An Aspiring Superheroine. Personal Reflections

Introduction

Ever since I was little, I have always wanted to be a superhero – one who protects the weak and restores peace whenever it is shattered. They represent the ideal person everyone wants to be when they grow up. In a child’s mind the overpowering presence of someone they idolize is motivation enough to do good. Little girls look up to Wonder Woman, or in today’s generation, the Powerpuff girls or the more mellow Disney heroes like Mulan. Creators of these fictionalized characters are careful to imbue in their creations superlative characteristics – a gorgeous physical appearance, a golden heart, and a wisdom so great, it seems impossible to be had by someone so young. They need to have such qualities so they are easily enlivened in a child’s fantasy.

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However, in more contemporary times, some wiser writers have thought up of more relatable superheroes. They remain to possess superpowers, but they are more humanized. They may not be as perfect as superheroes before them, because now, they sport some flaw like poverty, shyness or lack of confidence.

Discussion

My own motivations to be a superhero are my children, nieces and nephews and the other young people I work with in a non-profit organization – the future generation of heroes who would inherit this world.

As I look around to survey the safety of the environment we live in, Happy Valley outwardly seems peaceful, but like in every town, evil lurks at the most unexpected places. Happy Valley’s crime rate has risen in the past years due to a number of factors.

It is pathetic to realize that as people evolve, so do crimes. At present, crimes which were unheard of before are now becoming commonplace. The changing morals, coupled with the advances in technology have made some crimes so sophisticated and more difficult to detect. Crimes of fraud, sex crimes against women and children, money laundering as well as those involving high tech equipment, etc. are becoming more intimidating for crime prevention experts.

Van Dijk & De Waard (1991) define crime prevention as “the total of all private initiatives and state policies, other than the enforcement of criminal law, aimed at the reduction of damage caused by acts defined as criminal by the state” (p. 483). This definition paints a picture of cooperation between agencies in the pursuit of lower crime rates.

“Every crime requires three ingredients: a motivated offender, a suitable target, and the absence of capable guardians” (Graycar & Grabosky, 2002, p. 7). Having identified those, bring more focus to the objectives of crime prevention. Obviously, what needs to be done is to reduce, if not extinguish motivation for prospective offenders and making crime more difficult to commit. That is the challenge for us, crime fighters. We need to anticipate negative forces that aim to inflict harm on our fellowmen whether covertly or discreetly. We must become a step ahead of criminal minds to thwart their evil plans in forming new crimes we are not yet aware of. Together with the government’s regulatory controls, we need to cooperate with each other to efficiently and effectively prevent and deter criminality (Graycar & Grabosky, 2002).

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As a woman, what affects me the most in the myriad of crimes committed is crimes against women. Sadly, most of the crimes committed go unreported because of the victim’s choice to keep mum herself. I know it is overwhelming to be entrusted a spot in the crime prevention task force due the growing number and kinds of crimes. However, I aim to specialize in the area of crimes against women.

Being a woman in today’s society can be complicated due to the different standards and values held by society that evolved through the years. Some men continue to see women as the weaker sex and treat women without respect. Society puts double standards that certain roles and expectations confuse women of their equality with men. Women are expected to be great homemakers, since that is where society has stationed them to be, while at the same time, they are expected to perform excellently in the workforce, however, they are not given the same privilege and treatment as men. They have to work doubly hard just to prove that they are worthy of being equal to their male counterparts.

Complex issues about the status and welfare of women have arisen and for some, have proven to be highly controversial. Among these issues are violence against women and their victimization in various harassing situations.

Crimes such as Rape leave deep-seated wounds that scar women for a very long time. Such a devastating experience may be the root of a woman’s Post Traumatic Stress Disorder which may cripple her thinking, management of emotions and daily functioning.

