. He earned and saved with whole-hearted commitment. Finally, he negotiated and purchased, through long and arduous years of payments, three properties chosen to be his life's work. He had been a poor kid. This was proof of the American dream, something important to James. He was energized and joyous at that time.
The American dream was a major factor in James' survival. At his core he exudes the entrepreneurial spirit. He talked from his heart of artistic creativity to abusive parents. Lots of kids were abused in those days. They called it strict and no one interfered but, when his spirit and their oppressiveness collided, life's hope was at risk.
It helped that he did well in school. It was there that the promise was taught. The American dream reached into his life and helped him resist the punitive, crushing rigidity of home. "You may create, reach out, and, thanks to brilliant men of 200 years ago, your life is in your hands."
The dream provided the faith and hope that allowed him to move away from his parents at sixteen, work a variety of jobs, all at the same time and pursue an education at the University of Michigan. His ambitions were being satisfied, his neuroses and abuse-born shame soothed. He worked too hard, moved up the ladder, endured tremendous discomfort, and was a true, tired American living a dream. He tells that he hit the ground running every morning. After 20 years of such work, his net worth was $3,000,000. His credit was impeccable. He was a resident of his community for 23 years and was well respected. He had some business clout. It was time to implement the balance of his dream. The time was right to build on the three properties, educate the children and retire comfortably. Then, he would turn to artistic endeavors.
He shared a drawing of his first project. It reflected his aesthetic notions. It was a building that looked liked small buildings set together in a cozy pattern. There were variations in roof lines that were tasteful and drew the interest of a passerby. A sports lounge was placed beside a restaurant to generate immediate cash flow. It was obvious that careful study produced this first solo project.
He obtained a loan from a local bank to build the project and another loan, called a permanent loan, from an out-of-state lender who specialized in financing projects after completion and after tenants began lease payments. A major local bank approved the loan. All sacrifices were diminished by the excitement of this moment. Although the bare property looked like moonscape, this piece of desert was to blossom. Beautifully structured and landscaped, the property would provide services that responded to the market needs of the community.
James, being a responsible person, was happy to secure the loan with personal holdings because it was the first 7-figure loan he had made on his own and, of course, he vowed to be responsible to and for this project. He obtained expert legal advice and architectural work, and had selected a federally regulated bank. The bank, by contract, had the right to approve the contractor and the tenants. A licensed contractor was chosen and approved, and the project was begun.
The events that were to follow could have only been predicted by writers of cynical, sleazy, 'B' movies. A trap had been set by the bank. It is a saga of the corporate wringing out of staple values that hold a culture together. James' story is the documentary of thousands of Americans who are targeted by business and legal predators. These thousands of Americans are not stupid. They are not failures; however, they often feel like it.
James' case-study will be told in the context of LAS, his trek beyond rage and the steps to recovery. His hope is to share in a way that will help to reframe the invisible victim from the image of shame, pain, and impotence. Victims can be society's "smart bombs" in helping to identify wrongdoing and prevent its propagation.
James and Legal Abuse Syndrome
Outrage explodes. Beyond rage, however, is an implosion. Life's agenda turns inward into a survival cycle. Anger turns to rage; rage turns to outrage. If assaults through neglect or abuse continue, the victim becomes one of the "walking wounded" who are beyond rage (Figure 2, Path to LAS).
Briefly James' assaults moved in this manner:
1. The contractor refused to follow proper codes in constructing the building causing him to lose his license to build in the City. He behaved as if he were in control. The contractor embezzled by not paying sub-contractors' cost.
2. James formally requested that the bank cooperate with him in replacing the contractor. The bank refused.
3. James discovered that the banker and contractor had meet privately; with no explanation, the banker had issued a cashier's check for $100,000 to the contractor out of James' loan.
4. James added a contractor to complete the suites for tenants so he could qualify for the permanent loan. This move would pay the construction loan off and get the unlawful actions of the local bank out of his life. The suites became ready for tenants.
Excerpted from Legal Abuse Syndrome by Karin Huffer, Wilene Gremain. Copyright © 2013 Dr. Karin Huffer, M.F.T.. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
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