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(Continued from here)

Do you feel bad that on one day, I was the Queen of Potential Witnesses and the next day, I was dropped like a hot potato?

I’m not sure how I felt about this at the time. It’s possible that I was a little miffed and felt that a simple phone call would have been nice, just to say, “Thanks, Sharon. We appreciate that you were standing by, ready to come to court and do your civic duty.”

But now, all these years later, I think the way it was handled was entirely appropriate.

When I first started to write these entries, I hadn’t intended to include so much detail about the robbery. I intended to mention it, in passing, to provide myself with some credibility when I began to write about how the justice system works and when eventually, someone would assert, “That’s easy for you to say; nothing like this has ever happened to you.” I needed to show that, even as a “victim of crime,” I was capable of looking at the justice system with an objective eye.

Victims of crime need a lot of support in the aftermath of their ordeal. I would not begrudge them that.

I do not, however, believe that support should be provided in the context of the crime and in the court system. Within the last few years, the focus of crime has been shifting to the victim to the point that, in some cases, the alleged perpetrator has been relegated to a bit part — to playing the role of the instrument that caused the victim’s suffering.

This is wrong. Criminal proceedings should not be about the victim. A court case must be centred on the accused person and the law that has been broken. If the victim is called as a witness, then he/she should be required to present the facts and not to be a prop for the defence.

I’m jaded by the parade of victims of crime who appear on television, prodded by their interviewers, lovingly and harrowingly describing every detail of the torment they’ve been through. When their voices break and they begin to cry, I can almost see the producers, rubbing their hands gleefully and saying, “This is great TV.”

I connect it directly to the ever-growing popularity of so-called reality TV and to the ever-growing number of people who feel that their lives don’t matter — that they aren’t really living — unless they’re on TV.

Victim Impact Statement legislation was proclaimed under Section 722 of the Criminal Code in October, 1988. It is the high end of the trend toward focussing on the victim and I strenuously oppose it. Why should one person be likely to get a heavier sentence because his victim is eloquent and articulate and a good writer and another get off a little more easily because his victim is not so well-spoken and not quite as appealing?

Focussing on the victim is one part of a larger policy approach that is based on ideology and also includes all the “getting tough on crime” strategies: longer sentences, repeal of the young offenders’ act, cracking down on parole “privileges” — and ultimately, privatized prisons where there are big profits to be made off people’s misery.

Prisons-for-profit are immoral. So are the de-humanizing and other mis-treatment of prisoners and — of course — imprisoning the wrong people.

Some of these issues around prisons and prisoners — and they’re in the news right now — were what I started out to explore when I got sidetracked into writing about the robbery. Let me try to pull all this together in the next segment and then, I promise, we’ll change the subject.


6 Responses

  1. #1
    Marie-Paule 

    What an interesting read!! I too walked in on a robbery in my home approx. 17 years ago… and they did what you assumed your robber would … ran out the front door as I was walking in the side door. I was lucky. I’ll keep reading … take good care!!

  2. You are right about this, of course. It is deeply classist.

    Some feminists, horrified though we all are about the Polytechnique massacre, have also dared bring up this matter — the horror not only of 14 innocent women being killed for supposedly being “feminists” (and depriving the killer of what he saw as his “rightful place” in Engineering school) but because they were young and “promising”. Would the killing of 14 working-class women with no hope to be “promising” be remembered as much?

  3. #3
    Robbie Lochead(Pereira)MGH 1964 

    Hmm, really think that victims need to be supported so they can get back to normal life no matter what class they come from.
    In N.Z. it is taking place. I totally support people being supported quietly and out of the spotlight of the media. Fundraising is essential.
    I take your point about the media and the wretched influence of reality TV and the pandemic of CSI type programs etc. Probably the crims are taking notes on how to do better crimes which is sad and this feeds into the media’s need to profit from people’s misery. I don’t watch much TV and have banned the network news as it is so sick.

  4. I think the opportunity for victims to speak in court came as result of their feeling that they were left out of the process. They wanted to confront the offender. As is often the case, that has become part of the popular media fodder.
    It is also part of what is now a very old move toward adding the human element to journalism. There was a time when the mainstream press stuck more to the who, what, where, when, and why of stories. There were lurid stories to be sure but not every event got that treatment. Now, if a mother has lost three children in a fire, you can almost count on it that someone will shove a microphone in her face and ask, “How do you feel about the news that your children burned?”
    We also see the interviews with teenagers at schools who all seem to have been a victim’s best friend.
    As you say, victimhood has now become almost a performance art. Even Oprah provides a platform.
    As a lifelong newspaper person, I heard many victims say that the court process was very difficult, frustrating and unsatisfying for them. I think we need to continue to study that and come up with some ways to make them feel more that justice is being done. Perhaps the victim’s opportunity to confront the perpetrator could be done differently.

  5. #5
    Michelle 

    Sharon, thanks for this story. I’ve been reading it with interest and glad to see the conclusion.

    I haven’t been the victim of that violent a crime, but I have had my house broken into while I was home, and that was scary enough. But I feel the same way you do about “victim’s justice” as opposed to letting the justice system handle it.

  6. #6
    Bill 

    Even better would be to see a few cases where a home intruder was met by a person with the capacity (and I don’t say that lightly) and means to lay them out in self defence. The capacity is a hugely difficult thing, as we are raised and trained to be non-violent and to avoid conflict and seek reasonable means to deal with difficult issues. I wish that we were also trained or equipped in how to “flip a switch” when necessary and when confronted with useless trash like this home invader who was fully prepared to harm you (kill you?). That’s why I keep a nasty side to my personality in the shadows, just in case. It’s waaay back there in the shadows but given the right circumstances I hope and pray that Mr. Nasty would not hesitate to beat the living daylights out of a useless piece of crap like this guy who held a knife to your throat. Is this a “guy thing”? Possibly… but someone has to be ready to protect the home.

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