Power and sexual abuse: The danger of doubling

Power and sexual abuse: The danger of doubling
Painting by artist Titouan Lamazou.
Titouan Lamazou

Stockholm / Rome, Dec. 10, 2018 (IPS) — Several celebrities use their power to insult or take advantage of women. We read about sexual abuse from men like Harvey Weinsten, Bill OReilly, Leslie Moonves, Jeffrey Epstein, Bill Cosby, R. Kelly, Dennis Hastert, Robert Packwood, Roger Ailes, James Levine, Hans Hermann Groër, Marcial Maciel, Justin Forsyth, Ruud Lubbers, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Bill Clinton, Silvio Berlusconi and Donald Trump. The list is just a sample of an extensive catalogue of Western men accused of abusing women, using their fame, fortune and power to exploit and humiliate them. Unfortunately, misogyny, contempt of and prejudice against women and girls, may even be characterized as a cultural universal, an element, pattern, trait, or institution that is common to all human cultures worldwide.

Humans are herd animals. We depend on relations with other humans, a dependency that seldom is equal. Every moment of our lives we suffer subjugation – under parents, teachers, colleagues, bosses and government officials, at the same time as we might have power over others. Power may act as poison. Several persons I have been acquainted with and who reached powerful positions have changed completely, poisoned by their elevation above other human beings. Several imagined they earned their position though intelligence, hard work and charm; outstanding qualities that distinguished them from others, especially those who are dependent on these formidable leaders.

Endorphins, oxytocin, dopamine and serotonin constitute a blissful quartet of neurotransmitters that make us content. Feelings of well-being increase levels of serotonin, which stimulate our appetite and general contentment, while low serotonin levels trigger stress hormones. Powerful beings benefit from serotonin streaming through their bodies, creating feelings of a refreshing exhilaration. Powerful men become supermen, assuming their behaviour cannot be equalled to that of inferior beings, whose blood and brains are acidified by stress hormones.

This blissful state of mind has to be protected. Power-drunk sex abusers are generally safeguarded by others, who like them fear that their power, and that of their sheltering organizations, will be weakened if voices of abused victims are taken seriously. Maybe a reason to why even the Catholic Church and United Nations, organizations supposed to care about evil and social injustice, so often have proved reluctant to address abuse committed by powerful men and women within their own domains.

While in Paris working at the gender division of UNESCO, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, former head of the IMF, went to trial in Lille, accused of pimping. He was acquitted from all charges, though I found his defence deplorable. He admitted that he was a “libertine” and liked to participate in orgies, though he had not realized that his partners in those excesses had been prostitutes. He assumed they were “libertines” like him. He was contradicted by several women who had shared his “pleasures.” One of them told the court: ”No other customer would have dared to do what he did. Does he assume that he can behave like that just because he does not have the same social status [as women like me]?” Fabrice Paszkowski, one of several arrangers of Strauss-Kahns nightly pleasures, used to text him messages about planned sexual encounters. The nature of these messages reflects opinions of men like them. Strauss-Kahn: ”So, who will you have in your luggage?” Paszkowski: “I have some very beautiful and new things for my trip to DC!!!”

While reading about the trial in Lille I found that another of Paszkowskis clients had been the strapping sailor, author and artist Titouan Lamazou. A frequent visitor to UNESCOs gender division. He was actively involved with charitable organizations defending the rights of women and children and had in 2003 been appointed as “UNESCOs Artist for Peace.” Lamazous defence was the same as Strauss-Kahns: “I did not know that these women were prostitutes.”

The case of Titouan Lamazou made me remember when I was working for The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) and once listened to a lecture by Karl Göran Lindberg, lawyer, police chief and former rector of the Police Academy. Lindberg was project manager of an EU project called Genderforce, aiming to improve international efforts to include a gender perspective in all police work. In 2010, Lindberg was by the Swedish High Court sentenced to a long prison term for repeated serious rape and sexual abuse of under-aged girls.

Lamazou and Lindberg might have been victims of what the psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton in a book about Nazi doctors called doubling. A psychological trait enabling a person to invoke evil potentials and forbidden urges, at the same time as s/he considers them to be completely alien to her / his true humanitarian and philanthropically inclined self. Jay Lifton stated:

To live out the doubling and call forth the evil is a moral choice for which one is responsible, whatever the level of consciousness involved.

If we, our laws and our society accept and condone doubling, we identify with the perpetrators and pave the way for immorality, injustice and violence.

Jan Lundius holds a PhD. on History of Religion from Lund University and has served as a development expert, researcher and advisor at SIDA, UNESCO, FAO and other international organisations.

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