Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Mistakes of Anger

Burning of Sodoma - Alexander Bida
Retribution is sneaky business.  It hides in the shadows, waiting for a crime vicious enough to warrant it, brazen enough to distract us momentarily so that it may rise up and plant itself in our feeble minds.

I came across a terrible case of a young girl "in special ed" who wasn't listened to by school officials when she accused a boy of raping her.
Following instructions from the school, the girl wrote an apology to the boy she accused of raping her and had to personally give it to him, according to the lawsuit. She was then expelled for the remainder of the 2008-09 school year. The school also told "juvenile authorities" that she filed a false report.
The girl returned to the middle school for the 2009-10 school year and tried to avoid the boy, according to the lawsuit. It didn't work. She was sexually assaulted again but didn't tell anyone because she was afraid of being expelled again, her lawyers wrote in the lawsuit. She was allegedly raped a second time Feb. 16, 2010.
School officials were notified of the incident and allegedly doubted the girl's claim, saying they'd "already been through this," according to the lawsuit. The girl was also examined and found to have been sexually assaulted. However, she was suspended from school for "disrespectful conduct" and "public display of affection," her lawyers wrote in the lawsuit.

Who would be blamed for expressing outrage, disgust, and anger upon hearing of such a case.  Yet I was reminded of a grave mistake we allow ourselves to make, when I read the following commentary on the story (of which a great number of other commenters expressed approval).
"The officials responsible for the girl's plight will rot in hell. They should get a second term in hell for blaming the hapless victim -- a special ed middle school girl."
It is so important that we remember that while what these people did was (assumedly) wrong, there are very strong causal mechanisms driving people to make decisions like this.  Blaming the victim is common in rape cases, as is a likelihood of bias against those in special ed (whether cognitively or behaviorally challenged).  There is also the bias against transparency and accountability.

So, there are social and cultural power dynamics at play, as well as no doubt everything that goes into that in a persons' development that allows a person to "do the right thing" in situations where their conscience might be tested.  This could be any number of things - possibly their ability to stand up to a more dominant co-worker or boss, especially if there are gender, racial or class dynamics there, not to mention the interaction of temperamental components.

Without a more detailed investigation, we'll never know what lead the district officials to make what appears a terribly wrong-headed decision.  But from what we know about human development, culture, society and history, we can make reliable predictions about what may or may not have gone on behind closed doors.

What we don't really know, however, is how it could have been possible for the officials not to have had their decisions determined by larger social factors as well as their own individual life histories.  In fact, I submit it is impossible to imagine how they could simply *choose* on their own to make an immoral decision; that is, to make a decision that was removed from any prior emotional or rational causality.

Thus, to suggest anything like their deserving eternal damning punishment - or even any retributive punishment at all - would be a poor trick to play on what amount to tragic individuals caught up in a web of causality that began long before their birth, gave rise to their limited consciousnesses, and caused them to take the actions they did.

It has been suggested that the original biblical story of Sodom was written not in sexual condemnation, but merely as a response to a perceived inhospitality of the inhabitants of the city.  In either case, sexual or no, would not God's wrath having rained down on the souls within, burning them alive for nothing more than rudeness  at best, sexual impropriety at worst, be a prime example of over-reaction's bloodlust being paraded as "justice"?  Maybe the better lesson ought to be that all of us continually be searching to quell our own silly desire for retribution, deserved as we might think it in the heat of the moment?

Instead, let us mourn the sad events that unfolded, let us help the victim, let us take steps to hold the officials accountable so as to maintain the integrity of their office as well to deter similar future behavior, let us chastise them with an appropriate sanction so that they may find some measure of rehabilitation in their wrong-doing.

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