The world was shaken when a story broke about a little six year old boy, Falcon Heene, who was supposedly captive in a giant helium balloon, shaped like a flying saucer. It was a balloon that covered more than 50 miles across two counties, and one that took the world on one hell of a ride.
This hoax temporarily shut down the Denver International Airport and caused the National Guard to scramble two helicopters in their attempt to rescue little Falcon. Again and again, I heard news people describe Facon's dad, Richard Heene, as a serious scientist. In early interviews broadcast world wide he was treated as an absolute hero. While he is the complete opposite, a seriously deranged, and dangerous man.
As we near the end of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Heene's Hoax must serve as a learning device. While physical and sexual abuse are discussed largely, Heene's type of abuse is a glaring example of a largely ignored aspect of violence, emotional abuse. If not addressed emotional abuse easily morphs in physical and sexual violence. And it is always an aspect of this violence. Still it is important that it be understood in isolation of the other two. Please read on...
Heene, a frustrated actor, determined to get his own reality show, has shown the world that he will do just about anything to get one. The reality, however, is no show. It is frighteningly real. It reveals a man who does not care what he puts his family or his community through. Those skilled in emotional abuse manipulate all they come into contact with in their family, their community, their workplace, their society; and they do so with great ease and skill.
The determination to do what one wants, despite the agony, humiliation and danger imposed on others, is a prime personality trait of emotionally abusive people. Though they can mimic feeling and concern, others simply do not matter. The impact of their actions is never considered. When they fear being caught, they ask their partners to mother them. Their partners mistake this further manipulation as love.
Heene's kind of abuse as evidenced in his hoax is always initially invisible. Partners enduring it almost always seem fine, as they endure rage, the fear of abandonment, the prison of control; and those in these relationships will usually do all they can to hide their pain and fear.
Why did the media take Richard Heene seriously when while appearing on the ABC reality show, "Wife Swap," he spoke of aliens speaking to him and his determination to build a flying saucer? Why didn't they evaluate coverage because of the documentation that he has taken his wife, Mayumi, and their three sons, ranging in age from 6 to 10, on UFO hunting expeditions and storm chasing missions that have placed them perilously close to tornadoes?
In a 24/7 "news" atmosphere danger of a child evokes heart felt emotion. And viewers. Viewers bring sponsors. Plus this sort of story offers an escape from the weighty problems in our midst that claw at us all.
But it is more than that. Emotional abusers often seem to be charismatic and trustworthy, that is until one gets to really know them. Journalists, of course, should know better, but they are as human as everyone else. Plus TV newsmen and women, especially those on cable, have so much time that must be filled. Often to their and our peril.
If we need any proof of emotional abuse in this incident, all we have to do is carefully view the faces and body language of Richard Heene's wife and sons before the hoax was revealed. His wife's face is devoid of emotion, and the boys, each of them, could not sit still or make eye contact. It was obvious that they had been programmed to lie, and that they were scared, very scared.
We all were taken on an expensive ride by Richard Hoax Heene. But none more painfully than his family. It is fitting as Domestic Abuse Awareness Month draws to a close that we learn from this ordeal.