Seeking justice for self and others is a good thing. No, it is a “God thing.” This world was created to be just and one day it will be made right again. However, now we live in a world where justice is sorely lacking around the world. Even in the United States where the rule of law is paramount, justice is difficult to come by for certain segments of society and for those especially who are abused in secret.
We’re doing a bit better. Rape and other sex crimes are taken more seriously. Laws are changed to allow old crimes to be brought to trail. Notice that the movie Spotlight is in the theaters, highlighting the massive cover-up of church sex abuse crimes. Churches are now much more serious about protecting the most vulnerable in their midst–in part due to increased child protection measures required by law. Organizations like GRACE tirelessly provide prevention education.
You might think then that victims will find it easier to report their crimes and to pursue criminal justice. And I suspect the data would show that more do report their crimes now than twenty years ago. However, easier does not mean easy. Though this essay is nearly 13 years old, I recommend those serving victims (public and private mental health providers, ministry leaders, criminal justice providers) read Judith Herman’s review of some of the challenges of reporting physical and sexual assault crimes. Some of those challenges include
- The humiliation of telling your story in a public and adversarial setting such as a trial (and telling it repeatedly with those who must question you)
- The possibility that the perpetrator will use the system to intimidate and to terrorize
- Being told that your case isn’t going to be taken up; being disbelieved when it is true
- Being coerced by family not to report due to the perpetrator being a family member
What can we do to help?
Most readers probably do not work in the criminal justice system. Yet, there are many things we can do to help those who need justice.
- Get educated. Check out resources provided by NOVA; know what abuse crimes are happening in your community; consider having law enforcement or a member of the District Attorney’s office come to a meeting with community and church leaders
- Find out what laws need to be changed and communicate regularly with your political leaders
- Become a victim advocate officially, or volunteer to go with a victim to his or her next court date
- When injustice happens between members in a close community, consider how restorative justice practices might be beneficial for victim and offender
- Mental Health providers can help prepare victims and their families for the challenges of going through the system
- Teach on the matter of justice seeking in churches; show that the pursuit of it is central to the Gospel (James 1:27)
2 responses to “Seeking Justice After Abuse: Can we Make it Easier?”
Judicial reform is a good idea, and there’s not much in Herman’s article that is controversial. But for the sake of discussion I’ll note that the bulk of current reform thinking is directed at defendant rights. There’s a reason. We believe people are innocent until proven guilty. In that respect Herman’s unreflective conflation of the term “victim” with the person making an accusation, particularly in a legal setting, is off-putting. This is exactly what our [no doubt flawed] legal system is ostensibly trying to determine. Herman, of all people, should know this since her best-known research suffered from this particular oversight. BTW, there is more current data on victimization and reporting rates at http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/rsavcaf9513.pdf.
Our daughter was the victim of sexual assault as a teenager. She went through a trial and the conviction of the perpetrator. We received the most opposition from some members of the Christian community who felt we were being vindictive since the perpetrator was a professing Christian. We believed that we were seeking appropriate accountability and justice and measures to protect the community at large. Thanks for bringing the need for understanding this topic to light.