Tuesday, October 11, 2011
TOWARDS A CRITICAL VICTIMOLOGY
I have come across a book from 1992: a collection of essays entitled “Towards a Critical Victimology”, edited by Ezzat A. Fattah.*
In this Post I want to comment upon Fattah’s own Preface and introductory essay; subsequent Posts will look at some of the other essays in the book.
As so often, I look at books and essays from years ago – two decades in this case here – in order to give you a sense of depth and perspective over time as to how the components of what I call the Mania were viewed even back then; and this allows you to consider how those components and the objections to them have actually played out over time.
And at this point in history now, when government cash to fund the Mania is draining away but pols are even more desperate to somehow look like they’re ‘doing something’ for the Rightist and Leftist ‘bases’ that fused together in support of the Mania, you have a chance to consider what new frakkery might be predictable as ‘bases’ and advanced-level advocacies try to keep the ball rolling, while pols and the media try to somehow change course or slow down their support without making it obvious that they have, for decades now, supported a huge and lethal mistake.
So, in a relevant matter, in light of what we now know about the passage of the Adam Walsh Act in 2006 (sleazily passed under a ‘suspension of the rules’ rubric), it is possible that AWA’s supporters in Congress realized even back then that too few Members were willing to simply green-light the thing or let it pass unchallenged in open debate. It is both regrettable and revealing that the mainstream media did not fulfill its obligations and note this portentous development back then.
So to Fattah’s Preface and introductory essay, bearing in mind all the while that he wrote this in 1992, almost 20 years ago.
In his Preface, Fattah (p. xi) notes the original claim of victimists and advocates that they merely wanted to “adjust the balance of justice”. It is a harmless-sounding, indeed sort of constructive-sounding phrase. But of course any time you are going to start tinkering with as complex and delicately-balanced machine as the criminal justice system and its laws – which are themselves based upon a specific and vitally Grounding Constitutional and Framing Vision – then you are into an operation that requires the utmost circumspection, prudence, care, thought, and caution. This is like fiddling with the foundations of a skyscraper after it has been built, occupied, and has been standing for a long long time.
But instead he observes (p.xi) “the extreme celerity” with which pro-victim initiatives were produced; and the “readiness” with which they were accepted by legislators, legal professionals, and the media; and all that “with no criticism” or deliberation; and thus the ease with which they “sailed through” legislative bodies “in many countries of the Western world”.
The SO community, and readers of this site, will be familiar with most of the material that supports precisely what he is beginning to see decades ago. I would only add here that he realizes this is happening throughout the Western world (which took at that time many of its cues from the US); while I draw no easy conclusions, I note there that the West has experienced a general decline in influence and even respect and there are dots yet to be connected.
Worse, he notes (p.xi), this is especially “surprising” since many of the proposed “reforms” most certainly “do have far-reaching implications and consequences” fundamentally affecting the system of criminal justice. And thus, I would add, for the integrity and competent functioning of the Constitutional Vision that underlies that criminal justice system.
Laws, he notes (p.xi), are coming onto the books that are “poorly defined and hastily designed, with enormous and un-examined effects on the legal process, uncertain means for enforcement, and which create rights-conflicts [i.e. between accuser and accused before the bar of Sovereign Authority] with no apparent resolution”. Recall as well that he is writing when some States had already introduced draconian SO Registries but still two years before New Jersey’s fraught Megan’s Law and four years before Clinton erected a federal Registration law.
And then he goes off the rails slightly, but perhaps accurately for the era, noting (p.xii) the “distinctly conservative bias and unaccountably punitive, retributive bent” of the laws. He is reflecting here a sense – and an accurate one as far as it goes – that, going back as far as Reagan’s Presidential Task Force Report on Victims of Violent Crime in 1982, attracted the law-and-order Right that was trying to counter the defendant-friendly thrust of the Warren and Burger Court years immediately prior.
