Like many things that enter common parlance and capture our imagination, the term Gaslighting has its origin in literature. It refers to the 1938 Patrick Hamilton play Gaslight and its film adaptations. The 1944 version directed by George Cukor, and starring Ingrid Bergman, Charles Boyer, Joseph Cotten, and Angela Lansbury, being the most well known today.
According to Wikipedia, “Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation that seeks to sow seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or in members of a targeted group, making them question their own memory, perception, and sanity. Using persistent denial, misdirection, contradiction, and lying, it attempts to destabilize the victim and delegitimize the victim's belief.”
It is also often a powerful tool used against victims of sexual violence to help ensure their silence or to discredit their testimony. Like other talented artists, Hamilton was describing a behavior; he didn’t create Gaslighting. His writing articulated a human behavior long at play and gave us a way to name it. In fact he described it so well, the term is now used in clinical literature and political commentary.
Writers and other artists give us insights into our humanity and human behavior in ways we need to keep in mind. In this divisive political climate and at a time when the #MeToo movement is pushing against entrenched behaviors rooted in the abuse of power, we would be wise to listen to the artists. There we will find hope for thoughtful and powerful responses. There we will find a path to our truths.
And we will find our truths in truth. In light of the recent responses to the Brett Kavanaugh hearings on his Supreme Court nomination, you would think that the case of false rape allegations was skyrocketing. Of course, any false accusing is terrible, but the truth is that they are 5.55 percent of all cases—read this article from Vox. Further, according to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network Report, only 310 out of 1,000 sexual assaults are reported, only 57 of those reports lead to arrest, only 11 cases are referred to a prosecutor, only 7 cases lead to a felony conviction, and of the original 1,000, rapists, only 6 will be incarcerated. In those cases where victims report rape how are they treated? Might the term Gaslighting come to mind? In states all across the country (New York City, Houston, Detroit, Los Angeles, and Memphis to name a few) there are backlogs of unprocessed rape kits numbering in thousands and dating back decades—read more in this article from the Washington Post. That’s a lot of lives in tatters.
Let’s all keep working toward a world of fairness and humanity,