SEX ASSAULT EXPERT TESTIFIES: Danny Masterson Trial, Day 15, morning break report
[This report was produced live during a court hearing with a lot going on. There will be typos. Please don't email us about typos that you find.]
Early morning session.
Sartorial splendor alert: Mr. Cohen has really tamped things down today, with a dark pinstriped suit, blue shirt and dark polka dot tie. Disappointing.
Bijou and Mackenzie Phillips are in the front row today. No Chynna yet.
Det. Vargas is here again. (He was in the gallery yesterday.) Are they putting him on today? We had heard it would be a DA investigator.
Carol Masterson has arrived, and so have Christopher, Jordan, and Alanna. Chris Wadhams is also here.
The jury is on time this morning. Deputy DA Mueller has gone out into the hallway to check with his witness.
The witness is Mindy Mechanic.
Mueller: Tell us your occupation.
By training a clinical and forensic psychologist.
And can you explain what that is?
(She goes into a long explanation of how clinical and forensic psychologists do assessments and work on legal cases.) My degree is in clinical psychology. I have received significant training in forensic psychology. Starting in school and in an clinical internship. (Got her first license in 1988.) Has had two academic jobs, U-Missouri St Louis, Center for Trauma Recovery. Did research there and teaching. Trained graduate students to do psychotherapy with trauma survivors. Ten years. Then also at Cal State Fullerton 2002-2019. Retired from teaching then so she could do forensic work exclusively. Goes through her CSUF highlights.
Are you currently employed with the university?
I have the title now of professor emeritus. An honorary title. She does her own practice, consultation with attorneys. Some academic work -- per review. Writing general articles, editing a large book.
So you're self-employed?
And in a specialized capacity?
For the last 30 years, all of my teaching and work focuses on trauma and victimization, particularly interpersonal violence.
What about your education in regard to that specific area of sexual assault victims?
Bachelors in psychology, Masters and PhD in clinical psychology.
Can you tell us more about your research?
I have almost 30 peer-reviewed publications in trauma victimization. (She explains what peer-reviewed means. She talks about a large study she was a part of and its methodology. She conducted face-to-face interviews with many trauma survivors.) I've done a lot of research in this area over time.
Have you yourself been a peer-reviewer?
Yes, ever since I was an advanced graduate student. For many different journals, maybe 10 or 15 over my career. (Etc.)
(Mueller asks her about conducting professional training, and she talks about training attorneys, military attorneys, law enforcement, etc.)
(Mueller asks about her being interviewed by the media. She goes through a basic list of her media appearances.)
(Mueller asks her about working with victims of sexual assault. She says from her undergraduate days she was working with victims. And she's done in-depth evaluations for both the plaintiffs and defense in cases.)
You've previously qualified to testify as an expert.
How many times have you testified?
(She says 72 times, and lists different kinds of courts, different states and countries.)
Has that been for both prosecution and defense in criminal matters?
It has been, yes.
Have there been times that you were retained but a case settled?
Have there been times when you have declined a request to testify.
It's various reasons. I try to stay in my lane as far as the subject. If there's a calendar conflict. But if there's something I think will help from either prosecution or defense I'll do it.
What about this case, what do you know about it?
Very little. (She says she tries purposely to be "naive" about the case and doesn't talk to anyone involved.) I live here and I don't live under a rock so I have heard a little about it.
Do you know the named victims at all?
Are you familiar with the defendant?
Are you familiar with the term or phrase "counter-intuitive victim response to sexual assault."
Sure. It's a helpful umbrella that was coined by prosecuting attorneys to apply to way that victims might or should act. And when we look at research, we find that people sometimes act in ways that counter to the way we think they might act. People will say, if that was me I would do X, Y, and Z. But we are terrible predicting how we would react to a traumatic event. We like to think we would be strong and fight someone off, but in reality it doesn't work that way.
What impact the relationship might have between a victim and an offender?
It is key, basically. When I approach cases, i always think about the nature of the relationship. Because it shapes how people react, and whether they react expected or unexpected. When assault happens between people who know each other, it's necessary to understand victim reactions through a relational lens than to a crime. People act differently than they would to a carjacking or a stranger assault than they would to someone they know and trust. The reactions are different to a stranger committing a crime. Victims to a sexual assault from strangers is much more similar to the way they would react to a carjacking or robbery than it would be a sex assault from someone they know.