But I would add here that even back then, and with intensifying virulence and premeditated competence, the Left – especially in the form of a Democratic Party increasingly ‘responsive’ to ‘women’s issues’ as the radical-feminist advocacies were controlling that discourse – was also sensing a useful tool in radical-feminism’s ‘war’ on patriarchy and males, based on that radical movement’s presumption that just about all (heterosexual) sex is “rape” and “oppressive” and merely a tool to deny ‘women’ their rights. This was yet another fire burning in the national political and cultural forest, which would start to burn-toward the Right’s abiding concern to enhance government authority and power (especially in the light of the widespread discombobulations of the many ‘revolutions’ ignited in the 1960s and 1970s).
He also notes acutely (p.xi) the tendency of the victimist advocates to introduce an ominous Manichean good-bad dichotomy between the Good (and helpless and 'innocent') Victim and the Evil Perp. This is the vivid and simplistic cartoonish melodramatic dynamic that so clearly in evidence in the early silent films where the mustachioed, black-clad villain ties the helpless, white-clad heroine to the railroad tracks as the train puffs ominously into view in the distance.
He notes, echoing Robert Elias (the author of the 1986 book “The Politics of Victimization” that I have looked at in several previous Posts, and who contributes an essay to Fattah’s book here in 1992), that this theme is particularly characteristic of the “North American victim movement”, including not only the US but Canada.
This creates (p.xi) a “false contest” between so-called victim “rights” and the rights of the accused (preferably spun, I always say, as the ‘perp’ or ‘offender’ or ‘sex offender’). But I also add that the rights of the accused against the un-boundaried deployment of the Sovereign Authority are and have always been enshrined in the Constitutional Vision (especially in the Bill of Rights). The ‘rights’ of the victim enjoyed and enjoy no such authority and status in the Constitutional vision (which perhaps explains efforts for a while to add a victim-rights Amendment to the Constitution itself).
I would also add that the dynamics necessary to ensure any substantial victim-oriented ‘rights’ as they are being enumerated nowadays would of necessity have to deconstruct the fundamental Citizen protections carefully and clearly embodied in the Constitutional Vision and in the Constitution’s Bill of Rights. Thus any such ‘re-adjusting’ of the balance (between the accused and the Sovereign Authority) would have to be, by its very nature and inescapably so, anti-Constitutional. And this goes as well for that monstrous mutation and Frankenstein-like embodiment of North American victimism known as the SO Mania Regime and its laws and jurisprudence and jurispraxis.
And then Fattah (p.xi) opines that the Method through which victimist initiatives emerged, the timing, the probable ulterior motives, and the political intensity – all of these “expose the hollowness of many of the slogans of victim-rights”. I fully agree. And I would add that “slogans” echoes – although Fattah doesn’t get into it – the methodology of propaganda agitprop, whose objectives – while ostensibly to ‘help’ and ‘change’ – are specifically designed not to inform public opinion but to stampede it, under the guidance of cadre-elites who ‘get it’ against the great mass of citizens who, from the point of view of the revolution, ‘just don’t get it’.
Fattah then notes (p.xii) that what particularly concerns him is the mutation (my term) of victim rights, especially in its North American variants, from a “scholarly” effort to research and understand to a “lobbying stance” where the objective is not accurate comprehension but rather the quick capture of policy and legislative action (and, of course, the hoodwinking stampede of public opinion).
These, he says, “highlight the dangers of a missionary zeal in the service of victims of crime”. Notice that in the beginning – back in the Reagan 80s – the concern was for victims of violent street crime, not necessarily sex-offenses. Although, I add, as early as 1981 we saw the profoundly disconcerting whackery of the child-day-care satanic-ritual-sex-abuse outbreak – which should have given great pause to any easy presumption that American culture in either its popular or elite versions was retaining its grip on mature, serious, careful management of its most fundamental affairs.
He then notes (p.xii) how “unwarranted and misleading” was the “fanfare surrounding the introduction of victimist measures”, most of which were “political palliatives, judicial placebos, or unfulfilled promises”. I would say that the subsequent decades’ worth of SO Mania laws were in their essence efforts to somehow turn the sow’s ear of public pabulum into the silk-purse of genuine and legitimate legal ‘reform’ and ‘updating’ and et cetera and et cetera and et cetera.
