30 March 2009

Flattery or battery?

Advocate Barbie: a battered, brain-washed woman with no will of her own, or someone who would do anything to get off? CyberShrink comments.

Advocate Barbie: a battered, brain-washed woman with no will of her own, or someone who would do anything to get off? CyberShrink comments.

The re-trial of Cezanne Visser, widely known as Advocate Barbie, has started. I have been waiting to hear what expert evidence she would call in support of her bold and unusual defence, and how these experts would fare under cross-examination. I have also been interested to find out how the prosecution would challenge these unusual claims.

It would be a disaster for SA justice if such claims were accepted without exceedingly close examination.

Horror stories
So far, we've heard mainly from Visser herself, telling a series of horror stories involving her former lover, Advocate Dirk Prinsloo, and his behaviour. Faced with evidence that she was centrally involved in all of their joint misbehaviour, she seems to have admitted her actions, but has resolutely placed all the blame on Prinsloo.

He is conveniently not present to defend himself, having skipped bail almost three years ago, after an extraordinary court decision allowed him to travel to Russia, from which, not at all surprisingly, he has not returned. She has insisted that even what she herself did, was entirely Prinsloo's fault, as she claims she was totally under his control, doing only what he wanted, and everything that he wanted. As an expert in brain-washing and coercion, I find this claim hard to believe, based on the facts we have heard so far.

Events or fantasies?
What she has described, sounds less like actual events (even highly perverted people tend not to dabble in so many different varieties of misconduct) than like the vivid and revealing fantasies of someone trying to invent the worst stories they can think of.

Indeed, we have heard of almost nothing else the sordid couple did over a lengthy period of time, other than very deliberately kinky sex. Did they never send out for pizza, or watch Big Brother?

The Idols perversion
I remember seeing Visser when she appeared as a contestant in the audition phase of an earlier series of Idols, and remarked then on this highly bizarre woman with peculiarly large breasts. She was said to be an advocate. She now says that Prinsloo compelled her to appear, even though she couldn't sing, which may be the weirdest sexual perversion she has yet described (though, judging by the auditions, perhaps more common than suspected).

She has very determinedly, at every opportunity, described how she considers herself to have been controlled by him. She has said she "idolised" him, that he was "her God", that she would have done anything to please him, and that he controlled her to such an extent that she had no will of her own. Such situations are far more common in sensational fiction than in reality.

Last week, the head of the Clinical Psychology Department at Weskoppies Hospital, Dr Jonathan Scholtz, testified on her behalf - one of the panel of specialists who saw her earlier when she was sent there for observation. We should soon also hear from the other specialists on the panel, and we expect some tough and expert cross-examination of this evidence.

Flattery, not battery
Scholtz said that she has battered-woman syndrome (BWS). This is not a formally recognised psychiatric diagnosis, though popular among those working with abused women, especially defence attorneys. Major authorities have cautioned about using it in court, and where this happened, it was as a defence by women who attacked and murdered their abusive spouse, never, so far as I can discover, to try to excuse crimes committed against third parties.

There's a proper, official diagnosis which can be made in some such situations, and that's PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder. Surprisingly, Dr Scholtz seems not to have made this diagnosis. Unlike BWS, there are clear internationally recognised and accepted criteria for doing so. It's especially puzzling, as he spoke of how "strong emotions cause the release of hormones" causing "neurological and even structural changes in the brain if the exposure was over a long period." The evidence for this happening is not yet compelling, but it has only been described in PTSD, and not BWS.

The way she has described her experience does not fit battered-woman syndrome at all. She says she did as he suggested because she had a poor self-image and he made her feel pretty - that's flattery, not battery. “It made her feel good when she pleased him”; and her transformation, as she tells it, from virgin to slut, was rapid: “I can’t really give an explanation why it happened. It was a very quick change in my life." She doesn't describe being frightened by him, but of being frightened to be without him.

