Did you see the story about the Ohio lawyer that allegedly hypnotized his female clients against their will and molested them? He was just sentenced to 12 years in prison for “kidnapping.”
You might be wondering if it is possible for a hypnotist lawyer to put people into trances in his office, sexually molest them, and have them leave with no memory of the event. The answer is no, unless he discovered something that other hypnotists don’t know about.
But he went to jail anyway.
Your first clue that something is fishy is that a lawyer who is allegedly a first-class hypnotist couldn’t win a court case. Joking aside, that is unlikely, given that the standard for conviction is “beyond a reasonable doubt.” I’m not a lawyer, but as a trained hypnotist I’m fairly certain I could give a jury reasonable doubt about their own existence. So the fact that a jury of human beings convicted this lawyer conflicts with the fact that he is allegedly an amazing hypnotist. It’s possible. But it is unlikely.
So how can we explain multiple women coming forward with similar stories of blurry memories and sexual abuse involving this same lawyer? There are two possibilities that I can see.
1. The defendant is the first hypnotist in the world (as far as I know) to learn how to put people into trance in casual conversation and make them forget multiple sexual molestations.
2. Several women experienced cognitive dissonance and independently hallucinated similar molestations.
A year ago – before you started reading my blog posts about persuasion – you probably would have assumed the logical explanation is that a super-hypnotist did in fact put several women into trance against their will and molest them. After all, what are the odds that several women would have the same story?
But if I have taught you anything this year it is that mass delusions – and small group delusions – are totally common and expected in life. On the other hand, the rise of the world’s most powerful super-hypnotist – who can’t win a jury trial – is unlikely.
I’ve been a certified hypnotist for decades. And I’ve studied the field of persuasion for years. In all of that time I have never heard about or seen a verified case of someone losing memory from a hypnosis session.
But I have heard of lots of cases in which multiple people hallucinated similar things that didn’t happen. Usually there is some trigger for cognitive dissonance. In this case – hypothetically – the women might be embarrassed that they got into sexually-charged conversations with their lawyer. If their behavior conflicted with their self-images, cognitive dissonance would kick in.
But how in the world could several women all have similar stories? That’s unlikely, right?
No. That sort of thing is more common than you imagine. Sometimes it happens because police ask leading questions, such as “Did anything unusual happen when you were in his office?” And “Do you remember everything that happened?” And of course, “We are investigating claims that he used hypnosis to molest clients.” Any questions along those lines would produce similar-sounding hallucinations. That’s what happened in this famous court case. It’s a well-documented phenomenon.
I feel confident in saying that the women involved in the case believe their own stories, whether the stories are true or not. In other words, they all could pass lie detector tests, and they are probably super-credible witnesses because they believe what they are saying. (I wasn’t there, so I can’t know what happened.)
From my perspective as a trained persuader, the most likely explanation for the lawyer’s situation is that he did in fact use conversational persuasion to generate sexual arousal in his clients. That part is totally feasible and not terribly difficult for a trained hypnotist to accomplish. If the clients found themselves enjoying the experience, and going with it, they might later realize their behavior did not match their self-images. Especially if they had husbands or boyfriends. That setup would almost guarantee that cognitive dissonance happens to “explain” why the women acted in ways counter to their self-images. Add some leading questions from investigators and you have enough to create several similar-sounding hallucinations of unwanted sexual molestations.
And keep in mind that these women were likely to be in the 20% of the public that has a strong reaction to suggestion. If a hypnotist identified them as being especially suggestible, the investigators could plant suggestions in them as well, but only accidentally in the latter case.
If you are wondering how easily a group of humans can be thrown into the same hallucination, consider that half of Americans believes their country just elected a racist, homophobic, sexist and the other half thinks we elected an open-minded guy who is no more sexist than most people. No matter which half of the country is right, the other half of the country is in a deep hallucination. We just don’t know which half. (Yes, I know that you know the other half is hallucinating. But keep in mind that the other half thinks you are the one hallucinating.)
Anyway, back to the lawyer. I don’t know the facts because I wasn’t in the room when any of it happened. But one woman wore a wire and recorded the lawyer talking inappropriately. So we know something wasn’t right. I doubt he was innocent of all wrongdoing. I’m just explaining the limits of hypnosis as I understand them. In summary:
Hypnosis Can’t: Make you forget you were molested in a lawyer’s office by the time you walk out. (As far as I know.)
Hypnosis Can: Produce intense sexual arousal, even in conversational form.
Cognitive Dissonance Can: Make a group of people see the same hallucination. (This is common.)
We can’t know for sure what happened in the case of the hypnosis lawyer. I just thought it was a good teaching moment.
You might like reading my book because I am not a lawyer.
And you might love my startup’s new app for geostreaming your location to a friend as you approach your meeting spot. Here are links:
WhenHub app for Apple: http://apple.co/2eLL3Oh
WhenHub app for Android: http://bit.ly/2fIb6L7