Criminals are abused children, lost as adults
November 30, 2003
The perpetrators of crime are victims too, says author John Marsden.
Thesedays we have all the sympathy in the world for abused children. We weepfor their loss of innocence. We understand how it is that many (in somecases all) of the pillars of their lives have been knocked out fromunder them. We support them with counselling and care. That's how it'ssupposed to work anyway. In many cases it does work like this.
Almostin the same breath we denounce child abusers. We call them scum, filth,animals, monsters. We talk about how they should be castrated, lockedup for life, executed. "If I could get my hands on those mongrels. . ."
At the extremeare those terrible scenes ofhysterical adults surrounding a policewagon containing a child molester and rocking it backwards andforwards, or the mob attacking the house of a child molester who hasbeen released from prison.
Oneof the ways we justify this rage is by telling ourselves and each otherthat we are showing our solidarity with the abused children. But one ofthe truths about this complex issue is that the abused child for whomwe show such support, and the child abuser for whom we show such hatredand contempt, are the same person.
Weclaim to feel love for the abused child but when, inevitably, someabused children grow up and start acting out the consequences of theirabuse, we react to them with rage and hatred.
Thatabused child who has had the pillars of his life knocked out from underhim will, without support and understanding, grow up continuing to feelfrightened and lost. To allay these feelings, he may try to recreateany situation in which he felt "held", and these may include encounterswhere he was literally held, as he was beaten, or seduced into a sexualencounter.
It is impossible for a loved, secure person to commit a serious crime.
Atthose times, the adult created a little world that just the two of theminhabited, where all other concerns ceased to exist, and where thechild, no matter how bizarrely, felt something like security. If, as anadult, that same child finds himself in a world that is frightening andinsecure, a world in which he has no real connections with anyone, hemay try to recreate those moments of illusionary security.
It'sa difficult process to understand. And it's not an inevitable process.Many, perhaps most, people who are abused as children go on to leadsecure and well-balanced lives, often because the abuse took place outof context.
In her book Banished Knowledge,Alice Miller referred to a survey of American prisoners that showedthat about 90 per cent had been abused as children. She commented thatthe other 10 per cent would have been abused too - it was just thatthey had not yet been able to admit it.
Theprisons of Australia are also full of abused children. Those samechildren whom we profess to care about when they are 10 or 12, but whomwe stop caring about when they are 16 or 18.
Allcrime is illness. All those who commit serious crimes are ill. The morehorrifying the crime, the greater the illness of the perpetrator. It isimpossible for a loved, secure, happy person to commit a serious crime.
Shame onpoliticians who use "getting tough on law and order" as an electionslogan. They are exploiting these abused children to gain power.
Itwould dramatically alter our society if we treated criminals as peoplewith serious illnesses. We could do better by them, and we could dobetter for ourselves and our community, if we stopped calling them scumand looked after them as the confused and lost children that they are.
Thecheap, shallow and easy response to all this would be to sneer, "Oh yesthat's right, we'll let them all off just because they had unhappychildhoods". Why do people need to think and speak like this? Why arethey so hostile to such an obvious truth: that criminals are themselvesvictims of other people's serious crimes, crimes which often wentunreported.
Irecognise that some criminals may be so badly hurt that they are unableto control themselves and, therefore, cannot be allowed back into thecommunity. But they are not monsters.
Wesay we care about abused children and we obviously do. But that meanswe have to care for them, and it's not so obvious that we do that. Italso means that we have to care for them when they become adults, evenif they are confused and mentally ill adults. It's horribly obviousthat we're not doing that.
This article first appeared in the Brotherhood of St Laurence's Bridgewater News.
This story was found at: http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2003/11/29/1070081592602.html
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