Saturday, July 9, 2011

Illusions, Criminals and Victims

My son was mugged recently, in daylight on a Sunday whilst walking through a public park. He was beset by 3 adult males and, following counsel given by us in the past, he did not resist physically, only verbally. Some persons passing by did nothing, when what was happening was apparent.  Perhaps a discreet telephone call would have assisted.  He was punched but lost only his mobile telephone, his pride and his dignity.  A few days later, however, when he was asked to walk to the service station late in the evening to collect some items he did so but felt ill at ease.  This was a lad who had formerly not worried about being out at night.

We all like to think that if threatened we will respond like Arnie or John Wayne, that with right on our side we will be the victor.   The reality is quite different.

We have told our sons that a telephone or a wallet is not worth dying over, that fighting back in such a situation could result in someone producing a knife, that a blow from a fist can result in lifelong brain damage, that a head hitting concrete could cause death.  It’s just not worth it over a telephone that can be quickly deactivated by calling the service provider.

The matter was reported to the police who advised that others had been robbed in the same manner that day by the same gang and that they believed they knew who the assailants were.  The police took some items for DNA testing and my son attended at the police station the next day to give a statement.  The tally for reported muggings by this gang over 2 days was by then 8.

It reminded me that a few weeks previously, my other son and I had attended a seminar on Forum Sentencing, a new scheme being introduced into the NSW courts.  That scheme seeks to bring together offenders, victims and other people affected by the crime.  The offenders are told about the impact the crim has had on the lives of the others and those others can set out a plan that to some extent repairs at least some of the harm done.

What stayed in my memory about that seminar was a film that accompanied the presentation.  It was of 2 individuals, a real life robber/former drug addict and his victim.  I don’t recall their names, each spoke separately to the camera.   The victim described how he came home and found someone ransacking his house.  A struggle ensued and the homeowner was bashed over the head, injuring him.  The assailant was arrested and, as part of the sentencing process in the UK, he was introduced to his victim by way of forum sentencing.  The assailant said that he went into the spiel that he had always given to the lawyers, police, the courts, social workers – he had come from a broken home, had a drug habit etc etc.  The victim cut him short and said he didn’t want to hear a shallow speech with no sincerity.  He wanted his assailant know what his actions had done.  The victim said that he had had illusions that he could protect his home, his wife and children, if they were threatened.  The assailant had stripped him of that belief, that he no longer felt a protector, that he was now fearful of leaving his home.  In one brief moment the victim had been stripped of his dignity, his self respect, the feeling of safety and security in his home and the belief that he could protect those closest to him from harm.  The assailant said that this came as a shock to him, he had previously thought that he stole goods that were covered by insurance, a quick in and out for items that were quickly replaced at no cost to the homeowner and no harm done.  The offender and victim stayed in contact, the victim helped his attacker find employment and the attacker continued his education, eventually writing a best selling book about the matter.  The camera pulled back to show that the two individuals, previously appearing singly on camera, were actually sitting next to each other.

Is it as traumatic for a young person to be mugged as for an older person?  More traumatic?  Less?  Does it make any difference whether the person is robbed in the park or in their own home?  How much worse is it when violence accompanies the offence?

I don’t know the answers.

I do know that as a lawyer who appears for the offenders my duty is to do the best that I can for my clients.  In so doing we often lose sight of the fact that behind the charges and indictments, behind the police fact sheets and the criminal histories there are victims, real people young and old, who may well bear the psychological traumas long after the case is done, the good behaviour bond has expired, the fine has been paid or the time has been served.

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