A woman in Washington state has accused an amateur hypnotist of sexually assaulting her while she was under hypnosis. Kevin Geyer was charged in September of "taking indecent liberties" and last week suspended from his job as a pharmacy assistant in Benson County.
As a KEVW news story reported:
"According to the charges, Geyer had sexual intercourse with a woman while she was under hypnosis in June 2014. Geyer is an amateur hypnotist and allegedly placed the woman under hypnosis in his home. On September 22, 2014, Geyer was criminally charged in Benton County Superior Court with one count of indecent liberties, a class B felony."
Another news report offered a slightly different version, stating: "The woman later told police she remembers Geyer performing various sex acts on her while she was incapacitated." She claimed that she was unaware of the sexual encounter and had forgotten the event until later when "she had vague images of Geyer sexually assaulting her and when she confronted him he responded by apologizing."
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It's a bizarre case, though contrary to popular belief people cannot be forced to do things against their will under hypnosis, nor are they left incapacitated. That's an exaggerated, dramatic movie trope, but not how the mind works.
Having sex with a client may be a violation of ethical rules, and if it was non-consensual then that's another matter, but the issue in this case seems to be that it was involuntary because it occurred under hypnosis - which is unlikely to convince a jury if the court consults with a respected clinical psychologist.
The Nature of Hypnosis Many psychologists believe that hypnosis is not some special altered state of consciousness, but simply a form of deep relaxation.
Stage hypnosis such as the kind seen in Las Vegas comedy acts where "suggestible" audience members get on stage and pretend to be chickens or be caught in embarrassing situations is not clinical hypnosis but instead a combination of showmanship and participatory comedy. The audience members are acting of their own free will, and the fact that the audience believes them to be doing something they wouldn't ordinarily do if not under hypnosis allows the exhibitionists an excuse to be silly or obscene.
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Earlier this year, a German woman claimed that she had been robbed of jewelry but had forgotten the incident under hypnosis. Police and psychologists were skeptical of that claim.
In his chapter on hypnosis in the book "Mind Myths: Exploring Popular Assumptions About the Mind and Brain," Graham Wagstaff of the Department of Psychology at the University of Liverpool notes:
"No matter what their theoretical persuasion, most modern researchers and theorists now indeed seem to reject claims that hypnosis can turn people into helpless automata (functioning without free will)... Indeed, reports that people have unwittingly been hypnotized into committing criminal acts are not only rare but have been treated with skepticism."
One of Wagstaff's studies about hypnosis in a judicial context, published in the journal Legal and Criminological Psychology reports:
"A significant proportion of subjects who had no experience of hypnosis were prepared to accept a plea of hypnotic ‘automatism' as an excuse for committing a crime (that is, because he was ‘hypnotized' the defendant did not know what he was doing); however, subjects who had experienced a hypnotic induction procedure, and rated themselves as having been ‘hypnotized,' unanimously rejected such a plea."
Since people who have actually experienced clinical hypnosis obviously have a much better idea of what the hypnotic state is like than those who have not, the fact that they universally reject idea that a person does not know what they're doing - or has no control over themselves - while under hypnosis is both revealing and significant.
There is some evidence that hypnosis might be useful in addressing some behavior-related medical issues such as quitting smoking or weight loss, but there's no scientific evidence it can make a person do things against their will or leave them incapacitated, so the public shouldn't fear hypnotists.