Tuesday, March 13, 2012

You Are Not Defenceless

I'll aim these comments at females, but they are equally applicable to males.

The first thing I would do if conducting a women's self defence course would be to ask the participants, who among them felt they are defenceless. Many may as they have enrolled in a self defence class to gain defensive capabilities. The first thing I would tell the participants is that they are not defenceless. If they were, they would never have been born.

Nature provides humans with a pretty effective defence system. It's pretty effective because we are here. Those that possessed this evolved defence system survived and reproduced passing those traits down to successive generations. Those that did not possess this evolved defence system were defenceless and died, thereby not being afforded the opportunity of passing their defenceless traits down to successive generations.

If you want to see how effective our evolved defensive mechanism is, just read the following newspaper article of a woman's fight for survival. I'll provide certain comments that arise from my work on Beyond Fight or Flight, and it can be seen that the previous blog informs this article.
Perth mother struggled through tears today describing her desperate fight for survival as her estranged husband repeatedly stabbed her and the moment her three-year-old son witnessed the attack.

Lisa Ann Petrelis, 38, is giving evidence at the Supreme Court trial of her husband and father of her two sons, Alexander Nicholas Petrelis, who is fighting an attempted murder charge.

Mr Petrelis, 38, pleaded guilty to causing grievous bodily harm but the prosecution rejected that offer.
Why GBH and not attempted manslaughter? Is there such a thing as attempted manslaughter in WA? I'm always amused at the reduced sentence for attempted homicide. Even though a person had the intention of killing another person, they are rewarded with a lesser sentence because they were incompetent and did not achieve their objective. To my mind, if a person intends to kill another person, and trys to kill that person, it's one and the same if they succeed or fail. You can see the same oddity in many other crimes. Attempted sexual assault - a person gets a lesser sentence because they were rubbish at sexual assault.
Mrs Petrelis said her husband had tapped on her bedroom window at her Karrinyup home at around 11pm on December 5, 2010. She said when she let him in he was talking in a stressed tone, was breathing heavily and told her he had cancer and felt sick.

Mrs Petrelis said her husband eventually asked to be let out and when she walked towards him he suddenly lunged at her, started hitting her and backed her into a corner.

She said she was screaming at him to stop and telling him he would wake their two sons, but it took her a while to realise she was being stabbed as well with her own carving knife that she left on the kitchen sink after making herself a chicken sandwich earlier in the night.

Mrs Petrelis estimated she was hit or stabbed 50 to 60 times during the initial attack.

"I ended up screaming I’m being stabbed, I’m being stabbed ... but being stabbed didn’t hurt, I guess the adrenalin was going through. Somewhere in there I knew I had been stabbed," she told the jury.
Here we see the effects of the evolved physiological response associated with fear - hormones being released which result in increased pain tolerance. This evolved response is designed so that injury does not interfere with our efforts to flee or fight. Serious injuries did not interfere with Mrs Petrelis' fight for survival.
Mrs Petrelis said after slipping on her own blood, she ran to get her mobile phone but her husband chased her into her bedroom where he continued the attack. She said after hitting her in the head while on top of her on the bed, they ended up on the floor where he put her in a headlock and his arm was constricting her windpipe.
As will be seen below, there was considerable amount of blood letting. The evolved physiological response associated with fear is to shunt blood away from the periphery to the muscles that need it to flee. This reported experience has intrigued me to look further into the effects on blood flow when our defensive mechanism has been activated.
"My son (Nicholas) was watching, he turned the light on," she said.

"I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t scream, I couldn’t do anything. I was about to pass out.

"Nicholas was screaming mummy, mummy, mummy, stop daddy stop. Amongst it all, Alex turned around and told Nicholas go back to your room in the most calmest, monotone voice and then continued to belt me."
Recall the division of aggression into emotional aggression and instrumental aggression. The calm, monotone voice suggests instrumental aggression. This may have legal implications and physiological implications for Mr Petrelis.