A prevalent issue in society is domestic violence. It is ironic that for some women, the assumed safety of the home is non-existent, as the home is the setting where she is at her most vulnerable point, and where she is most in danger of being abused. Young People and Domestic Violence Report of the Commonwealth Government define domestic violence as:

“the unacceptable use of physical (including sexual) force to control or coerce. In terms of criminological analysis and crime prevention strategies, this definition focuses on tangible behaviour that is recognizable in the criminal law and familiar to law enforcement agencies. However, this core definition needs to be placed within the context of a broader definition: violence (physical, sexual, psychological, financial) where a ‘domestic’ relationship exists between the victim and the perpetrator” (NCP, 2001, p. 3)

As mentioned, domestic violence is a crime that usually goes unreported. Many reasons behind this include: the victim considering the violence a private and personal matter and would be no use for others outside the circle to know. The victim being afraid of retaliation from the offender. This is especially true if the perpetrator is a family member, and the victim usually chooses to just suffer consequences of the abuse instead of compromising the personal relationship with the perpetrator. The victim may also believe that the police would do nothing about. She may question the magnanimity of her case, as it may not be so important to merit a report. Some violence will not leave an injury, and for some victims this does not constitute seriousness that require reporting to the proper authorities. If sexual assault was involved, the victim may be too embarrassed to report such an “intimate” act if perpetrated by someone she is in a relationship with (Coumarelos & Allen, 1999).

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There are identified factors that are likely to predict a victim’s vulnerability such as educational attainment, labour force status, main source of income and prior adult violence. Also, reporting an incidence of violence committed against them and use of support services for victims were less likely for women with certain characteristics or life experiences.

In order to prevent such violence, crime prevention specialists need to understand its underlying causes and assure acceptance of the victims to support them personally. Preventive strategies may be designed together with the victims themselves. Clancey and Moore (2008) suggest that domestic violence prevention strategies should reflect the following: consideration of socioeconomic marginalization in providing support for violence and educative programs that include positive parenting; engagement of peers in reinforcing beliefs about violence; programs should be researched based and multifaceted to reflect various roles of class, gender, community, culture, family/ individual circumstances affecting the prevention strategy. It should also reflect the influence on behavior of limitations and attitudes. Also, prevention strategies need to be customized to a special target or client group (ex. adolescents, housewives, etc.) applying to age and gender groups as well as cultural groups.

Building on these designs, Homel (1999) points out two key approaches in domestic violence prevention namely Criminal justice and community based approaches.

“Criminal justice responses include: police initiatives such as mandatory arrest and alarms and pre-programmed mobile phones; court-based violence prevention orders; and the ‘Dulith’ model, which combines legal coercion with support for victims and education and rehabilitation for offenders.

“Community-based approaches include: assertiveness training and empowerment techniques for victims; holistic, ‘healing processes’ in indigenous communities; shelters and follow-up support for victims; children’s access programs that provide facilities for the safe hand over of children; and education programs for violent men.” (Homel, 1999: 346)

It is evident from the above that a multi-agency approach is best upheld to help support women from violence. The stakeholders of such an approach include women, their children, if any, and the agencies concerned. The criminal justice approach is more publicized, involving the police and the legal department. The community-based approaches draw women to resources found in their community to empower them as women. Assertiveness and self-defence trainings may be held at local centres, and these may be publicized for more and more women to join.

Educational training for women constitutes a great role in crime prevention programs. It was pointed out that victims have apprehensions to even report her abuse. That is why it would be useful to standardize the types of violence and its categorization as private, minor or major enough to be reported. Victims’ needs should likewise be identified and determined if these can be met through the current criminal justice system and existing victim services.

Of course, the victims’ immediate needs take priority. If crimes against women are not prevented, then intervention efforts must be effected to remedy the damage, if possible. Should she sustain injuries, then medical attention is provided. If psychological intervention is necessary, then the agency in charge should provide. Services to recover from an assault must be disseminated among the women in the community not only to prevent future problems but more importantly to be offered for the victims’ personal refuge and healing.

