I was sent an email asking about my availability to discuss an engaging case for this popular true crime expose show, Dateline. The story was being told on the NBC network during the evening of October 9th. I indicated that I would agree to be interviewed on camera if I had anything of value to say. My goal as an expert is to assist others in understanding the characters in the story that is being told whether my audience is a jury, classroom or the media. Narratives are tools that we use to organize experience. Those at Dateline are master story tellers. These narrative constructs always have elements of fiction. Narratives compete against each other in terms of their approximation to reality. They are wielded with force exciting the masses by politicians. There used by children in order to escape the stinging disapproval of their parents. The truth however cuts through narratives and in the end either something affirms life or it leads to death. There is a right and wrong. As a forensic psychologist I try to understand drives, motives, mental health and other factors relevant to a person’s conduct. The goal here is to enable our compassion, humility and to learn to recognize the signs that assist us in preventing evil.
This is being written before I have had the chance to see Dateline. I was hoping this broadcast would bring attention to two significant issues. These were embedded in my interview and I’m not sure if out of the mind field of my words if these nuggets were extracted. First, law enforcement is realizing and addressing some of the difficulties it has interviewing trauma victims. Assumptions about how a trauma victim presents at times results in investigators not believing the person who has been injured especially when physically the damage is not visible. Depending on how you ask questions of victim they may as a result shut down and appear unemotional. Further, trauma memories are often fragmented, as cognition and affect collide shattering the cohesiveness of experience. It is not uncommon for trauma victim to tell a story complete with contradictions and missing features. Trauma victims do not always present as damsels in distress.
Second, we are living in a world where the narratives of the Internet and the onslaught of visual media is shaping personality. Without a footing in genuine relationships and genuine community it is easy to become lost in terms of what is true and valuable. Information without the wisdom easily leads to all types of wrongful actions. As a caveat I must point out that I did not evaluate the alleged perpetrator in this case. However his writings speak to a level of fantasy that appears to have distorted his reality. When our constructed false selves become our gods we are engaging in an idolatry that will only lead to perdition. How many of these themes will make it into the story line will shortly be revealed. However, these talking points will continue to be themes worth pursuing.