Playing the Sympathy Card

Last year I was approached by a woman at work. She was looking to take the training course needed to apply for a CCW license, but she was out of money. She knew that I ran a charity where I would offer the training for free to victims of violent crime, and she was sure that I would help.

She told me that she was embroiled in a very nasty divorce. Her husband was abusive, violent, out of control. She had eventually taken one beating too much, so she had packed up her kids and moved in to a house she was renting. Sure, the courts had issued a restraining order, but anyone in the self defense trade will tell you that those donít do much if the perp gets a belly full of beer and decides that they donít care if they go to jail. Arming yourself against trouble is the only way to stop it sometimes. Her oldest daughter was old enough to be legally considered an adult, so she wanted the training for both of them.

Alarm bells were going off in my mind as she sang me her song of woe. Iíve been doing this for a long time, and Iíve helped hundreds of people who were in trouble. The problem was that she just wasnít hitting the right notes.

Her tone was cheerful, even playful, as she ran through a list of her injuries and talked about the physical pain. She didnít change the beat or tempo as she talked about how afraid she had been for her children, and how she realized that her husband might raise his hand against the poor defenseless kids.

But what really got me was how smug she sounded when she talked about the restraining order and the actions the courts had taken to guard her safety. She was enjoying this way too much.

Iím a professional who is very supportive of my students. Itís important that they know about all of their options, so I mentioned that she could apply for a temporary concealed carry license without having to go through the training first. They last for 90 days, long enough for someone to arrange for and attend a regularly scheduled training class. The police reports she had filed with the police would certainly show a reasonable cause, and the process is designed so people in extreme circumstances can defend themselves ASAP.

Her situation seemed tailor made for the emergency CCW license, but she said that she wasnít interested when she realized that sheíd have to pay an extra $45 on top of the fee for her regular license. She and the kids might be in mortal danger from this scary and violent man, but she just didnít want to spend the extra money.

I was inspired to write down this story from the domestic front lines (and another one at my personal blog) when I read this post at The Volokh Conspiracy. Eugene has been investigating false rape reports, and he points out that a substantial number of the reports could very well be bogus even if only a fraction of women lie about it.

One of the frustrating aspects of trying to help those who are in trouble is the way that some people will try to game the system. Theyíll look for some way to use the power of the state to their advantage, the truth be damned. This wastes resources that could be used by someone who really needs the help.

There are some people who will claim that women never lie about crime, or that itís only a very small percentage. I canít weigh in with any certainty about that but I can attest that it happens, and in surprising numbers depending on the circumstances. For example, there seems to be a significant number of women who only claim physical abuse while going through a divorce, like my co-worker. I find it difficult to understand why the violence didnít prompt them to call the police a few times before they decided to end the marriage. (But I also find it difficult to understand why people stay in abusive relationships. Iím just a puzzled guy.)

Iím very interested to see Eugeneís conclusions. This is an issue that should have been studied a long time ago.

(Hat tip to Glenn.)

2 thoughts on “Playing the Sympathy Card”

  1. Not only do false reports waste resources, the mis-information gums up the systems. It may prevent civil servants from better understanding and helping real victims.

  2. Good catch. I was once brought in, sub rosa, to interview a woman seeking training for CCW. My fellow instructor had had all her bells go off chatting with the woman, and I concurred; we declined to teach her.

    The ugly story is from a friend who taught a woman to shoot. Lots of lessons. The woman then summoned her ex-to-be to pick up his stuff at their house. He was nervous, and asked for an officer to be present. The woman insisted the officer stay outside, as he distressed her. As the officer waited obediently at the curb, in the house she shot her husband, killing him. In the aftermath of the shooting, she was ‘upset,’ and refused food, and this evoked the sympathy (my term) or realism of the DA’s office, who declined even to try for a first degree conviction.

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