We pass now to the first essay in the book, which is Fattah’s, entitled “The Need For A Critical Victimology”.
He notes (p.3) “the dangers of compromising long-established legal safeguards, the probable negative consequences [such as increasing use of imprisonment and longer prison sentences], and the consequences for law enforcement and criminal justice”.
He is deeply worried that such deeply fraught and yet so fundamentally significant ‘change’ yet “generates so little debate” among politicians and legislators. But we now know that in that era (the very early 1990s) radical-feminism, at that time still the darling of the Democrats, was entering its governmental and political heyday as the outgoing Bush 1 (eager to pander) and the incoming Clinton (the designated Democratic panderer-in-chief) represented an intensifying ‘bipartisan’ embrace of victimism (and, as we know, the SO Mania was quick to follow).
So no pols were going to stand up in front of that oncoming freight train. And yet, as we also know, those Mania laws were for the most part not passed on roll-call votes but rather by the unattributable voice votes whereby no Member could be held accountable unless s/he sponsored the law or voluntarily went on the public record as being in support of it. Even then, I would say, the legislators at all levels knew that somehow this Thing wasn’t a good idea and – once the hoopla wore off – might come back to bite them. Meanwhile, who could afford to worry if the Mania Laws began biting and tearing every Citizen that they could get their teeth into?
And it made great ‘copy’ and ‘news’. For the mainstream media it was pretty much a gift-basket or piñata from Heaven.
Again Fattah (p.4) wonders about the “motives” of all the parties (advocates, legislators and pols) involved in this soooo-easy ‘victory’.
A UK sociologist, Paul Rock, had been looking at the developments in the UK and Canada in the timeframe of 1986-1990. Rock too was led to suspect the timing, ease, speed, and motives that underlay the whole thing. The victimist demands got onto the “political agenda” with dismaying and suspicious speed and ease. Fattah will continue to imagine – and at the outset rightly – that this was because of the tremendous utility of victim-rights to the law-and-order Right.
And in the early child-abuse focus there was some validity to that indeed. Politicians somehow sensed the opportunity to pander to some strong strands of public opinion. These strands, I would say, included not only a concern for the increase in violent street crime.
It was equally attributable to A) a ‘liberal’ and ‘progressive’ concern for defendant-rights in the immediate postwar period, when the world had seen after WW2 just what governments can do to their Citizens when they cut themselves loose from any Higher Law and from the substantive adherence to the long-established principles of Western justice; but also to B) the American 1960s ‘liberal’ and ‘progressive’ cutting-loose from ‘morals’, ‘tradition’, ‘common-sense’, and all of that connected with the Boomer and assorted revolutionary abhorrence for ‘bourgeois conformity’ and the abiding Boomer quest for ‘freedom’, ‘authenticity’, and so on and so forth. The same dynamics that fascist and communist governments had unleashed in the service of the Sovereign Authority the Boomer-era unleashed in the name of ‘revolution’ and ‘liberation’ and ‘personal authenticity’. Funny how the historical Night moves.
But as a spin-off of the cultural-revolutions of the late 1960s and 1970s, large numbers of Boomer adults began to deconstruct and weaken long-standing structures of marriage, family, and parenting as moves toward genuine liberation: parents were no longer spending as much time with their demanding kids, kids were on their own and out on their own increasingly, and ‘sex’ was somehow ‘valorized’ as a good thing in almost all instances (this ran smack up against the radical-feminists’ abhorrence of heterosexual sex encounters, but to notice that glaring conceptual disconnect was to be thinking too much and thus proved that ‘you just don’t get it’).
Social psychology could quickly provide grounds for deep concern that large swaths of the public would thus be harboring some deeply repressed guilt-feelings: in following its own path, the Me generation was diverting an awful lot of personal attention from raising its kids to pursuing its own bliss – and such neglect would easily generate guilt.