It is far from clear, from her long testimony, whether she actually experienced the sort and degree of trauma usually associated with PTSD. Not torture, warfare, earthquake or other causes of genuine fear of death, but continuing voluntary exposure to sexually perverted activity.

Self and mutual abuse
What she is describing sounded more like self-abuse, and mutually abusive exercises in perversion, than victimisation and coercion. She seems to have participated, from the start, without force or resistance, and continued even as the acts became more revolting. It's not clear what extent of coercive control Prinsloo actually exerted. She seems to have been almost eager to be controlled.

The sort of coercion amounting to brain-washing, which her defence argument would need, requires a situation significantly different from what's been described. The captor needs total control over the target person, allowing no contact whatever with secretaries, or mothers. It certainly wouldn't include participation in TV shows.

Scholtz says Visser was able to appreciate that her actions were wrong, but that her ability to restrain herself to match this was severely compromised. This is theory, not fact. If she was so slavishly compliant, why does it seem at times he drugged her prior to sex - why was this needed?

It's troubling that he seems to have based his testimony solely on an assumption that what she told him was always true, accepting everything uncritically, and without corroboration, overlooking her obvious motivation for possibly inventing such stories.

Far away in Russia
Scholtz says when he saw her in 2007 (about a year after Prinsloo fled to Russia, and extremely unlikely to return) she feared that he'd come to her in the hospital, and she was under police guard at her own request. Was this a genuine fear, or a canny preparation for a later defence?

Scholtz formed the impression that she feared Prinsloo would stop her talking. From Russia?

In mid-2005, Beeld reported that " Advocates Cézanne Visser and Dirk Prinsloo are not an item any more and, along with the break-up, her bust measurement has been reduced by several sizes. "Apparently, Visser had her breasts reduced for medical reasons and because "she is no longer under Dirk's influence". Yet some two years later, in hospital with someone conveniently taking notes, she was scared that he'd harm her, all the way from Russia?

She told of a time while she and Prinsloo were driving in Mpumalanga when she "pushed a banana into herself to obtain Prinsloo's forgiveness". He did not ask her to do so, she did it because she thought he would like it. This is more like a sad teenage crush than coercion. She later said he threatened to kill her and her mother, if she didn't stand by him during their sex trial. But this was long after the period in which she is said to have developed BWS.

She hasn't described what we would generally call abuse, but has decided, looking back, that her experiences were abusive. She said: "It was not normal for me at all to be exposed to such things. I regard it as abuse. There was absolutely no respect, tenderness or love from him". This is retrospective interpretation of abuse. Lack of respect, tenderness or love is most unfortunate, but doesn't in itself amount to abuse.

Skilled at persuasion
Clearly, Prinsloo was remarkably skilled at persuading people to do what he wanted, even people who definitively were not coerced in any normal sense of the word, and who certainly did not have BWS. For instance, their former secretary, obediently went to have her private parts waxed to please him, and showed him the result, yet she easily refused to have sex with him despite being asked, and he accepted such refusals.

It's odd (and significant) how other women were also willing to engage in sex play to please Prinsloo, without complaining or reporting him. Visser and the secretary posed naked while he took pictures, then dressed and continued with the day's work. Even Visser's mother behaved really peculiarly.

She's described as being embarrassed on an occasion when Visser performed oral sex on Prinsloo in the front of the car - and responded by lying down on the back seat with a coat over her head! She may have been drugged, falling deeply asleep after he gave her a drink, and waking naked - apparently without questioning what happened, and without laying charges despite signs suggesting he may have had sex with her without her consent. Yet there's been no evidence that this oddly compliant mother had BWS.

The factors in her earlier life which Dr Scholtz seems to consider significant in explaining the peculiar mental state she claims, are so very common that there must be an enormous number of proto-brain-washees out there, easy to convert into sex slaves.

Altogether, most puzzling testimony, which will perhaps be better explained during cross-examination.

(Professor M.A. Simpson, aka CyberShrink, March 2009)




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