Category: Punishment

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Death Penalty May Not Bring Peace to Victims’ Families

00Featured news, Forgiveness, Law and Crime, Memory, Punishment, Stress, Trauma October, 16
Source: Lesia Szyca – Trauma and Mental Health Report Artist

On May 15th 2015, a federal jury condemned Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to death for his role in killing four people and injuring hundreds in the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013. Before the verdict, Bill and Denise Richards—the parents of a nine-year old boy who was killed in the attack—asked that the government not seek the death penalty against Tsarnaev. In an open letter published in the Boston Globe, they explained:

“The continued pursuit of that punishment could bring years of appeals and prolong the most painful day of our lives.”

The death penalty is often touted as the only punishment that provides true justice and closure for a victim’s family and friends, also known as covictims. But this is rarely based on covictims’ actual sentiments.

Research by University of Minnesotta sociology-anthropology professor Scott Vollum and colleagues found ambivalence in covictims’ reactions to capital punishment. Their study showed that only 2.5% achieved true closure, and 20.1% said that the execution did not help them heal. Covictims in the study also expressed feelings of emptiness when the death penalty did not “bring back the victim.”

The long judicial process between conviction and execution, which can span many years in some cases, also prolongs grief and pain for covictims. Uncertainty prevails in the face of appeals, hearings, and trials, while increased publicity inherent in death-penalty cases exacerbates covictims’ suffering. Through media exposure, they repeatedly relive traumatic events.

Pain and anger, especially, are common in the wake of tragic loss and can be accompanied by an overwhelming desire for revenge. Some covictims in the Vollum study voiced that the death penalty was not harsh enough, while others communicated a wish to personally inflict harm on the condemned. In the majority of cases though, executions were not sufficient to satisfy these desires.

“More often than not, families of murder victims do not experience the relief they expected to feel at the execution,” states Lula Redmond, a Florida therapist who works with surviving family members. “Taking a life doesn’t fill that void, but it’s generally not until after the execution that families realize this.”

In a number of cases, covictims actually expressed sympathy for family members of the condemned, often empathizing with the experience of loss. “My heart really goes out to his family. I lost my daughter, and I know today is a terrible day for them as well,” statedone covictim.

A death sentence can polarize the two families, obstructing healing for both. Prison chaplain Caroll Pickett has witnessed how capital punishment inflicts trauma on loved ones of both the condemned and the victim, as well as prison employees and others in the judicial process, stating in his autobiography, “All the death penalty does is create another set of victims.”

Of course, findings like these beg the question, are other forms of punishment more conducive to healing? A 2012 Marquette University Law School study showed improved physical and psychological health for covictims, as well as greater satisfaction with the justice system, when life sentences were given, rather than capital punishment. The authors hypothesize that survivors “may prefer the finality of a life sentence and the obscurity into which the defendant will quickly fall, to the continued uncertainty and publicity of the death penalty.”

Would covictims move through the natural healing process more rapidly if they were not dependent on an execution to bring long-awaited peace? Perhaps the execution as an imagined endpoint for closure only leads to more grief in the meantime.

As one survivor expressed, “I get sick when death-penalty advocates self-righteously prescribe execution to treat the wounds we live with after homicide… Healing is a process, not an event.”

The realities of capital punishment may be poorly suited for healthy grieving and healing. The Richards family wrote, “We hope our two remaining children do not have to grow up with the lingering, painful reminder of what the defendant took from them, which years of appeals would undoubtedly bring.”

–Caitlin McNair, Contributing Writer, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

–Chief Editor: Robert T. MullerThe Trauma and Mental Health Report

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

Rehabilitation Benefits Young Offenders

Rehabilitation Benefits Young Offenders

00Anger, Depression, Featured news, Health, Law and Crime, Punishment, Trauma September, 15

Source: Kim Silerio/Flickr

“We are seeing far too many young offenders entering the adult system who should be dealt with in the juvenile system,” says public defender, Gordon Weekes, in a short documentary published in April 2014, by Human Rights Watch.

With little support and a lack of rehabilitation resources available in adult facilities, young offenders prosecuted as adults are often faced with harsh protective and disciplinary measures like solitary confinement.

But, solitary confinement is just as common in juvenile correctional facilities. In 2013, an Ohio juvenile correctional facility placed a young boy in solitary confinement where he spent 1,964 hours in isolation. Referred to as K.R. in court documents, his longest period of seclusion was 19 consecutive days.

