Thursday, 21 November 2013

Countering Abuse by Filing Cases

(First unproofed draft which will probably be edited later.)

Just to clarify: I'm all for having more anti-abuse cases filed. I just don't believe that ignoring victims' choices / filing cases without their consent / attempting to force them to file cases are acceptable ways to increase the number of cases filed against abuse.

To my mind, it is crystal clear that if a person has been abused, you should do what you can do to protect the person from all re-traumatisation in any form. That includes not exposing the person to further trauma, and it includes respecting the person’s choices whatever they may be.

That said, issues are not always clear-cut and the ability of persons who have been abused to make decisions in their own best interests may be severely compromised due to the abuse — consequently, there are times when respect for the autonomy of a person who has been abused may have to be superseded for the benefit of the person. (Think, for example, of a woman who chooses not to get medical help after being injured by a man for fear of revealing that she has been abused, or possibly that he has been abusive to her.)

There is, to my mind, however, absolutely no convincing argument to be made to ignore a woman’s choices where the act of ignoring her choices is not essential directly for her own benefit. For example, this includes respecting her choices on how to deal with abuse. Forcing a woman (who doesn't want to) to use the criminal law apparatus  — a blunt tool in itself — to ‘get justice’ puts assorted do-gooders in exactly the same category as abusers, as far as I can am concerned, with neither one showing the slightest respect for the woman’s consent, agency or autonomy.

Being an ally of someone who has already been abused does not involve bullying them or ignoring their wishes; on the contrary, it involves supporting them. Should others be pressuring them not to file cases, being an ally involves acting against those who so pressurise them; it does not involve pressurising persons who have been abused to file cases.

Going through legal mechanisms is torturous and outcomes are uncertain; feeling good about oneself by vicariously living one’s fantasies of trying to bring alleged abusers to book through someone who has been abused is contemptible in my book. Talking about a social obligation of those who have been abused to file cases is absurd.

Yes, in an ideal world, abusers would routinely be brought to book. In fact, in an ideal world, there would be no abusers. The fact of the matter though is that the world is not ideal. The legal process is difficult to navigate. And a person who has been abused simply may not have either strength or inclination to go through it. Nothing excuses putting such a person through additional stress and trauma without their consent. (Incidentally, if the ethics of this argument are deemed irrelevant, the actual filing aside, it is also worth considering that a forced prosecution, if reliant on the cooperation of an abused person who cannot deal with it, could easily result in an acquittal after which double jeopardy will kick in, absolving the abuser.)

And, no, there is no valid public interest argument to be made in relation to forcing persons who have been abused to use the courts to supposedly right wrongs if they don't want to. The courts may punish individuals; they cannot bring societal changes countering abuse into place. They are not counsellors for persons who have been abused, and the possibility of seeing the abuser being convicted may not do much to address the trauma undergone by a person who has been abused — whether or not it does depends on that person.

There are definitely problems; the ostensible impunity of abusers, for one. Suggesting that the filing of (a) case(s) will address those problems is the easy thing to do. It puts the onus straight back on those who have been abused to ‘solve’ problems in a manner which may not necessarily actually address the issues they face but which are deemed publicly acceptable. It also absolves others from talking about issues such as those of police reform, of societal change, of mechanisms to counter abuse... forget about their actually doing anything to change the status quo.

There are problems to be addressed, and there are changes which need to be made. Neither one of them requires possibly re-traumatising those who have been abused by forcing them through the legal system or otherwise. Strengthening institutions and systems so that those who have been abused are not re-traumatised by them, on the other hand, may be prudent to focus on so that in using them — if they choose to — persons who have been abused are less likely to be re-traumatised. That, of course, is much harder to do than it is to override the autonomy of a person who has been abused or to criticise that person for failing to ‘File a case already!’

Also see:

On sexual assault cases: The victim's right to choose by Amba Salelkar, and Karuna Nundy's tweets on the subject: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. (Both Amba's and Karuna's takes are independent of mine; they're just on the same subject.)

The 'Call Cops' Theory

Some of my tweets on the subject, of course, generally devoid of nuance given Twitter's 140 character limit:

(Note: References to the work / words of others are independent of my own.)

Thursday, 7 November 2013

'Anti-Rape' Apps

I find the manner in which 'anti-rape' apps are being promoted bizarre. I don’t think that apps which allow women (or anyone else, really) to contact persons in case of an emergency are a bad idea at all. I do wish those marketing them were a little more realistic about what the apps are capable of achieving; it’s hard to believe that they’re anything along the lines of 'the best anti-rape weapons' around. Not when a stranger is the least likely person a woman is likely to be raped by. Not when the apps do nothing whatsoever to actually prevent rape.

Also, I find it telling that these apps don’t seem to connect directly to the police — they assume a woman has her own network to reach out and ‘protect’ her. Which, of course, may not always be the case.

It seems difficult to see how these apps help beyond alerting one's circle that there's a potential problem. Perhaps, once an alert is sent, they could also begin automatically recording whatever is going on to create a record?