Sexual Assault: The Perpetrator, the Victim and the Representative of Justice
By: Beth McHugh 2010
In all cases of sexual assault, there is the perpetrator and the victim. In some cases, there is an introduction of a third party: the representative of justice. The latter only comes into the picture when the victim reports the crime, which according to available statistics, is in the minority. This means that most crimes of a sexual nature go unreported.
This situation clearly is not good, but it gets worse. Often there is an expectation by the victim that, if they report the crime, justice will be done. This belief, while reasonable, is sadly not what the justice system is about. As Billy Bragg, the famous UK singer/songwriter once said in his song “Rotting on Remand”: “This isn’t a court of justice, son, this is a court of law”.
There are so many examples where a victim of sexual assault will take the brave step of coming forward and working their way through the mentally grueling task of going through the court system only to emerge feeling angry, betrayed and in fact, re-victimized by a system that does not adequately address the crime of sexual assault.
Attending a rape case in court is like attending a character assassination – except the person on trial is the victim, who in a strange twist of “justice” seems to have to prove that they are innocent, rather than having the focus on the perpetrator and his or her innocence or otherwise.
Of course, this situation becomes even worse when the crime involves a juvenile and the perpetrator involves a minister of religion. Here the “trial” is initially conducted outside of a court of law, and is done internally by the church concerned. Although there are sadly many cases of children being assaulted by members of the clergy, in recent times it is the Roman Catholic Church that is currently under the spotlight for the way it has handled repeated episodes of sexual assault on its own child members for generations.
At present even the Pope is under scrutiny for his actions in an apparent cover up in his capacity as being the past head of corruption in the church when he was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. For a child victim of sexual assault, being raped by a priest equates to being raped by God, and fewer adults will believe the child than if the accusation was against a member of the general public. For an adult to come out and accuse a priest of sexual crimes is a huge effort, something which is largely incomprehensible to anyone who has not been in this position.
But to have the assault dismissed and covered up is an even greater crime. When I work with victims of sexual assault, it is almost always a universal given that the person who is in a position of restoring truth and justice, and who fails to do so, is the worst perpetrator of all.
I will watch with interest as to how the Pope deals with these latest revelations from his past.