Adding emotional insult to her list of significant physical injuries, Vancouver acid assault victim Bethany Storro (28) is now being accused, by some, of possible throwing (or dabbing) acid in/on her own face and reporting that she had been attacked by an unknown black female. What, many would ask, could have provided the needed emotion and psychological resolve to allow a young woman to throw acid in her own face and then, as mother of two Susan Smith did in 1994, suggest the offender was someone from another racial group?
The reasons that some suggest that Storro made up the entire event for reasons known only to her include the following:
- There is an unsubstantiated report that Storro had recently claimed that she had been the victim of a “similar, earlier attack by another woman in another state.” (Note that Storro had recently moved to Vancouver from Priest River, Idaho, where the police had no record of any such crime involving Storro.)
- The unidentified assailant apparently selected the victim at random, saying “Hey pretty girl, do you want something to drink?” This occurred as she exited her car at a local coffee shop. (Why would someone wait at this location to assault a random victim and why wasn’t the assailant seen lingering at this location by anyone as she awaited a potential victim, doing this only one time across the entire city?)
- A local Vancouver newspaper reporter identified witnesses among the local homeless population who said they witnessed Storro drop to the ground at the time of her alleged attack and stated she was “clearly alone” at the time of the alleged attack. (Note that some could question the credibility of these street witnesses as they, for example, could be protecting one of their own or simply want to take the “heat” off of the local homeless as potential assailants…)
- The police department and other investigators assigned to the case have not been able to identify any surveillance tapes of value or any other information to support the victim’s account of the attack or to help identify her alleged assailant. (Note that the mere absence of information does not, of course, negate the possibility that the event actually happened.)
- The victim, who was wearing sunglasses at dusk, nevertheless provided an exceptionally detailed description of her alleged assailant, to include noting that the attacker had three ear piercings in the top of her right ear. (Note that while some suggest that her description was obtained in a quick, early evening visual snapshot seen by the victim, such could be her unique remembrance, even though she was not accustomed to wearing sunglasses.)
- If acid was thrown from some distance away at her face, why did she not also sustain injuries to the neck, lips and mouth areas of her body? (Perhaps just the way she was standing when "hit.")
- The victim and her parents agreed to, and then canceled an appearance this week on Oprah. (Note the victim said she canceled her appearance as “the show was going to possibly turn into another direction, so my family and I decided not to go on.” (Fair enough, though many would like a better definition of “another direction,” but again, that’s her choice.)
She was starting a new life
Storro married Travis Storro shortly after meeting him in a small Idaho Church. Six years later they were divorced, allegedly a mutually agreeable end to a marriage that just wasn’t working. They had no children and Travis has visited the victim since her attack. Storro moved back to her parent’s home area of Vancouver where she recently obtained a job and started to begin her life anew as a single woman. Now she is recovering from an extremely rare acid attack, especially one done as an untargeted, random attack.
Do people actually fake their own assaults?
As a former FBI Agent once assigned to the Bureau’s Behavioral Analysis Unit, I know that many victims have, over the years, been victims of their own intentional actions. I remember a bank officer who faked her own kidnapping to get the attention of her estranged boyfriend, who was also a cop. She managed to bind herself with duct tape to further her fraudulent story. I remember another younger woman who also faked her own kidnapping, going so far as to cut her breasts (avoiding the areola) to support what would be later identified as a false report. Another victim, in this case a bank teller, sent threatening communications to herself so that she could be assigned to a branch bank closer to residence. We have also seen college students fake their own kidnapping and assaults, in one recent case to cover the fact that she had not attended college for two years and would not, as she had told family and friends, actually graduate. Many remember Jennifer Wilbanks, the so-called “runaway Bride,” who faked her own kidnapping to avoid marriage. And then there was what for some the mother of all faked stories, that of Tawana Brawley (now known as Mayam Muhammad).
In 1987 Brawley, then 15, was found in a trash bag with feces smeared over her, her clothes torn and burned, and vicious racial epithets written on her body. She, supported by the Rev. Al Sharpton and others, claimed she had been assaulted and raped by six white men, some of them police officers. After near race riots, it was determined that Brawley had fabricated her entire story. Sharpton, who had helped to accuse a local white prosecutor of being one of Brawley’s alleged assailants, and who was later a presidential candidate, was sued for slander and defamation. He never personally paid his share of the $345,000 damages awarded to the libeled men. But what, many asked, could have been the motive for someone so young as Brawley to commit such a terrible act, on herself?
