Posted by: joshjasper | March 3, 2009

Justice was not blind last night

Last night I had the opportunity to present to a group of men and women that were found guilty of rape or domestic violence.  In Stephenson County, the criminal justice system mandates that all perpetrators must participate in a victim impact panel as a part of their sentencing.  The panel consisted of me and 2 survivors of domestic violence along with a 7 minute audio recording of a 8 year old girl calling 911 because her stepfather was assaulting her mother in the background.

As I spoke about taking responsibility for your actions and how violence is a learned behavior, it struck me how deeply entrenched violence is in all of our lives.  Throughout the presentation many individuals shared how they themselves have experienced violence and how it has impacted their lives.  Sadly though, much of the conversation was filled with defensiveness and a never ending effort to place the blame of the violence they inflicted on the victim.  Also present was the normalization and outright acceptance of violence in everyday life.  I spoke briefly about current examples such as singers Rihanna and Chris Brown, and how the media has focused on whether or not she would return to Chris and whether or not she would report the crime.  This example was met with laughter and comments about how “she shouldn’t have put herself in that situation” or “why would she go back to him” or even “Chris is so cute, he would never do anything like that.”

Race was another thing that stuck out once again during this presentation.  Time and time again, when speaking to perpetrators of vioelnce, overwhelmingly the men and women in the room are minorities.  Last night, nearly 80% of the audience was African American and Hispanic.  Considering that 5-10% of the population in our communities consist of minorities, and that overwhelmingly the people we serve are survivors of abuse committed by Caucasian men, it doesn’t add up.  What message is being sent to our community, or specifically white men, when too often they are not brought to justice for the crimes they commit so often, and against so many.  The message is that what you have done is acceptable and that more than likely, you will not be punished.

Surprisingly though, I left last night’s presentation hopeful.  Although the group as a whole struggled with acknowledging their responsibility, many stuck around afterwards to complete the survey and had some great questions about what lies ahead for them and their futures.

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