Does the victim behavior, is there a difference if it's a casual relationship than long-term?
Some similarities and differences. The casual one is closer to the long term relationship reaction than to a stranger.
Mueller asks about multiple forms of abuse.
When there's multiple forms of abuse and not just the sexual assault it can increase the fear. But you have a lot more knowledge about what you can do to appease your partner, and you have more knowledge about what your partner is capable of doing. If someone has experienced assault in a relationship, it can lead them to be hypervigilant.
What can you tell us about the concept of resistance in a relationship.
This is a good example of counterintuitive. People expect that if you're sexually assaulted, you would fight back hard. But in other types of crime we teach people not to fight. Just give them the money, just give them the car. But in a sexual assault we expect the victim to fight. The woman is usually smaller, and it can be hard for her to fight without getting further injured. Research tell us that only about 20 percent of victims put up strenuous resistance, and they tend to be assaulted by a stranger. But by an large when the person knows the offender they are more likely to use passive resistance. Words like stop, no, wiggle away. But they don't fight back. And the least amount of resistance comes from women in a serious relationship. (She also says in relationship less chance of using things like tying up, weapons, and more using of words to force the victim.)
You mentioned size and strength differences. What about power differentials and a victim reaction.
I think it's easier for a person in that power differential for the victim to complying. That can also be true in a significant age difference. Power differential can be age, social power, one person having a lot of status. It can be on multiple dimensions. One person has a lot of resources. And the more powerful person will say, "No one is going to believe you."
Are you familiar with the concept of labeling when it comes to sexual assaults?
This idea of stranger danger, if you ask them what comes to mind when you think of sexual assault. Most people think of the guy jumping out of a bush with a weapon. But most aren't like that. The more discrepant your own experience from your script of what you think it looks like, the harder it is for you to put a label on it, that this was a crime, this was a rape. So only about 60 percent of women who go through something that meets the criminal definition of a sexual assault will label it that. Again because it's discrepant from the stranger danger idea. They will think of it in different ideas about it, that he took advantage of me, or maybe I was at fault. A lot of whitewashing ways so that you don't see the person you care about as a rapist and you don't see yourself as a victim. And if you don't call it a crime, you don't go to law enforcement. Maybe you'll call a therapist, but you don't call the cops. So if you label something a misunderstanding rather than a crime, it has implications for what you do going forward.
Is labeling different than an incident early in the relationship than over a long time.
It would probably depend on the particulars. But in a long-term relationship, that's when people have the hardest time labeling it as a sexual assault. The term might not work so well for non-marital situations, but we look at what women believe is their "wifely obligations." And if you are in a long term relationship with someone you love, you don't want to label them a rapist when you're invested in a relationship, or at least until you're ready to leave it.
Mueller asks about "Repeat contact."
If you were raped with a weapon and ski mask, you're not going to have a cocktail with him. Just like if you are robbed by a guy, you won't go out with them. We just don't have ongoing relationships with strangers who commit creime. But all bets are off when we're talking about assault in a relationship. In those contexts it's very different. When people experience some kind of sexual assault in a relationship, it's a betrayal, like infidelity. And like infidelity people will want to repair that relationship. So people go back for lots of different reasons to see if they can work this out, extract an apology, to have a relationship without coerced sex. There are many studies about this. (She refers to a large study that looks at rates of resuming a relationship after a sex assault, and continued sexual contact, and the rates of repeat contact were 30 to 70 percent.) We might think it's uncommon or strange that people remain socially or sexually involved with an assaulter, but it's not unusual at all. (She says there is a correlation though if it was more violent or more verbally coercive.)
And contact after a relationship ends, on social media?
Ending a relationship is a process, whether it involves assault or not. We have investments in relationships and we don't want to see that go to waste. We have a commingling of love, attachment, affection, with abuse and violence. It's love that keeps people stuck in an abusive relationship. When they are abusive, they become that way, they don't start out that way. There's always a honeymoon, courting phase at the beginning. So the guy who abuses them is not the real guy. The real guy is the man who charmed them at the beginning. Maybe he's struggling with money, or some other excuse. Maybe we could get back to that honeymoon place, maybe he could be that guy again. And in domestic violence literature, women leave and come back, leave and come back.
