Russell Williams was a colonel in the Canadian Forces, a pilot who flew dignitaries including Queen Elizabeth II, and commander of the largest airbase in Canada. That is, until he was arrested for breaking into women’s homes and stealing their underwear, sexual assault and murdering two young women.
Lovefraud has written about Williams before: For Halloween: A real monster who liked to dress up.
The question, of course, is how did such a predator achieve the rank of colonel? Should he have been flagged along the way? How was it that Williams received nothing but stellar reviews, and turned out to be a murderer?
The Canadian Forces, stunned by what happened, launched an inquiry into how candidates are selected for senior command positions. Could enhanced psychological testing have revealed Williams’ true nature? Here’s what Macleans reported:
The answer, sadly, is no. Among hundreds of pages of internal military documents, obtained by Maclean’s under the Access to Information Act, is a draft version of that review. It confirms what leading experts have long maintained: there is no off-the-shelf exam that employers, armed forces or otherwise, can use to detect sociopathic killers. “Given the recent events in CFB Trenton, it is natural for the CF to question whether or not the organization could have identified a sexual sadist or predicted that an individual would become a serial sexual murderer,” the report says. But that “would be unrealistic to expect.”
Read There’s no way to spot another Russell Williams on Yahoo.com.
It’s probably true that no one could have spotted Williams. His case, however, is highly unusual. As I wrote in Sudden psychopath: The horrifying yet strange case of Col. Russell Williams, this case is unique in that Williams showed no signs of disorder before he suddenly became a sexual pervert and predator. Unlike most sociopaths, he didn’t have a history of lying, cheating and abusing. That’s why his case is so weird.
Judged by behavior
Although I don’t know much about the various psychological tests that are available, I doubt that any self-report inventory, where the subject answers questions about himself or herself, would work. After all, sociopaths lie. They lie about everything, so of course they’re going to lie on a personality test. Even if the test is designed to spot inconsistencies, how would anyone know which part is true?
To diagnose sociopaths, you need to know about their behavior. Most sociopaths leave a lifelong trail of destruction, ranging from overt crime to subtle emotional and psychological abuse. Dr. Robert Hare developed the Psychopathy Checklist Revised (PCL-R), and it has become the gold standard for diagnosing psychopaths (the term he uses). The PCL-R has two parts—a semi-structured interview, and a “file review.” This means that the individual’s criminal and psychological records are included in the evaluation. In other words, the psychopaths are identified by their behavior, not by their answers on a test.
The Gift of Fear
We, of course, don’t want to experience a sociopath’s behavior. We want to avoid them, so they don’t have an opportunity to inflict any damage of any kind. Can we do it?
I believe the answer is yes. The way to avoid a sociopath is to listen to our intuition.
Several people on Lovefraud have posted about a book called The Gift of Fear, by Gavin de Becker. Oprah Winfrey called de Becker the nation’s leading expert on violent behavior, and his company helps hundreds of people, including celebrities, stay away from stalkers and other predators.
De Becker’s whole point in The Gift of Fear is this: Your intuition will tell you about danger. Listen to it.
I can back this assertion up with data. In the Lovefraud Romantic Partner Survey, conducted earlier this year, I asked the following question: “In the beginning of the involvement, did you have a gut feeling or intuition that something wasn’t right about the person or the relationship?”
Seventy-one percent of respondents said yes. Let me repeat that: 71% of people who became involved with sociopaths knew early on that something was wrong. Unfortunately, most of them stayed in the relationship anyway.
Trust your intuition
I think it’s unlikely that an accurate paper-and-pencil test for spotting sociopaths will ever be developed. However, we all have a built-in early warning system. The system isn’t designed to identify sociopaths in an abstract sense; it’s designed to warn us when we are in the presence of danger.
Here are the three steps to protecting yourself from sociopaths:
- Know that sociopaths exist.
- Know the warning signs of sociopathic behavior.
- Trust your intuition.
The key is to pay attention to the warning signals that we receive. But often we don’t. We doubt ourselves. We give the person another chance. We wait for hard evidence. In the end, we are damaged and filled with regrets.
Would listening to their intuition have saved Russell Williams’ victims? We’ll never know. But Gavin de Becker did relate a story about a woman who was assaulted in her apartment. The assailant told her to be quiet, promised he wouldn’t hurt her, and left the room. The woman, filled with fear, didn’t listen to him. She listened to her intuition and slipped away. The guy returned with a kitchen knife, intending to kill her. But she was gone.