It has been speculated that Brawley did these acts to herself to avoid violent punishment from her mother and stepfather, this for skipping school to be with her boyfriend. Others have suggested that her mother and stepfather had knowingly participated in the hoax for their own financial purposes, but how frightened of her parents and their wrath must the young woman have been to tell such lies and to allow herself such degradation?
The why’s of False Allegations and acts of Self-Harm
Some attribute such false reports, false allegations and reports of fictitious attacks on one’s self to a Histrionic Personality Disorder. In such cases a person exhibits a pattern of excessive emotionality and attention-seeking, including an inordinate need for approval accompanied with inappropriate seductiveness. Such individuals, usually more often female than male, are lively, dramatic, enthusiastic and sexually provocative and flirtatious. Such a person is usually egocentric, self-indulgent and longs for appreciation and attention and will manipulate others and their own current situation to provide the personal attention they so crave. While some may seek attention by living on the edge, making outrageous statements and, perhaps, crashing high profile parties to be seen with the rich and famous, others may find creative ways to gain attention that could place them in true peril. The once called “hysterical personality” may see a person making rash decisions as they place themselves in risky situations that will allow them to become the center of attention.
In the case of Bethany Storro, it is still hard to imagine that she would buy sunglasses to protect her own eyes from the acid she would throw in her own face, for what ultimate purpose? While the phrase allegedly uttered by Storro’s believed assailant, “Hey pretty girl,” could, perhaps, be self serving in nature, most know the value that all people, and especially women place in their facial appearance. If this were not the case, we would not be spending over $50 billion yearly in the U.S. alone for beauty products. This is why FBI profilers question when a woman is reported to have committed suicide by shooting herself in the face with a shotgun, although I personally know of at least one such case that struck friends of mine. But if we consider the probable and not the possible, most women would not attack their own face, especially via an acid attack where the final outcome could not be accurately measured like the woman who cut her own breasts but carefully avoided the even more sensitive area of her body part.
There is no published history of this type of personality disorder with Storro, and while some believe that self-harm is a form of attention-seeking behavior, studies have found that such is usually not the case. True “self-harmers” will usually try to hide the evidence (usually cuttings) of such behavior, this while using it as a coping mechanism to relieve their overwhelming emotional pain, anxiety, stress, self-loathing and severe depression. One study in the United Kingdom, however, found only two motives for self-harm: anger and as a means to draw attention to oneself, but the same study allowed for incidents of self-harm to be an extreme form of the manipulation of others. Self-harm is experienced by up to four times as many women as men, and is highest among females in the 13-24 year age group and males in the 12-34 year age group, with an astonishing 10 % to 32% of U.S. undergraduates in one study acknowledging having engaged in some form of self-harm.
So should we accept that a statistically significant portion of any population is capable of harming themselves for any number of reasons, this ranging from the desire to escape from feelings of emptiness, numbness and depression to influencing the behavior of others while , perhaps, gaining attention, we then must accept that some individuals could be capable of extreme forms of self-harm, again for reasons ultimately known only to themselves. These could be acts that most others would consider to be so self-destructive that few would believe themselves capable of doing; therefore we believe few others would be so capable.
Investigation will continue in the case of the two recent U.S. acid attack victims, investigations that will hopefully identify the person or persons responsible for these two deplorable attacks on otherwise innocent women going about their daily activities. Some believe the attack on Storro to have been random in nature, perhaps perpetrated by someone under the influence of drugs, or someone mentally disturbed, or perhaps some terrible rite of passage for membership into a street gang. Others believe the attack on the 41-year-old recently divorced mother of five in Mesa, Arizona was a targeted assault, one committed by yet another woman, but one who lay in wait at the victim’s residence to, as this victim stated, make her, by means of the effects of acid on her face, be undesirable to others.
While such attacks are, unbelievably, somewhat common in the Middle East and in Eastern Asia, they are, fortunately, extremely rare in America. The Arizona attack appears to law enforcement to be a copy cat attack, one based upon the reported attack on Storro just a few days before. And the attack on Bethany Storro; hopefully it will be quickly solved with the "attacker" finally brought into the spot light of truth. This can’t happen too soon. In the worse situation, should, just should Storro have done this to herself, her actions could have spurred the copy attack on Derri Velarde in Arizona. How would you live with yourself?...
The Rest of the Story
Storro ultimately admitted to using commercial drain cleaner to dab on her face to create the illusion that she had been attacked by an unknown offender. She allegedly had contemplated suicide and then decided to attack that which she did not like, in this case her face. The local prosecutor indicated he would charged her with the offense of taking money from others under false pretenses, this while her family vows to get her the psychological help she so dearly needs... Most are not angry with her, but feel sorry for someone who would disfigure herself in such a manner.
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