But humans (and politicians) are notorious for taking the easy way out when it comes to one's own personal guilt: a scapegoat could be raised up upon whom all the trials and tribulations of under-parented kids could be off-loaded. Thus the Violent Stranger, the sadistic Day-Care provider (with whom kids were spending more and more time), and before too long – in a monstrously efficient hydra-headed gambit – the Stranger Sex Offender.
(I don’t intend the foregoing thumbnail sketch of relevant historical factors to be complete, but each of its components played a vital role in the development and sustaining of the SO Mania Regime.)
And then the radical-feminists, coming into their own in the 1990s, unleashed it all against ‘patriarchy’ and ‘men’, whose most vulnerable (psychological and cultural as well as physical) characteristic was ‘sex’. You could declare war on Sex-Offenders and be pretty sure that it would also pan out to be, by and large, a taxpayer-funded war against males. Wheeeeee! What was not to like?
And the pols saw their opportunities and took them. As did the now-familiar pandemonium of ‘experts’ and cottage-industry ‘therapists’ and helpers, as well as the lavishly funded advanced-level, Beltway savvy, victim advocacies.
Fattah notes (p.6) that the 1982 Presidential Task Force focused on “heart-rending yet atypical cases” – and the SO community saw precisely the same gambit deployed in the welter and smorgasbord of SO laws, named so often – so slyly – after this or that victim of a genuinely outrageous but very rare crime. As if the name of the law would distract Citizens from examining the law itself, so overcome with grief for the luridly repeated story of the named victim’s horrific experience.
Fattah comes about as close as he is going to come (at this point) to observing that this whole Thing was not simply a creature of the Right, when he notes (p.6) that victim-rights grew initially from a “populist” inspiration, that was then “co-opted” by the law-and-order Right. I think my position is clear: it was not only co-opted by the putative ‘conservatives’ of the Right; it was deliberately taken over by the cadres of the putative ‘liberal and progressive’ Left, the Democrats. And thus the bipartisan streams were blended and the great SO Mania Frak-Ray was generated in all its power and fundamental treachery and incoherence.
Fattah, noting that some efforts were indeed made, even in the mainstream media, to look more soberly at matters, refers (p.7) to a ‘Time’ magazine article of early 1990** The author of that article describes the dynamic – clear by that time – of ignoring similarities between victims and perps, and indeed raising up the victim as Good and Innocent and Helpless, and the perp as monstrous and Evil by nature.
And that somehow sympathy for the victim was being alchemized into a cry for vengeance against the defendant. (In the early days of cinema, it was not unknown for staid gentlemen as well as women, watching the train approaching the white-clad heroine tied to the track under the leering and sneering eyes of the black-clad Bad Guy, to stand up in the theater and denounce the brute on the screen, while screams and cries for some Help to appear echoed throughout the hall. What pol could refuse him/herself a chance to be that Help, that Hero? Fantasy and Reality blended, often to the disadvantage of the latter.)
Fattah also notes (p.8) the re-emergence of the potential for and practice of “vigilante justice”. We recall that the New Jersey Supreme Court (in the infamous Poritz decision of 1995) pooh-poohed prissily the possibility that an online SO Registry would expose its targets to such justice; the American public, the Court sniffed, was too mature and classy for that.
He also notes something that we don’t often recall: “court vigilance”, whereby strike-squads of victimists would monitor court trials and put on an agitprop show for the cameras whenever some judge was – in the opinion of the revolution – too lenient on a sex-case defendant; even if, I imagine, the judge was simply following the established Western and Constitutional jurispraxis. Nobody familiar with newsreels of life in Germany in the early 1930s could have failed to notice the similarity in dynamics.
