Friday, 1 May 2009

Not in my name, thanks

When the ACT party and other like-minded souls advocate harsher sentencing or a three strikes policy, they tell us it's in the name of victims. They conjure up images of the helpless and the harrowed; people we can show compassion for only by punishing their attackers with great severity.

Who are these victims? Well, they're people like me. I've experienced sexual violence, and so have a great many of the women I know. I've been injured, but I don't think of myself as pitiful or broken. I'm neither helpless nor consumed with hatred. I don't sit about yearning for Garth McVicar to avenge me. And I don't need the likes of ACT peddling sadism in my name.

When my father was a younger man, he was jumped by three guys and badly beaten. Both his legs were broken. He spent months recuperating in hospital, and neither the physical nor psychological scars fully healed, leaving him permanently damaged. I remember his bemusement a few years ago, when Rodney Hide argued that prisoners should no longer be provided with tea and coffee. As well as producing the stunning fiscal saving of $40,000 per year, this measure would teach prisoners that jail is no joyride, said Hide. 'That man's a fool', my father said, shaking his head. Like me, my father believes that making people feel worthless does very little to encourage them to abide by society's values.

It's not just that I believe harsher sentencing won't work. I believe that sentences based on a desire for revenge are fundamentally immoral. They can't be justified by public safety: they may produce the opposite. They set out to degrade the people who receive them, and offer no reparation to those who have been harmed.

Not every victim of crime agrees with me, and I understand and respect how they feel, although I can't support it. What I resent, though, is tougher sentencing campaigners using my unhappiness, or that of others in my situation, to push their own barrow. Those people don't speak for me. I can decide my own ethical stances: being assaulted didn't transform me into a redneck automaton.

I'd like to see advocates of harsher sentences come clean about their motivations. Next time you feel like dressing up your sadistic urges as sympathy for people like me, have a sit down and a nice cup of shut the hell up. This sort of 'compassion' is exactly what I don't need.


anna c said...

Thanks Anna - I've wanted to say this many times.

Many (particularly violent) crimes are characterised by a feeling of loss of power on the part of the person they are perpetrated against. I think sometimes the SST and co reinforce that sense of powerlessness when they try and speak for you, say what they think you should be saying; there's an implication that because I essentially don't believe in prisons, the crime I've been a victim of either wasn't that serious or I'm not thinking clearly.

Principessa said...

This post is awesome Anna. I'm not religious or anything but the only way I've been able to move on from crap I've experienced has been forgiveness. I know forgiveness isn't for everyone, but it's all that's worked for me. (And the biggest mug I had to forgive first was myself).

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libertyscott said...

Perhaps a different line to take is to treat two parts of the issue: reparation and preventive detention. As long as the scope exists for the latter, then people should be put away permanently if they pose a likely risk of committing the same violent/sexual crime again. Public safety must be paramount. However, reparation under ACC is appalling. Now it is likely to be pointless to allow lawsuits of most criminals for compensation (not all, though), but options for paying ongoing reparations over several years could be made.

The bottom line is victims should be placed in the position that they would have been in had the crime had not happened, to the extent practicable - and the public should be made reasonably safe from those who are likely to reoffend.

Bevan11 said...

It's a shame 'sensible sentencing' etc. want to simplify such complex arguments.

Makes it impossible for thinking people to even consider supporting their ideas.

Anna said...

Liberty, I largely agree with you. I think the safety needs of the many should always come before the rights of the individual. But our high recidivism rate suggests there's not much correlation between punishing someone and making society safer. And I agree that the reparation situation is woeful.

A Nonny Moose said...

Yes, people want the easiest solution possible. A criminal is not worth the time, energy and money to fix, so chucking them out with the other garbage is the way to put them out of mind and out of sight.

I yearn for a society that treats it's criminals - if not with respect - but with a focus of rehabilitation. And that starts with more resources in social welfare in identifying at risk children early on.

But then, I would get called a cheerleader of The Nanny State. I am getting really tired of that term (just like "Overly PC"), because it's abdicating responsibility for the really hard issues.

It's really going to take a fundamental change in human thinking how to care for criminals and victims alike.

Julie said...

Fantastic post Anna, thanks so much!

It's quite different, but I experienced a similar thing when my father died in the ICU. Another person had died too and their family was looking for someone to blame. They wanted vengeance for their loss, which I could understand as a response to their powerlessness. My experience is that those who seek revenge often end up more hurt themselves than they needed to be.

Anna said...

Julie, I agree completely. The big challenge for me as a leftie-type feminist is not to let my anger at social justice (which I think is legitimate and quite frankly healthy) instead lapse into bitterness about some experience of my own - which is basically a self-centred response, and one that's ultimately damaging to myself. I think that if you let yourself get sucked into the revenge/hatred thing, you rob yourself of any peace of mind you might have had.

After my incident, all I ever wanted was for the person to a) understand what he did, and b) not treat anyone like that again. I feel sick when I think of the incident, but I don't feel angry about it, and I don't wish the person harm. I can't be bothered working up the angst, but more importantly, while the person may be an utter dick, he's still a person. I assume he's sorry, and that's enough for me. All that can be done from my end is to let it go, and focus on fighting the good fight so the world will be a slightly better/safer place for my kids. Seems a better use of my time than getting on the phone to Garth McVicar or writing feral angry-at-the-world comments on Kiwiblog.

Anonymous said...

All that can be done from my end is to let it go, and focus on fighting the good fight so the world will be a slightly better/safer place for my kids.I'm sure Garth would tell you that's exactly what he's doing.

Anna said...

Garth would say that, but he's plainly not. I've never heard him put forward one intelligent idea that would reduce crime. If public safety interested him, he'd be concerned about the likelihood that three strikes will increase the under-reporting of domestic violence. And Garth is very selective about what crimes he cares about. I didn't hear him speak up in support of the woman who was raped by English rugby players, Louise Nicholas or Kristin Dunne-Powell. He's only interested in those victims who share his political beliefs. It's organisations like Women's Refuge, Rape Crisis and Victim Support that actually help. Garth mouths off.