This incident reminds me of the advice provided in the women's self defence course developed by Debbie Clarke. The women were advised to instruct their children to not come to mummy's aid if they heard her screaming, but instead to run next door for help. You don't want your defenceless children - and they are defenceless which is the reason they remain with their parents far longer than offspring of any other species - to come running into the middle of a violent situation. Debbie had an ingenious and multi-use method of instilling this behaviour in the children without scaring the bejesus out of them. She advised that fire drills be taught at home (isn't it interesting that we conduct fire drills at work, but not with the ones we are suppose to love) and that the children be taught to get out of the house and go for help. Many children die in household fires attempting to find their parents. A screaming mummy is the same as a fire; don't come to mummy's aid, get out of the house and get help.
Mrs Petrelis said in a desperate final attempt to free herself she put her hand down her husband’s pants and pulled hard on his genitals and bit his finger hard.
An evolved defensive behavioural response. Nature was fighting hard to help Mrs Petrelis survive.
She said after he released her he came at her again and she pulled him over her shoulder as they fell into the bathroom where he hit his head against a wall.

Mrs Petrelis said this was her only chance to escape and she knew her husband wouldn’t hurt her son, so she left him in the house and ran for her life outside screaming out into the street. She said she saw her husband run away in the other direction.
If the husband was engaged in instrumental violence, no emotions would have been activated. No emotions activated, no hormones released which increase pain tolerance. Would the husband have felt the pain associated with the pulling on his genitals and biting of his finger if he was in a rage?

The striking, biting, and genital pulling did not provide Mrs Petrelis with an opportunity to flee, but the husband hitting his head when he fell did. Is this suggestive of an increased focus on takedown techniques being taught as women's self defence techniques?
The jury has been told that Mrs Petrelis was stabbed up to 25 times, including two potentially fatal wounds which punctured a lung and perforated her bowel.

Yesterday at the start of her evidence, Mrs Petrelis told the jury how her five-year marriage had disintegrated to the point where she took out a violence restraining order against her husband in November 2010.

But she said she allowed him to breach the order by making contact with her and visiting the house because she was scared he would become aggressive if she refused.

Mrs Petrelis said her husband had made verbal threats against her in the months before the stabbing attack, including telling her "you better sleep with your eyes open tonight" and "you better not use a pillow because I’ll smother you with it."
Don't judge. Domestic abuse is a complicated issue. Maybe the electronic tagging of VRO recipients being considered (see previous blog) may have given Mrs Petrelis the confidence to refuse the husband's request to visit the house. We have to remember, while we talk about the protection afforded by the law, and enforced by law enforcement, these women more often than not have to deal with these issues alone. The law can apprehend and punish, it struggles with prevention.
Mr Petrelis is arguing he never intended to kill his wife.

His lawyer Tom Percy said his client admitted being responsible for his wife’s life-threatening injuries, but was high on amphetamines at the time.

Mr Percy described his client’s actions as a "savage and frenzied attack" which was "born out of anger, frustration and disappointment".
I won't even go near the diminished capacity defence due to being under the influence of drugs as I'm aware it is a controversial issue. The last statement is interesting in terms of emotive violence vs instrumental violence. Was Mr Petrelis experiencing an emotion (anger) at the time of the attack, or was it emotionless? It may have been 'born' of anger, but was that emotion being experienced during the attack. An emotion fueled act lends itself to manslaughter as the law recognises that our emotions are designed to not be easily overridden by cognition.
Photographs taken inside the Karrinyup home shown to the jury reveal blood splatters on several walls and a big pool of blood on Mrs Petrelis’ bed.

Mrs Petrelis said she was in hospital for nearly two weeks, some of her bruising took close to three months to subside and she wore an arm brace after stab wounds, one of which went straight through her upper arm, severed tendons to three fingers.
You'll notice there is no mention of the word 'victim' to describe Mrs Petrelis. She is no victim; she is a survivor; she is a fighter. Kudos Mrs Petrelis. Kudos Mother Nature.

Do you think Mrs Petrelis' experience acts as a source of support, or even inspiration? We can fight. We can survive. Even against great odds.

Aside from her physical wounds, Mrs Petrelis and her son will need to be aware of the potential for post traumatic stress. Our evolved defensive mechanism kicking in after the danger has pasted. Good luck Mrs Petrelis.

1 comment:

  1. I'm glad she survived. Her biggest mistake was letting him over the threshold (I bet her instincts were screaming at her not to do that) and her biggest stroke of luck was him hitting his head on the wall. We should never ignore our natural survival instincts but we shouldn't rely on luck to help us out either.

    I'm always concerned that training may cause me to over ride my natural instincts as cognition gets in the way. I think natural instincts should be our first port of call in a conflict...


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