Very many criminals and other wrongdoers are victims. Many have had a dreadful childhood or have committed crimes while in fear of someone. It is right to be sympathetic but it is wrong to excuse them completely. We have developed ways of dealing with different levels of responsibility; lesser charges can be laid or lenient – perhaps suspended – sentences can be applied. It is, however, wrong to ignore completely crimes committed under duress or being an accessory to crime while under duress. This is because duress is variable and requires judgement. It is expected that a person with integrity will stand up to duress and do the right thing but it is also accepted that duress may be so extreme that no one could be expected to resist. Each case calls for judgement.
The case of a mother who was silent or who facilitated the rape of her child must be examined and judged.
The following appeared in the Irish Times in relation to the conviction of Fiona Doyle’s father for rape. “The problem most people have when stories like Fiona’s come out is that everyone wants to know about the mother – why she didn’t intervene – and it takes the focus off the father and the abuser,” says Paula. “But, in most cases, the mothers are as much the victims.” (i)
Certainly nothing should happen to divert attention from or dilute the guilt of the rapist but to say that “in most cases” the mothers of child victims of rape are “as much the victims” diverts attention from the seriousness of rape and undermines the child’s particular and terrible grievance.
Another Irish Times piece on the same page argues that it would be very wrong to blame the mothers in such situations. (ii) That might appear progressive and decent at first sight but it suggests that all are blameless.
It is worthwhile to consider a further wrong committed against Fiona Doyle in which duress might be the defence.
The following is from another piece in The Irish Times. “Rape survivor Fiona Doyle has said no alarm bells rang when as a child she was treated for a sexually transmitted infection. ‘I was brought to the doctor . . . and the doctor told my mother I had warts and they were that bad that I had to go to hospital to have them lasered off. But I didn’t know until I was in my late twenties that I had an STI,’ she told last night’s Late Late Show.” (iii)
The doctor and those at the hospital who remained silent having treated a child for an illness that was sexually transmitted, bear some responsibility for subsequent rape attacks on the child. The duress which motivated their silence would be of a different type and a much, much smaller degree than that faced by the mother but the medical staff, like the mother, have questions to answer.
The point is this: The time to have sympathy for those who under duress participated in or facilitated a crime is after their behaviour has been examined and the extent of the duress established.
i. This is Rosita Boland quoting Paula Kavanagh, another victim of a father’s sexual abuse. http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/weekend/2013/0126/1224329285532.html
ii. The piece is by Kitty Holland and it appears on-line at the same URL and follows on from Rosita Boland’s article.