Hate and Self-Hate

About a month ago, news outlets reported on a truly horrific crime. Charlie Rogers, a former women’s basketball star with the University of Nebraska, told police that three masked men entered her home, tied her up, and carved anti-gay slurs into her skin.

I didn’t say anything about it then. Neither did other LGBT bloggers, like AmericaBlog's John Aravosis, who wrote, “It smelled funny to me.” Sure enough, it now appears that she faked the attack. From USA Today:

According to police, Rogers said three masked men broke into her home, and that one of them pinned her down while another sliced a cross into her chest, cut the front of her thighs and shins and carved derogatory words in her arms and abdomen. She said they then rolled her onto her stomach and cut her buttocks, the back of her thighs and the back of her right calf. She also said they tried to burn down her house….

… police found a pile of clothes, white knit gloves and a red box cutter on the living room floor after the alleged attack. Rogers said the gloves didn't belong to her, but investigators determined that a lot of the DNA found inside the glove was Rogers' and that none of it came from a male.

Peschong said investigators discovered that Rogers deleted numerous text messages she had sent the evening of the alleged attack, and that she bought cotton gloves, a box cutter and zip ties from an Ace Hardware Store in Lincoln on July 17. All of the items were later found in her house, he said. When confronted about the evidence weeks later, he said, Rogers admitted to purchasing all of the items except the gloves.

She also sent a photo of a cross-shaped cut on her chest to a friend a few days before the reported attack, Peschong said.

Investigators say they found no apparent sign of a struggle in the living room where Rogers said she was attacked, and no blood on the sheets where the cutting allegedly took place. An FBI forensic pathologist concluded that Rogers either cut herself, or allowed someone else to do it.

When someone accuses anonymous assailants of carving hate language onto their skin, I just don’t believe it any more. Yes, I know that there are serious and horrifying bias attacks of all kinds (for instance, Sikh Temple shooting, Trayvon Martin, Charlie Howard, spraypainting Jewish graves, et al.) But over my lifetime, I’ve noticed that attacks of this particular type—in which hateful words or messages are smeared, painted, or carved on the skin—turn out to be instances of self-mutilation or self-abuse. Some of you remember Tawana Brawley, who emerged from a dumpster smeared in dog feces. Think of that McCain volunteer in 2008 who accused an anonymous black man of carving a “B” (for Barack) into her cheek (it was carved backwards, as if done in a mirror).

There have been others, but I can only think of women who have made these particular types of false allegations; I don’t see the same details—allegations of smearing, painting, or carving on skin—in false-hate-crime allegations from men, which typically involve general bruising, scrapes, or burns that they’ve incurred accidentally and then tried to blame on a hater.

I know some LGBT folks are angry about Charlie Rogers’ appalling stunt, which will surely bring on sneering from some anti-gay forces. Karen Ocamb, for instance, wrote:

If this does turn out to be a staged lie – Rogers owes a caring nation a huge apology and the LGBT community a thorough explanation for why she would jeopardize and undermine public support for antigay hate crimes by pulling this selfish stunt.

But I just feel deeply, deeply sad for her and for other such women. They must have horrifying inner lives if they are self-mutilators who aim for such an extreme level of public attention. Here’s what I found when I searched for self-mutilators:

In clinical populations, self-injury is strongly linked to childhood abuse, especially childhood sexual abuse (Brodsky, Cloitre, & Dulit, 1995; Kolk, Perry, & Herman, 1991). In addition, there is evidence that earlier, more severe abuse and abuse by a family member may lead to greater dissociation and thus greater self-injury (Brodsky et al., 1995). Self-injury is also linked to eating disorders, substance abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder, borderline personality disorder, depression, and anxiety disorders (see Yates, 2004, for review).

Of course, most cutters do not turn their self-hatred into a public exhibition. It's a rare person who takes it this far. I've started looking into the academic literature and have sent out some queries, but haven't yet found anyone who has done research on the peculiar intersection between self-harm and fabricated hate-crime allegations. Since this is August—sacred vacation time for many academics—it could easily take weeks or months before I find the right researcher. I'll report when I do. 

Meanwhile, here's my own intuition: Carving hateful words about yourself into your own body—and then showing them to the world—is putting your self-hatred on display for all the world to see. Something terrible had to happen to a person who does this. That just makes me grieve.

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