Crime has been with us almost as long as we have lived in 'societies' and made 'rules' about what is, and is not, acceptable behaviour toward it each other. That is, in part, the message of the allegorical story of Cain and Abel in the Book of Genesis. There are, of course, two types of 'rules' - those that are based on our 'moral codes' of behaviour, and those that are less easily identified as having that 'moral' link and are more concerned with the protection of property. Generally, those that steal are more easily identified as 'criminals' while those who commit offences in the other group of 'rules' can be seen in a different light.
Many 'legal' systems, which is what our 'moral' codes have become, focus on the offender and often ignore or even exclude, the victim. There are some who argue that this, by removing the emotional suffering of the victim, ensures that Justice remains 'blind' and is truly served. I confess that I have some serious doubts on that score, and a recent case in the US strengthens it. The real problem with crime of any sort is how our society often condones it. This was brought home to me reading a post by Henry Rollins on the blog Under the Gun Review. His comments on the Steubenville Rape Case are extremely thought provoking.
The case on which he comments highlights a number of difficult areas in our society, not least that of 'responsibility.' In the Steubenville case the offenders were 'American Football Stars' in their High School team and so there were massive attempts to 'cover up' the crime. The girl concerned was drunk, according to some sources, 'reveallingly attired' and certainly the Defendents legal team tried to shift the blame onto her. The alarming thing about this case is that it took place in the presence of witnesses and was videoed, the video being posted online - which is what eventually forced the authorities to take action. More alarmingly, this is not a unique case, there are a number of other similar cases on record.
That raises a number of questions. Why did no one act? Why did no one attempt to stop the crime? Why were the police not immediately informed of a 'crime in progress' if no one felt able to stand up to the attackers?
One thing is clear, there are a substantial number of those involved who feel that the victim 'deserved what she got' or was somehow to blame for what happened to her. Perhaps her being drunk, and her 'revealing attire' did suggest she might 'want' to be raped - but then we have to ask why her friends didn't intervene either.
To a very large extent, this is a result of the manner in which our society has become 'individualised.' There again, we seem to have a degree of schizophrenia. When anything good is happening, it is 'our efforts,' but, as soon as it goes bad - its 'the government.' We demand absolute 'freedom' in everything, but then ask why, when someone gets hurt, the 'government' didn't prevent it. Parents divorce themselves from responsibility for the activities minor children get involved in. Many feel unable to impose discipline on their children because they fear any such attempt will lead to intervention by the Social Workers or the likes of the SPCC and other 'child' protection agencies. Others just couldn't be bothered, some in this group even take pride in the way their kids flout every law.
So who is to 'blame' in such cases? One school of thought see the offender as a 'victim of society.' They blame 'society' for 'letting down the offender,' the usual excuses beig poverty, disadvantage, educational difficulties, and so on. It is never, ever, the 'fault' of the offender. The comments on the article by Rollins make interesting reading and there as well, the 'victim is the offender because they invited it' mentality is at it again. There is a clear divide in opinions there, many want draconian punishment imposed on the offenders (both under 18), others feel the victim (also well under age) 'deserves' what happened and some feel that the offenders stand as scape goats for a wider group. I suspect I am partly in this third group.
As I write at the outset, why did these boys think what they did was even marginally acceptable? Why did those around them not intervene? Why did the parents, teachers and everyone else involved not raise objections to the cover up and then the vilification of the victim?
This is very much the mindset that allows vicious cyber bullying which leads to teenage suicide rates that are alarming. This is the mindset that allows gangs to ruin the lives of entire communities and it is the mindset that stands idly by while victims are punished and criminals laugh all the way to the next crime and the bank.
I believe those who are keen to 'reform' the Justice system actually need to adjust their vision and stop looking at 'improving' the jails, but at the root of the problem. We are now a society where there are no moral compasses for a significant slice of the population. There is no parental authority, no parental guidance and the emphasis on individualism and 'rights' has undermined all 'moral' authority. That has not been helped by the collapse in trust of all 'authority' figures, from religious leaders and politicians downward.
In the famous words from the Appollo mission that suffered a metoerite strike to its Oxygen tanks; "Houston, we have a problem." Like that mission, we have a problem that is going to require some very difficult decisions, some very tough solutions and a lot of pain and hardship to correct. And we'll either address it, or we will have to accept the failure of our society and live behind locked and barred doors afraid to venture out or to let our children go out.
The choice is ours - and sadly we put it off at our peril.