Thursday, November 16, 2017

Sorrow for the Victims

I recall an observation from Thoreau that the more that people accept a concept or principle as valid, the less interested they become in its many applications.

That isn't exactly how he phrased it, but it is a truth that remains so today — and, I suspect, will always be true.

There is always a time when something that was previously considered unthinkable happens, and it is shocking — but the more it happens the less shocked we are.

It has become that way with terrorist attacks and mass shootings. And now, I fear, it is becoming that way with sexual abuse cases.

Sex scandals involving prominent people are not new, of course. Even in sleepy Central Arkansas, the buckle of the Bible Belt where I grew up, such a scandal reared its head when my district's longtime congressman was caught in a relationship with a stripper.

That kind of thing was shocking at the time even though it wasn't new.

And sexual abuse and harassment cases involving vulnerable young women and minors isn't new, either — but with such rapid–fire revelations focusing on more and more prominent people, one begins to develop a sort of numb acceptance. The response is that the point has been made.

For some reason that makes me think of a time when I worked on the copy desk at the old Arkansas Gazette. In a short period of time, there were two high–profile and extremely grim cases of fathers murdering their families — one of which occurred one dark, rainy night (really) in Little Rock. It was so dark and rainy that neighbors who happened to be up that late probably mistook the sound of gunshots for thunder.

Even if they had known what they were hearing, no one could have done anything to save the victims. The patriarch of the family shot his wife and daughters in their heads before turning the gun on himself.

The other murder case occurred around Christmas in a rural setting. The murders were carried out over several days as family members arrived to exchange gifts.

Those murder cases sent shock waves through all of Arkansas, but in hindsight the reaction would have become more muted if more fathers had flipped out and started killing themselves and their families.

I guess my overwhelming emotion is as it was then — one of great sadness for the victims — of whom there are many.

First and foremost, there are the children who have been scarred by people they probably trusted. We all have to grow up and face a sometimes ugly world, and we each do it in a different way. It is a bargain that is made, and it usually comes at a cost. The children in these cases were compelled to pay too high a price.

Yes, I feel very sad for them. But I don't know what can be done — except to try to be more courageous about speaking up when I think something is wrong. Still you can't legislate courage, can you?

And that leads me to a second group of victims — the rest of us.

As polarized as this country has become in recent years, there is little tolerance for those who deviate from what is expected at either extreme.

Or even those who insist on that old–fashioned concept of innocent until proven guilty.

I know that means evidence, and the problem with sexual abuse cases is that there are seldom witnesses. But witnesses aren't the only kind of evidence. In fact, accusations are not proof, no matter how many accusers there are.

Physical evidence is preferred. There may be some kind of trail or some sort of forensic evidence. Finding it probably requires a lot more work than most criminal cases but to obtain true justice, isn't it worth it?

As Supreme Court Justice Benjamin Cardozo said, "Justice, though due to the accused, is due to the accuser, too."

That still holds, doesn't it?

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