Friday, March 21, 2008

Sally Kern: Verbal Abuse is Violent Assault

Oklahoma Republican legislator Sally Kern was recently given a standing ovation by members of her party (who else?) for malicious, abusive, and false characterizations of gays and lesbians captured recently on YouTube.

For many years, LGBT people have suffered torrents of verbal abuse orchestrated, manufactured, and distributed by far-Right Republican Christianists as part of their war on traditional American constitutional values. That would be equality, liberty, and justice for all.

Kern's comments are typical if considerably milder than many of these rabid propaganda pieces. They include wholly fabricated (made-up) accusations, comparisons, and descriptions of LGBT people that bear no relationship to long-established facts.

It's important for Americans committed to common decency, honesty, integrity in public officials especially, and basic constitutional values to oppose these assaults with everything we've got. It's extremely important for real Christians--those for whom Jesus counts for more than Leviticus--to do so. It's also time for clinical psychologists, psychiatrists, and others to take up the cause as well, and to do so in a new way.

Study after study shows that sustained verbal abuse causes significant long-term damage and can be more traumatizing than a severe physical assault. It is an established fact that verbal abuse is violent assault. It's time to treat it accordingly. We can call it "hate speech," which it is, but it might be more effective to call it violent assault and equate it to battery and, when it occurs in the home, to domestic violence and child abuse, which is is.

As anyone knows who has experienced it, verbal abuse, especially of children and teens, has lasting, horrific consequences. Frequently it leads to serious personality disorders. Here's the abstract of just one such study:

"Childhood verbal abuse and risk for personality disorders during adolescence and early adulthood" Comprehensive Psychiatry, Volume 42, Issue 1, January 2001, Pages 16-23. Jeffrey G. Johnson, Patricia Cohen, Elizabeth M. Smailes, Andrew E. Skodol, Jocelyn Brown ....

Abstract: Data from a community-based longitudinal study were used to investigate whether childhood verbal abuse increases risk for personality disorders (PDs) during adolescence and early adulthood. Psychiatric and psychosocial interviews were administered to a representative community sample of 793 mothers and their offspring from two New York State counties in 1975, 1983, 1985 to 1986, and 1991 to 1993, when the mean ages of the offspring were 5, 14, 16, and 22 years, respectively. Data regarding childhood abuse and neglect were obtained from the psychosocial interviews and from official New York State records. Offspring who experienced maternal verbal abuse during childhood were more than three times as likely as those who did not experience verbal abuse to have borderline, narcissistic, obsessive-compulsive, and paranoid PDs during adolescence or early adulthood. These associations remained significant after offspring temperament, childhood physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, physical punishment during childhood, parental education, parental psychopathology, and co-occurring psychiatric disorders were controlled statistically. In addition, youths who experienced childhood verbal abuse had elevated borderline, narcissistic, paranoid, schizoid, and schizotypal PD symptom levels during adolescence and early adulthood after the covariates were accounted for. These findings suggest that childhood verbal abuse may contribute to the development of some types of PDs, independent of offspring temperament, childhood physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, physical punishment during childhood, parental education, parental psychopathology, and co-occurring psychiatric disorders.

People who suffer sustained verbal abuse -- and the Republican Christianist anti-gay campaign of the last 30 years is nothing if not sustained verbal abuse -- often experience such low self esteem that they attempt suicide. The rate of suicide among LGBT teens has been estimated to be 3 times as high as that among their straight counterparts, and that's relatively old data. Suicide, moreover, takes many forms. It isn't necessarily achieved in one lethal act. It can manifest as sexual promiscuity and substance abuse, among other things: that is, acts of self-sabotage whose physical consequences can take time to show up.

In other words, verbal abusers are not just violent batterers. They can also be murderers.

I doubt any studies show the socio-economic consequences of these tragedies, but anyone with common sense knows that a depressed or addicted or disordered employee is less than an optimally productive one.

This means that stopping gratuitous verbal violence ought to be on the agenda of America's CEOs as well.

Verbal batterers like Kern aren't just bad for LGBT people. They are bad for all of us. It's time we stop them.