So studies show it's not unusual for a person in a relationship to still love that person after it's over?
I think it's the think that keeps people stuck in an abusive relationship -- I love him. (She refers to a study that she "really loves," that they tracked women who wrote diaries as they were going through abusive relationships.) The surprising result is that about 2/3 of the days they reported there was no abuse. The next most common was emotional abuse, that was on about 37 percent of days. Physical violence only on 9 percent. So you can see there is lot of time when it is abuse-free, and it reinforces in their minds that things can be good. Maybe I can get it to go away.
Did the studies indicate what was the emotional abuse?
I can tell you as researchers when we define abuse, we use four categories. Physical (pushing, slapping, strangling). Emotional is a very wide strategy: Belittling, calling names, making them feel worthless, gaslighting, restricting access to resources, withholding love, blaming them for things the abuser did, keeping them from friends or family, monitoring their phones, limiting who they can see, destroying their property. Third one is sexual coercion or sexual violence. Last one is stalking, harassment.
Does emotional have less impact than physical?
They can be different. Obviously physical may result in a physical injury. But emotional abuse is very potent. And women in abusive relationships, they will tell you that the physical abuse was better than the emotional abuse because emotional wore down their feelings about their place in the world. It can make you feel like you're nuts. It's hard to see it but it hurts. It contributes to depression.
What about concept of having a victim who's been suffering abuse for some period of time, and they just don't leave the relationship. Is there a concept about that?
Leaving is a process, not an event. It takes people a long while where they are no longer fueled by hope. They might think for a long time that their partner will get better. When that person gets to the point they no longer have hope, people also leave because they are afraid, that more harm may come to them. But it takes a lot of strength to leave, and it takes labeling it as abuse. When you finally think of him as an abuser, you can walk out the door.
When studies look at abuse, do they quantify it in some way? Like 24/7 abuse or less frequent and what effect that has?
Typically it is quantified except in studies that are qualitative. When you do quantify it, either by frequency or severity, there are some scales for measuring.
What are "appeasement strategies"?
There are strategies you develop to help you survive a situation. You will learn to say yes to things because to challenge them they might do things that are violent. The common denominator of the four types of abuse are all types of coercive control. So it is a dynamic of control.
Does it also apply if you have something happens on first date?
It's more rare for abuse to happen on an early date, but it could.
I'm referring to appeasement strategies.
Yes, people can arrive at that because of a prior abusive relationship or abusive upbringing. So they might bring that to the table with a new relationship.
What can you tell us with compliance and surrender to abuse?
You could agree to say yes in order to survive. If you feel like your efforts to resist have failed, what else is left. What's left is to comply or be further harmed. Like with other forms of crime -- give him the money, give him the car -- it can be a motivation just to comply until he gets it over with. If you don't comply the violence can escalate and you can be further harmed.
I want to get into reporting. Are there studies where a victim is reporting and may have given multiple statements over time and consistencies.
I can't really cite to studies but to knowledge about it. The first thing is that we expect when people give statements, they would be perfectly consistent over separate times, which is really ridiculous and has nothing to do with assault. It isn't really natural to expect that over time, and maybe to different interviews, that your account is going to remain exactly the same. It's important that the gist or the main details should remain the same, but the small details should not. In fact, if I see that someone has given multiple statements and the small details are all exactly the same, I suspect there might be a problem. (Goldstein objects as this answer goes on, and Judge Olmedo asks for the next question.)
No further questions.
Goldstein: I'd like to start with this prosecutor-invented term counter-intuitive victim behavior (Argumentative.) Who first came up with it?
I'm not sure, but the first time I saw it was a prosecutor association.
And it's not actually from a social science.
Just the label.
Now you have taken that label and you've presented on that topic many times.
I present on topics from the research.
And many time to prosecutors.
And to this DA's office sex crimes unit.
if a person has consensual sex then CIVB doesn't apply.
If a person lies about sexual assault, CIVB doesn't apply.
You have talked about research in this.
Studies in this area, they're based on self-reported information?
So the people who agree to do it provide the information themselves.
Most psychological research uses that.
And sometimes it uses a written questionnaire.
Some are. Some use face to face, phone interviews.
All of that information in this area is from those individuals.
There's no other way to do it, yes.
And there's no way to determine if those people are lying or being truthful.