Such tactics (p.8) enshrined the “horror-story syndrome” and fed on what was claimed to be “pampering” by the criminal-justice system (and, I would add, implicitly attacked the Constitutional Vision and the entire process of Western and American adversarial justice, designed from the get-go by the Framers to protect the Citizens from the run-away deployment of the Sovereign Authority against them – beneath all of the agitprop was the implicit condemnation of the Constitution and the Framing Vision as ‘pampering’ crime … not even Goebbels could have thought up a more lethally insidious gambit).
Thus Fattah saw the North American victimology movement as “ideologically transformed” (p.10).
And worse, he continues, rather than a criminological focus on the act (or actus reus, technically) itself, the focus was shifted to the insistence upon the personality and fundamental nature of the accused as an incorrigible Monster (my term). I would say that while this gambit echoed queasily the Nazi demonization of what it called repellently “the eternal Jew”, it also reflected and embodied the sly radical-feminist emphasis on the biologically-grounded propensity of the male to propagate through the sex act: since men are essentially predators (although, by the by, women are not ‘essentially’ mothers) then men are permanently and unstoppably sex-perps. Truly a self-licking ice cream cone.
Nor, even more ominously, did males have to consciously intend to be sex perps (mens rea, technically). Rather they were simply by nature and in essence sex-perps. This at a stroke blew away the entire Constitutional and Western legal requirement that a felonious crime had to be deliberately intended. Rather, in a sickening similarity to the Soviet revolutionary condemnation (and obliteration) of entire social classes (such as the Kulaks) simply because they were classified as members of that class, North American victimism – overtaken now by radical feminism – declared an entire human gender to be an outlaw-class, worthy of the most robust repressive measures of the revolutionary ‘law-at-war’.
It is on the basis of such as this that I consider the erection and maintenance of the SO Mania Regime to be a truly world-historical instance of the treachery – deliberate, even if not much thinking went into it – of a government against half of its Citizens, against all of its hard-won legal advancements, and against the very Framing and Grounding Vision of its own polity.
All of which “sacrifices” the rights of the accused. (p.12) And we can no longer be lulled into accepting that whatever new SO initiatives (or ‘sexual violence’ initiatives, as you saw in the immediately previous Post is becoming the new ‘cover’ term) are simply ‘updating’ or ‘reforms’.
And then (p.12) Fattah notes something that would no doubt have seemed just a tiny by-the-by in 1992 but today assumes truly stunning significance: all of this emphasis on ‘violent’ crime or person-on-person crime, he thinks, dangerously shifts national focus away from “white collar crime”; those in great corporate or financial (or political) authority need now be even less fearful of being held to account for any “abuse of power”. And you are invited to look around this “last best hope of mankind” in the Year of Grace Two Thousand and Eleven and see if that observation of Fattah’s hasn’t worked out lethally – perhaps fatally – for the country.
This demand for a “shift of balance” by the victimists, he goes on (p.13), must inevitably work to reduce the rights of the accused. Especially as evidentiary rules are re-weighted to favor the accuser (and the Sovereign Authority, for whom the victim is a handy ‘front’) and work against the accused (whom the Framers had made it their first business to protect against the arbitrary invasions and depredations of the Sovereign Authority).
It was clear, he says (p.13), as early as the 1982 Presidential Task Force when its Report included “a damning indictment” of safeguards long-erected to protect the accused. And I would add here that no calculating radical-feminist advocate worth her (or his) salt could have failed to see in 1982 just what a dandy opening this created for ‘the revolution’.
In the UK, Fattah notes (p.14) the emphasis was on the victim’s needs; in the US and Canada the emphasis had mutated to the victim’s putative rights.
Rapidly, back then, child-abuse legislation attracted an almost “missionary zeal”, but no corresponding zeal to ensure that legislation and policy would accurately define and then constructively address the problem. (How could it? Were the pols in the early 1980s going to recommend that parents – especially mothers – pay more attention to their kids, spend more time with them, keep them under a watchful eye? Were the pols going to insist that families remain intact, or that unwed mothers be far more careful in what males they invited into their child-inhabited homes and apartments? You see how things began to play out in a torturously incoherent era of ‘reforming’ national policies as well as laws.)
