Justifying Sexual and Domestic Violence

Justifying Sexual and Domestic Violence

Mental Illness Labeling Removes Responsibility from Perpetrators

Originally posted June 2nd, 2012


The excuses for rape, incest, and domestic violence are everywhere. The victim somehow triggered the violence from the perpetrator, making her/him responsible for rapes and beatings. The perpetrator was beaten as a child; therefore he couldn’t help himself when he beat/raped his wife, child, or even a stranger he targeted. The perpetrator was depressed or schizophrenic; he couldn’t help himself and just HAD to do it!

Most victims have heard all of these. Somehow though, despite countless victim reports where the victim could tell the person hurting them knew clearly what he was doing, anyone the victim talks to about her/his experience is more likely to make one of the aforementioned excuses over providing whatever help the victim needs. Labeling criminal behaviors as “mental illness” is easier for most of us somehow, removing the perpetrator’s responsibility – and our own if we know about something and do nothing to intervene.

This subject has come up in my own life, once again, after someone I know did some research on the “cause” of the abuse I suffered as a child. He learned, for example, that the person who did terrible things to me was himself abused as a child, that his father was probably a depressed schizophrenic (allegedly; there is no medical proof, only antidotal interpretations of conduct by those with no psychology training) and that this father had no choice but to do the terrible things to his son. Carrying out this logically, the responsibility quickly turns to “he wasn’t responsible for what he did to you; it was mentally illness that made him do it.”

Or, put another way, I must have forced him to do horrible and violent things to me, I must have triggered him and “should have known better (as a toddler and a pre-schooler).” Net result: victim responsible for perpetrator’s criminal conduct.

Courts of law see this very differently. Under the “M’Naughton Rule,” a person is legally culpable if s/he is aware that behavior x is wrong and against the law. The law assumes personal responsibility by everyone, which is exactly why insanity defenses are typically ineffective in courts of law. Unlike perhaps the rest of us, the law makes no excuses, defers no responsibility to the victims of crimes. Each criminal act is a choice made as long as the individuals involved know right from wrong.

Like so many victims of (violent) crimes, I have no question in my mind that the person who did terrible things to me knew exactly what he was doing, knew that what he was doing was and is unquestionably wrong. Being the victim of something is not an excuse for becoming a perpetrator yourself anymore than being the child of an alcoholic forces you into an alcohol addiction yourself.

We all make choices. Yet somehow it remains easier to make excuses on behalf of those who cause the greatest harm than it is to love and support those who suffer, often in silence. Rather than holding rapists and batterers responsible we somehow find it easier to cry “mental illness” and then condemn those hurt by them.

Perhaps it is time to stop making excuses for rape, incest, and domestic violence and recognize that these are all crimes, that those who suffer from these assaults are completely innocent, that no one can force or induce another into violence. It is time we love and believe in every woman, man, and child who is in pain from these terrible things and re-affirm the beauty of their souls and the inner strength created by surviving.

Love, light, and healing be to all who suffer and need help!

So mote it be!


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