For a long while, I thought getting my brother convicted for sexually abusing me when I was little would just be about vengeance. I could only see it as my wanting to make him suffer, and I don’t want to be the kind of person that inflicts suffering on another. Even if a person deserves to suffer, I’ve always felt like it shouldn’t be at my hands. I’ve been turning over in my head what justice might mean to me and how I could potentially feel like I’ve got some.
I suppose the argument is that if he suffers now, it is only because of his own actions 20 years ago. And if his wife or his unborn child or my family suffer, again, it is his fault. It wasn’t my choice at ten years old to let him get away with it, nor was it my choice in all the years that followed. But the problem now, is that if I did choose to take action, I would feel like it was down to me. I can logically say it wasn’t my fault back then, but right now I have a choice, so it will feel like my fault in the here-and-now.
I read something in an article about the guidelines on rape sentencing that made me reconsider the importance of justice . Reflecting on this, I could position a possible conviction differently in my mind. I could see it as more than a selfish act and put in perspective a bigger picture. That overview is one in which as a society, we cannot afford and don’t collectively desire letting these crimes go unpunished.
In the case of R v Roberts and Roberts (1982), Lord Chief Justice Lane stated:
“Rape is always a serious crime. Other than in wholly exceptional circumstances, it calls for an immediate custodial sentence. . . . A custodial sentence is necessary for a variety of reasons. First of all to mark the gravity of the offence. Secondly to emphasise public disapproval. Thirdly to serve as a warning to others. Fourthly to punish the offender, and last but by no means least, to protect women.”
I’ve been making an effort to disclose to my closest friends recently what happened to me as a child. It has been amazing so far and is helping me strengthen the resources I have outside of my family. That’s important because I’m too emotionally tied up in all the family stuff right now to get any kind of support from them.
What I recall from their reactions, more than anything (other than enormous compassion) is their frustration and indignation that justice has never been served. Every time I tell someone I was abused, their first reaction is to ask how on earth he got away with it. They’ve never met him and they want him to be punished.
And I get that. Because when you’re removed from the situation it is so very easy to see what’s right and wrong.
This week I watched a BBC documentary on the reach of Operation Yewtree and the Jimmy Saville enquiry. I knew I was being a hypocrite feeling furious that Saville died without being punished. I was bowled over by the guts it took those people to speak out about the abuse after decades of secrecy. There are hundreds of people who carry the regret of not reporting his crimes while he was alive. They didn’t get that chance, and several said they wished he was still alive for that reason.
It was sad, but also inspiring, for everyone who has suffered the consequences of sexual abuse, to hear those stories of survival and strength. Maybe those voices will help ensure more victims get the chance to seek justice, and when they do they will truly be heard.
Photo: Guillaume Paumier, Creative Commons.