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Harm: victims to offenders

27 September, 2009

At what point does a victim have the right to retaliate and is it morally right to want revenge?  The answer could be legally not at all. However, this is dependent on the conscience or morality of the individual. In some cases it may be easier, fairer or less traumatic for the primary and secondary victims to either do nothing or ignore the ‘social contract’ and take matters into their own hands. The criminal justice system may not give them a result or at least not the one that they desired.

Durkheim has said:

“….defending morality by means repudiated by it, is a remarkable way of protecting morality. It weakens on the one hand the sentiments that one wishes to strengthen on the other.”

Martin Luther King issued similar sentiment against revenge:

“….returning violence for violence multiplies violence adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars”

His widow also said:

“….revenge adds to the suffering of the victims”.

Keeva (2004) shows how through a process of restorative justice the offenders are exposed to the impact of their actions through the stories of harm from primary and secondary victims. The warden notes the success – it creates a change in the offenders. The victims also receive some fulfillment from this process. The Handbook of Penology states that only 4% of victims want a punitive judicial procedure.

Moriarty (2005) and Herman and Wasserman (2001) recognise the limited options for victims in corrections and does not acknowledge that offenders can be in a relationship or return to the same community as the victim. While the criminal justice system can be a secondary victimisation for victims, through certain programs the victim can use a talking process to help heal the harm the offence caused. This can also help the offender, as in our system of criminal justice offenders do not have to face their victims which allows them to rationalise their actions through excuses. In not facing the victim and not realising the harm you have caused and the impact of your action are some of the biggest shortcomings of the criminal justice system.

Victims can perceive their harm in very different ways so the harm that is done cannot be measured by a standardised gauge or precedent set compensation. When a victim is harmed they can respond to the offender’s actions in three ways. If they have someone to talk to (or report) who believes their story and acknowledges they have been wronged, the victim is then able to fight back psychologically and so is able to think – “I knew their actions were wrong… it is not me or my actions”. If the victim is unable to corroborate their story, they can blame themselves and this leads to self harm through drugs or other methods in order to annihilate the ‘badness’ within themselves. On the other hand, the victims can become victimisers and perpetrators and project the ‘badness’ onto others. They in turn become offenders and are dealt with as ‘bad’ through the criminal justice system.

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