And there's no reason to believe that people have motivation to give a false allegation like they would in a real life context.
And there's no effort made to determine truthfulness.
I don't think there's a way to do that in research.
Right, researchers don't investigate the truthfulness.
It's not possible.
And you have also done trauma therapy.
When you interview victims, it's not to interview the truth of those allegation.
It's to help them get better.
Any therapy, it's not to investigate but to help them.
It's not something you do to pick apart the truth.
Unless there's a video, there's no way to tell that.
In terms of physical resistance, the studies about whether someone resisted or not, those are based on self-reported info?
And there's no way to determine, whether the person was actually sexually assaulted.
It's self-reported, as we established.
Your expert opinion is based on that lack of checking for the truthfulness.
Research is based on self-reported information. that' what we rely on.
(Confusing back and forth when Goldstein is trying to get her to say that if a person resists it's proof or not of a rape, and Mechanic saying she has it backwards. Not clear which is the correlation that the research says.)
In your opinion, both behaviors (resist or not) are possible.
You said one behavior would be to use a verbal resistance.
Yes, it's a type of resistance.
There are people who don't use verbal resistance
It's possible, but many people use verbal resistance.
But it's possible they may not.
If a person has consesnsual sex, this idea of labeling does not apply.
You can label all kinds of things. You can label it consensual.
But the idea of labeling something sex assault only applies if they are a victim of sexual assault.
The studies about labeling are also about self-reporting data.
And those studies don't try to investigate the truthfulness of those replies.
It's not possible.
You said as high as 60 percent of victims are unable to label that as rape.
In your opinion if a woman is unable to call an assault rape that is one response.
It's a way to think of it cognitively.
Maybe a way to react.
There are women who are assaulted and are able to label it rape.
So labeling an experience an assault or being unable an assault, those are both possible reactions that a victim might have.
Post-assault contact: That very definition only applies if there has been a sexual assault.
So if we're talking about consensual sex, these labels are not helpful.
And these studies about post-contact are self-reported.
And they are telling you about their experiences.
It is common you said for post-contacts.
Not including stranger assaults.
So a person might continue to have contact or sex with a perpetrator.
If a person ceases all contact, that's another possible result.
Yes, everyone has different reaction.
And nuance is important in this?
I would say nuance is important in all intellectual endeavors.
If someone has contact after, or not contact, those are both things a rape victim might do.
Now you mentioned four studies in this area. And they all involved college students.
And all self-reported.
And these students got a grade?
That's pretty typical. There are credit points. That's how we get lots of participants.
They were given college credit?
No, not college credit, but in most psychology departments students are obligated to participate in a study. Sometimes there's extra credit.
Do you recall in the Solotsky study, students got a 1 percent credit.
Yes, in some studies they will get docked if they don't participate. And in some studies they might get paid a little. That's pretty standard.
In the Edwards study, students were give course credit.
Well, it's not credits on a transcript, it's credit in a class.
And these people doing the studies don't know if the students have lied.
They don't advertise it as a sexual assault study, and when they ask questions, they make sure they fit the criteria.
Is it fair to say when college students reported, you don’t know if they are telling the truth.
Yes, we don't put out truth detectors.
And in one study, it revealed that its because it's biggest shortcomings was about self-reported information being potentially untruthful.
We're obligated to list potential problems with a study, it's theoretical.
Now you spoke a bit about someone in a relationship having trouble labeling a sexual assault.
And in intimate partner sex assault, some women experience it and never tell anyone.
Is it fair to say that some women do tell people.
Yes, people make disclosures to friends.
So if a person is in a relationship and does not report, that's one outcome.
If a person reports it to everyone, that's one they might demonstrate.
An unlikely one, but yes.
You said it was a process to leave a relationship like this.
You said it can take a long time.
Are there also people who can identify it, label it, and leave.
And you said the more forceful it has been, the more likely somebody would be not to go back.
I don't think I said that.
When we're talking of physical force, if it's very forceful they won't go back.
No, I don't think I said that.
So what is your position on leaving.
People come and go, including in a body bag, and women return to very physically violent relationships.
So in fact people might leave or not leave depending on the violence in the relationship.
I think we've established that people are not cookie-cutter and there are many different ways that they might react to a situation.
Judge Olmedo: Time for our morning recess.
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