Tag Archives: perpetrators

Rwanda Day 5b

[Sorry for the delay. Recovery and vacation time to Maine took precedence to posting more Rwanda entries.]

In my last entry I spoke of our exposure to prisoners at a local prison–all innocent in their own eyes, or at least deserving of being forgiven and released. All had been convicted by either a federal court or a Gacaca (local) court of genocidal activities.

In the afternoon we invited victims and perpetrators to our retreat house to interview them about their experiences. Jared, a diocese employee, our driver, and wise man brought two victims and one perpetrator to us (in the same car!). We sat under a tree and drank Fantas together, first with the victims and later with the perpetrator. Here’s what we learned:

Victims. We spoke with a woman and two men. The following quotes are through a translator.

The woman told us she was hidden by a Hutu (this is one of the few times we heard this!). She lost her husband and some children in the genocide.

I saw it with my own eyes. People killed people who knew each other. Some of the criminals now live in the community. We share life. Their homes are close. Some of the criminal’s children are seen by me. Their father killed my family. I have forgiven him because he confessed. It is a formula…confess, be forgiven, and live together. But do I forget? No. I see him (the killer) hang back and hesitate to ask for help. Rwanda is a country of sharing but he hesitates to ask. I have to be the one who makes more efforts to connect than he does.

Older man.

I thank God I am alive. It is a miracle. I didn’t expect to survive. There was no place to hide because no friend was left. So, I hid in churches, bushes, and rushes. It was terrible to see. I lost 170 people in my extended family. Remembering is the problem not economical. I knew those doing the killing. I survived by some miracle by moving around and going to another town where they didn’t know if I was a Hutu or a Tutsi….Afterwards, we had to live with those who committed the crimes and now we are trying to cover. Among those who killed, some confessed. They blame the government’s teaching and mobilization. But now they thank God we have a government that wants unity. So, we have to forgive to live together.

Younger man.

I was 11 when the genocide started. Some teachers came to our class and told us, “Tutsi, stand up.” They counted the number of each. I was in the thicket when the killers came. Some Hutus covered me up. When it was over my father was dead. My brother was killed and my sister too in Kigali. Our family was nine. Now we are three. In 2005 I finished school. I have been a judge in the Gacaca courts. It is good that I survived but now I am head of my family and I have to support my mother and my two married sisters (their husbands have to support their own families of origin). But I have no job. I hope to go to university some day.

What is it like to live in the same village with those known to have killed family members?

We are taught to forgive by government but then we see the criminals with their family. So it hurts. His family can achieve what we cannot because they have their whole family. I can’t provide for my family because I am a widow. I could if my husband was still here.

They can hurt you with their words even now. During the three months of memorial they can say things that shows they are proud of what they did.

Does it help to talk about it?

Yes and no. You have to be selective who you talk to. Some one might be happy or proud that I am hurting. I don’t tell it in public because it might be used by someone without good intentions.

How are you feeling about your country?

Today we should build Rwanda together by using Gacac courts to build trust. We try not to be aggressive. Unfortunately, some confess only to get absolution.

Finally, we interviewed a man who is a confessed killer. He is admitted to kill our female victim’s husband. (Remember they came in the same car from the same village. We thought was hard by the woman didn’t think anything of it! EVEN MORE AMAZING, we learned that this man also killed Jared, our translator’s father. Jared didn’t bat an eye when this was revealed to us!).

Since 1967 we learned who is Hutu and Tutsi in school. In 1990 the RPF (rebel Tutsis from Uganda who later became the government) it became worse. People said Tutsis were snakes and taught us this division. “Cut bushes” meant to cut Tutsis with a machete. For me, the genocide started 6 April 1994. When the president was killed I thought Tutsis killed him. They asked us to take revenge and killed the Tutsis. We started the same day. I killed different people. I remember each and every one. It lasted one week. Only a few survived. The RPF stopped us. I was exiled in Tanzania. We came back in 1996. I was arrested and imprisoned. In prison, they mobilized us to ask for forgiveness. I learned that I could be forgiven by God if I confessed. In prison, there were two parties–those who confessed and those who wouldn’t because they wanted to finish the job. Those who sincerely confessed had charges dropped. I was given only 9 years. But in prison, some (we learned later that some meant his own father) some tried to stop me and said the government was tricking us. Now, I’ve been here for 6 years with no problems.

