Crime, Sense and Sensibility…

Yesterday evening, I followed a link to an article tweeted by David Allen Green which just said ‘read this’. And so I did, even though it meant squinting and hurting my eyes trying to read it on my tiny blackberry screen. And so should you, although you should also beware that it might both move you to tears and frustrate you, and not just because of the squinting…

Move you to tears because it exposes the trauma of being raped, the incomprehension and moral questioning that goes with it, as well as the pain. Frustrating too because it opposes raw emotions to a seemingly obvious solution, that the crime should be reported, and hopefully prosecuted.

It seems so simple: of course one should report such acts, it can only lead to something better. Better for the victim who might get justice and hopefully closure, better for society at large as it sends a message that such actions are not tolerated and potentially protects other victims and maybe also better for the perpetrator who might become aware of the pain he’s caused and, hopefully, reform.

But is it so simple? We might find it hard to understand but it’s even harder to ignore the vehemence or violence with which this man refuses all police involvement in his ‘case’. What they see as help he sees as intrusion, and he just wants to “not think about it any more”.

It would be easy to dismiss this reaction as part of the psychological trauma of being raped and insist that justice must follow its course. But, as an academic interested in criminal justice and sexual violence in particular, I see at least two very important points to bear in mind:

  • No matter how you choose to analyse and classify crimes, acts of sexual violence and, a fortiori, rape, are in a class of their own. Whether you believe that they are about sexual desire or pure violence on the part of the perpetrator (another article well worth reading), the effect on the victim is the same: a violation of the most intimate aspect of your physical integrity. Sexual violence might not always be about sex for the person committing it but it always is for the victim, and brings with it particular trauma and psychological consequences. This will inevitably make it a challenge for the criminal justice system to deal with such crimes…
  • From a rational perspective, the only solution is, well, to find a solution to these crimes. And the solution is generally understood to be a criminal investigation, prosecution, trial and punishment if the accused is found guilty. Yet, and this may be hard to hear for people who believe in the criminal justice system, is it always the best way? Are we putting people through the further trauma of a trial in order to satisfy what we believe is best for them, sometimes against their instincts?

Discussions about crime and the criminal justice system are often drawn in black and white, as if it was all so clear and straightforward. Principles, rules, sanctions, but what about emotions? What place, if any, for feelings and emotions in the criminal justice system? Or should justice be necessarily calm and rational in the face of conflicting emotions?

I don’t have the answers and I guess I don’t expect to find some any time soon. One thing I do know though: while I keep looking for answers, I’ll make sure I keep this story that moved me to tears at the back, or even front, of my rational mind…

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