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A study by Ehlers, et al (1998) studied how women painfully relive their rape episodes with overwhelming negative emotions. They usually realize that during the experience, their disempowerment by their assailant caused them to vacillate between “mental planning” and “mental defeat”. One coping strategy during the rape experience is “mentally planning in one’s mind about what she might be able to do to minimize physical or psychological harm just to make the experience tolerable or to influence the behavior of the assailant” (Ehlers, et al, 1998, p. 461) On the other hand, “mental defeat refers to the victim’s perception that she gave up in her own mind and was completely defeated” (Ehlers, et al. 1998, p. 461). The study provides evidence of mental defeat of some rape victims such as: “her description of feeling completely at the will of the assailant, her description that she lost the sense of being a person with her own will, statements that she did not feel like a human being any longer, her wish/acceptance that she was dying, or a sexual response during the rape which she perceived as defeat.” (p.461) Imagine such agonizing thoughts haunting the victim every single day -thoughts that render the victim unable to fulfill her usual tasks and leave her helpless in pursuing a normal lifestyle. These are blatant symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress syndrome (PTSD). One implication of the study is that the relationship between mental planning and treatment outcomes of women undergoing PTSD reflects the role of perceived uncontrollability which is a crucial variable in determining the aversiveness of a negative event (e.g., Foa et al., 1989; Foa, Zinbarg, & Rothbaum, 1992; Mineka, 1985 as mentioned in the study of Ehlers et al, 1998). “Mental planning can be understood as attempts to exert control over the situation (see also Burgess & Holmstrom, 1976), even if the control was minimal or symbolic, such as a victim not wanting to show the rapist that she was crying. Lack of mental planning may therefore reflect the patients’ perception that the situation is totally uncontrollable. However, mental defeat may go beyond uncontrollability.” (Ehlers et al, 1998, p. 467) Disempowerment is the direct consequence of such a life-changing negative experience.

The other standard crime prevention strategies applicable to other crimes that are of more or less in degree should also apply to crimes against women. Streets should be adequately well-lighted, a community watch should be enforced among members of the community, liquor and drugs should be sold discriminately, and dissemination of information about respecting women and the consequences of crimes against them must be campaigned in schools and community events.

Conclusion

To this day, the memory of my childhood superheroes, Bionic Woman, Charlie’s Angels, and the whole of the Justice League, reside in a special corner in my mind and heart. They served as my references in discerning what is good or bad, became themes of my childhood play with childhood friends and their powers are justly distributed among the group, without one being better or worse than the other. As a woman aspiring to keep watch over the safety and security of women at Happy Valley, I envision myself as a super heroine in my own right. I should do my part in protecting my kind by being vigilant in anticipating whatever danger that lurks which aims to inflict pain.

References

Burgess, A. W., & Holmstrom, L. L. (1976). Coping behavior of the rape victim. American Journal of Psychiatry, 133, 413-418.

Coumarelos, C & Allen, J 1999, ‘Predicting women’s responses to violence: The 1996 Women’s Safety Survey, in Crime and Justice Bulletin. Contemporary Issues in Crime and Justice, No. 47, NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, Sydney, pp. 1-22.

Ehlers, A.,. Clark, D. M., Dunmore, Jaycox, L., Meadows, E. and Foa, E.B. (1998) “Predicting Response to Exposure Treatment in PTSD: The Role of Mental Defeat and Alienation.”, Journal of Traumatic Stress, Vol. 11, No. 3.

Foa, E. B., Steketee, G., & Rothbaum, B. O. (1989). Behavioral/cognitive conceptualizations of post-traumatic stress disorder. Behavior Therapy, 20, 155-176.

Foa, E. B., Zinbarg, R., & Rothbaum, B. O. (1992). Uncontrollability and unpredictability in post-traumatic stress disorder: An animal model. Psychological Bulletin, 112, 218-238.

Garner, C. & Moore, E. (2008) Crime Prevention and Young People, JST331 Module 3. Crime prevention case studies, Learning Materials Centre.

Graycar, A & Grabosky, P. (2002) ‘Trends in Australian crime and criminal justice’, in The Cambridge handbook of Australian criminology, eds A Graycar & P Grabosky, Cambridge University Press, Port Melbourne, pp. 7-26.

Homel, R (1999), ‘Domestic violence’, in Preventing violence: A review of the literature on violence and violence prevention, A report prepared for the Crime Prevention Division of the NSW Attorney General’s Department, Sydney, pp. 346‑381.

Mineka, S. (1985). Animal models of anxiety-based disorders. In A. H. Tuma & J. D. Maser (Eds.), Anxiety and the anxiety disorders (pp. 199-244).

Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum. Pease, K.,( 2002), ‘Crime reduction’, in The Oxford handbook of criminology, Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp. 947-979.

Van Dijk, J & De Waard, J. (1991), ‘A two-dimensional typology of crime prevention projects’, Criminal Justice Abstracts, 483.

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