What did you hear in prison?

Some confessed in order to get free. Some wanted to kill me for telling the truth. But I don’t care, I just want to tell the whole truth.

What helped you tell the truth?

The church taught me that you must confess the whole truth to the victim so you can be forgiven by God. Also, once you do this, you have to tell it many times to get it off your heart and to realize what you have done. Yet, it is difficult to come back and live with people whose relatives you killed.

What is the hardest thing for you to deal with?

I’m responsible for their pain. I have flashbacks. I hear them (the victims) crying in my memory.   


Filed under christian psychology, church and culture, Cultural Anthropology, deception, Repentance, Rwanda

Science Monday: Perpetrators have PTSD? New connections between attachment and PTSD

Unfortunately, many people experience violent or near death experiences. Some of those folks go on to have symptoms fitting the diagnosis of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): intrusive memories/flashbacks cause them to reexperience the event coupled with attempts to numb themselves in some way and yet still finding themselves in a heightened state of vigilance all of the time.

Since the Vietnam War, we’ve learned a lot about this set of problems. The primary forms of treatment touted now are controlled and imaginal exposure to the traumatic event(s) coupled with relaxation, distraction, and cognitive reframes. And we continue to learn about the presence of PTSD in violent family dynamics as mentioned last Monday (3/10/08).

But here are two articles pointing to somethings I hadn’t thought much about:

1. Perpetrators of violent crimes sometimes experience PTSD from their crimes. A group of English researchers did a study of 105 prisoners who had committed intentional violent crimes. 46% experienced distressing intrusive memories (one aspect of PTSD) and 6% met criteria for PTSD. The more antisocial the criminal before the crime, the less likely they would actually experience distressing intrusive memories. So, those who are most uncaring don’t really struggle with these problems. Here’s a question: should you try to help perpetrators with their distressing, intrusive memories? Does having them lead them to be less likely to re-victimize? Or do they make them more distressed, more hypervigilant and therefore more likely to attack?

Biblio: Evans et al. (2007). Intrusive memories in perpetrators of violent crimes: Emotions and cognitions. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 75, 134-144.  

2.  Why is it that attachment literature and adult PTSD from child abuse literatures have been separate? Stovall-McClough & Cloitre of NYU ask this very question and review the literatures from each area. Attachment literatures come out of developmental theories while PTSD research tends to be CBT based. But the two are quite connected. Consider the authors points:

  • “As many as 48-85% of survivors of childhood abuse show a lifetime prevalence of PTSD…”
  • “As many as 80% of maltreated children [are] classified as [having a disorganized attachment pattern]…”
  • “…the theoretical mechanisms underlying the expression of both PTSD and [attachment problems], although developed separately, are notably similar.” How so? Both see powerful events stored in the mind that shape one’s sense of self and the world. Powerful and negative events are avoided in an “effort to contain the intensity of emotions triggered by attachment injuries or traumatic events
  • “When traumatic events are kept locked away or otherwise chronically avoided, the result is often long-term struggles with PTSD symptoms and ongoing fragmentation of memory and fear-related belief systems.” 
  • Both unresolved attachment problems and PTSD lead to dissociative and intrusive self-focused thought patterns
  • Unresolved childhood attachment problems (as opposed to secure or dismissing attachment styles) may predict PTSD in adults
  • Avoidance strategies which help the individual manage distress from the abuse may, in fact, increase emotional distress and cognitive disorganization. This is sad in that those best able to divorce themselves from those early experiences (which may protect them as a child) may set themselves up for the most pervasive PTSD. I suspect that avoidance strategies hinder the person from being able to carefully evaluate themselves in a clear and helpful manner. Thus at a later point when they can no longer avoid, they have little sense of self to use to understand their place in the world.

Biblio: Stovall-McClough & Cloitre (2006). Unresolved attachment, PTSD, and dissociation in women with childhood abuse histories. Journal of Consulting Psychology, 74, 219-228.


Filed under Abuse, Anxiety, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder