Wednesday, 29 December 2010
A better society requires universal condemnation of certain acts
As I watched an interview with Ingrid Betancourt recently I was reminded that there are certain absolutes in this world that should not require an analysis of one's perspective or even an attempt to understand where the person who carried out the act is coming from. In the interview, Betancourt refers to criticism that she faced while she was abducted, there were questions as to what she was doing in the particular place, whether her actions had played some part in FARC (the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia) kidnapping her. She felt that there are certain times when the victims are criminalised and that we should not be questioning their motives but condemning the actions of the perpetrators. I agree wholeheartedly and I find it unsettling when society in a roundabout way suggests that victims play a part for the crime committed against them because of their actions or recklessness.
If we do not start on the premise of certain absolutes, we run the risk of living in a society where people do not have to take responsibility for their actions. The absolutes I refer to include outright condemnation or refusal of certain behaviour - Rape, domestic violence, violence against civilians among others. If we don't say with absolute conviction that there are never circumnstances in which a victim plays a role in these acts being committed then we risk sending mixed messages to would-be perpetrators. Oftentimes in cases of domestic violence, the victim is told by the perpetrator that they are to blame ....'Now look what you made me do.' As chilling as it sounds, there are many times when we hear that rape victims are partly to blame because of 'what she was wearing' or 'where he was at the time of the rape'. In doing so, we're telling rapists or domestic abusers that if certain circumstances arise, they are justified in behaving like animals. In such cases, we ignore that human restraint is one of the qualities that makes us unique; the fact that we can walk away from any situation, that we can use our intelligence to remove ourselves from a situation that may cause us to act in a dangerous way.
While I'm not suggesting that domestic abusers should be 'hanged', I do think that rehabilitation must begin with an acceptance that this particular behaviour is unacceptable under any circumstance. Even when reconciliation is possible, it should start with a mutual understanding that the act of physical abuse has no justification. It's fair to talk about why tempers flair and why couples are unable to communicate but in a completely different context to the abuse otherwise we risk excusing the behaviour by rationalizing it.
The only rationale should be that violence is unacceptable, that rape is unacceptable regardless!
I'm not suggesting that this is some kind of legal approach, thought I sometimes wish it were because within the Courts there are certain types of defence for all crimes regardless of their severity. I think it should be an ethical approach that we accept as a society without any qualifications. This is not to say that rehabilitation is not possible, a person who is domestically abusive may not necessarily be a monster although I'm less convinced of the rapist, but in order for them to 'move on' and ensure that the situation does not occur again they have to take full responsibility for their actions. This is not helped by the reports of women who drive their men to distraction as was the case of some reports on the popstar Rihanna after it emerged that her boyfriend Chris Brown had physically abused her. Likewise in the case of women who wear revealing clothes or comport themselves in an overtly sexual way, we're often told that this is an invitation to rape. This is not to say that verbal abuse or sexually provocative behaviour should not be addressed, but in order for us to all be clear that the message is that rape and domestic violence are unacceptable, these should be dealt with in a separate context. By all means counsel young girls about being safe when they're out and about the amount of alcohol they consume but do not attempt to link or analyse that behaviour when addressing the man who stands accused of rape. Likewise, suggest couples' therapy to the husband and wife who are having communication problems but do not include the incident of her hitting him in that discussion.
Violence whether sexual or physical are issues that require no debate in my opinion, there are no two sides to the story, they are wrong - period!