Remember the infamous O.J. Simpson case? WHY don’t more women report being abused? A new study used recorded jailhouse telephone conversations between men charged with felony domestic violence and their victims to help reveal why some victims decide not to follow through on the charges. What did they discover? Through subtle psychological manipulation, the perpetrators make their victims FEEL SORRY FOR THEM.

Researchers listened to telephone conversations between 17 accused male abusers in a Washington state detention facility and their female victims, all of whom decided to withdraw their accusations of abuse. For each of the couples, the researchers analyzed up to about three hours of phone conversations. The analysis of these conversations may fundamentally change how victim advocates and prosecutors work with domestic violence victims to prosecute abusers, according to the researchers.

Researcher Amy Bonomi says, "The existing belief is that victims recant because the perpetrator threatens her with more violence. But our results suggest something very different. Perpetrators are not threatening the victim, but are using more sophisticated emotional appeals designed to minimize their actions and gain the sympathy of the victim. That should change how we work with victims."

Typically, in the first and second conversations there was a heated argument between the couple, revolving around the event leading to the abuse charge. In these early conversations, the victim is strong, and resists the accused perpetrator’s account of what happens.

Bonomi says, "The victim starts out with a sense of determination and is eager to advocate for herself, but gradually that erodes as the phone calls continue." In the second stage, the perpetrator minimizes the abuse and tries to convince the victim that what happened wasn’t that serious. In one couple, where the victim suffered strangulation and a severe bite to the face, the accused perpetrator repeatedly reminded the victim that he was being charged with "felony assault," while asking whether she thought he deserved the felony charge. "Finally, he wore her down and she agreed with him that he didn’t deserve a felony charge,"

Bonomi says. "The perpetrator casts himself as the victim, and quite often the real victim responds by trying to soothe and comfort the abuser."

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