And surely enough, he notes (p.14) the law-and-order ‘conservative’ initiatives in favor of draconian and family-intrusive child-abuse laws (fuzzily defined to include ‘neglect’, whether from deliberate negligence or the stringencies of single-parent poverty) that actually worked – as do the Domestic Violence Regime laws here – to undermine the family and lay it open to the almost whimsical decisions of government agents and apparatchiks. As the female is thought now to be merely the temporary bearer of children (when she wishes) so too the family is simply a temporary, State-allowed parking lot for children, who can be removed on almost any pretext according to a welter of ill-defined charges or ‘issues’.
And those early abuse-laws manifested clearly a hasty, “sweeping” nature, and “low standards of proof”. Characteristics, I say, of ‘emergency laws’ that are designed – not always with evil intentions – to sweep away any obstructions that might delay the law’s touted beneficial or salvific effects in the face of whatever monstrous ‘emergency’ occasioned the law in the first place.
Fattah quotes (p.16) one Canadian doctor in June, 1991, who wondered What actually caused more damage in abuse cases: the past abuse itself OR the disclosure of the abuse years or decades later? This goes to the heart of still-current victimist doctrine and practice: if a (self-declared) victim has gotten by for decades, when it can reasonably be presumed that some human resilience would help grow interior psychic ‘healing tissue’ – so to speak – over the wound, then wouldn’t the very public re-opening of that wound, especially in courts of law and the mainstream media, work toward re-igniting the very damage that had been workably absorbed into the psyche over the years?
Yes, surely, some psychological therapy (competent, that it is) would be useful – as can be said for just about any human being who has reached adulthood – but, the doctor wondered, can all this brouhaha of publicity (required by victimist agitprop) really be genuinely helpful to an actual sufferer in the long term?
The question has not lost its relevance today.
He quotes from a 1985 article*** that enumerates some of the problems with child-abuse laws of the era: broad and vague reporting laws that also often serve to prevent help from being sought; guaranteed anonymity for those making accusatory reports; enormous power and broad discrimination vested in social-workers and state employees; removal of children from their natural family environment when not absolutely necessary [no doubt for ‘preventive’ purposes]; and in the matter of any sexual inferences, the consequent deprivation of physical contact or affection from accused parents, perhaps lasting beyond the resolution of the initial matter.
The author might have included an advanced-level problem: children who have been wised-up enough to wield such ‘power’ to intimidate parents for any reason whatsoever. Reflecting both the advanced-level consequences of such laws and policies, and also reflecting the ‘progressive’ assumption that it is the State, and not the Family and Parents, that is the ultimate authority.
Fattah concludes with a paragraph now made poignant with the passage of time. It’s too early to tell, he says (p.21) just what the consequences of abolishing trial-safeguards in rape cases are going to manifest. Not requiring corroborating evidence for the alleged victim’s charges and testimony; the fact that sexual-encounters often leave no evidence in any useful sense; the prohibition of robust cross-examination of the accuser by (counsel for) the accused; the public anonymity for accusers provided by so-called rape-shield laws (no name and no prior sexual history permitted) … all of this, Fattah realizes, destroys any possibility of “a fair trial in the adversarial system”. Which is the Constitutionally-enshrined American system that was incorporated by the Framers from the hard-won achievements of Western Law’s climb up from barbarism and primitivism.
He notes that in May, 1991 the US Supreme Court – in an Opinion written by Sandra Day O’Connor, acknowledged feminist legal advocate and “friend” - upheld the rape-shield laws. While in August, 1991, the Canadian Supreme Court rejected them as being fundamentally opposed to Western concepts of jurispraxis and rights.
Things have moved on since then. Sooooo much.
*St. Martin’s Press. ISBN 0-312-07551-0.
**”Turning Victims Into Saints”, by Ellis Cose; ‘Time’ magazine, January 22, 1990.
***Wexler, R. “Invasion of the Child-Savers”. ‘The Progressive’, issue of September, 1985, pp. 19-22.