Although declining, in the 1980s through the mid-1990s, serious and violent juvenile crimes were on the rise, raising concerns about whether to subject young offenders to longer prison sentences and the same legal proceedings as adults. In 2011, Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the American Civil Liberties Union estimated that more than 95,000 youth were held in prisons, most of these facilities using solitary confinement.

A 2012 HRW report states that solitary confinement is often used to punish young people for misbehavior, to isolate children if dangerous, to separate children vulnerable to abuse from others, and for medical reasons (including suicidal ideation).

Yet, research shows that solitary confinement can cause serious psychological and developmental harm to children, and can have a detrimental effect on one’s ability to rehabilitate.

In the HRW report, adolescents indicated a range of mental health difficulties during their time in solitary confinement. Thoughts of suicide and self-harm were common. Several participants even described that their requests for mental health care were not taken seriously.

Kyle B., a participant of the HRW study recalled:

“The loneliness made me depressed and the depression caused me to be angry, leading to a desire to displace the agony by hurting others. I felt an inner pain not of this world… I allowed the pain that was inflicted upon [me] from my isolation placement to build up. And at the first opportunity of release (whether I was being released from isolation or receiving a cell-mate) I erupted like a volcano.”

According to researchers at the 2014 Advancing Science Serving Society annual meeting, prisoners kept in isolation lose touch with reality, and can develop identity disorders after spending long hours without social interaction. It can also be damaging to individuals with pre-existing mental illnesses or past childhood trauma.

Incarcerated adolescents who have been accused or found guilty of crimes can be extremely difficult to work with.  UN Special Rapporteur on torture, Juan E. Méndez, advises that “solitary confinement should be used only in very exceptional circumstances, for as short a time as possible.”

The US Supreme Court has consistently emphasized the importance of treating young people in the criminal justice system with special constitutional protections regarding punishment. Since solitary confinement is physically and mentally harmful to adolescents, many are calling for reform.

The HRW report suggests alternatives to solitary confinement to foster rehabilitation. They suggest increasing the number of trained supervised staff in facilities, like social workers and other mental health professionals. Providing adolescents with programs and activities in groups may help with development and rehabilitation. The HRW also emphasizes rewarding positive behaviours instead of punishing bad ones.

Research has also linked the role of education to improved behaviour and lower rates of delinquency among incarcerated youth.

Along with appropriate mental health care, education may improve rehabilitation efforts and assist youth in productive re-entry into their communities.

– Khadija Bint Misbah, Contributing Writer, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

– Chief Editor: Robert T. Muller, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

Child Criminals, Feature2

Children Who Kill Are Often Victims Too

00Adolescence, Attachment, Caregiving, Child Development, Empathy, Ethics and Morality, Featured news, Law and Crime, Parenting, Psychiatry, Punishment, Self-Control, Therapy, Trauma March, 15

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In 1993, in Merseyside, England, Jon Venables and Robert Thompson were charged with the abduction and murder of 2-year-old James Bulger.  Bulger had been abducted from a shopping mall, repeatedly assaulted, and his body left to be run over by a train.  Both Venables and Thompson were 10 years old at the time.

The public and the media called for justice, seeking harsh punishment and life imprisonment for the murder of a child.  The boys were labeled as inherently evil and unrepentant for their crimes.

When there are crimes against children, it is common for the public to view the victims as innocent and the perpetrators as depraved monsters.  But what do we do when the accused are also children?

Instances of children (12 years of age and younger) who have killed other children are extremely rare.  In a study conducted by University of New Hampshire professors David Finkelhor and Richard Ormrod for the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), murders of children committed by those aged 11 and under accounted for less than 2 percent of all child murders in the US. Cases also tend to differ significantly, so conclusions can be difficult to make.  But there are some similarities that have emerged, telling us about the minds of child murderers.

Children who murder have often been severely abused or neglected and have experienced a tumultuous home life.  Psychologist Terry M. Levy, a proponent of corrective attachment therapy at the Evergreen Psychotherapy Centre, notes that children who have severe attachment problems (which often result from unreliable and ineffective caregiving) and a history of abuse may develop very aggressive behaviours.  They can also have trouble controlling emotions, which can lead to impulsive, violent outbursts directed at themselves or others.

Other similarities among child murderers include having a family member with a criminal record, suffering from a traumatic loss, a history of disruptive behaviour, witnessing or experiencing violence, and being rejected or abandoned by a parent.  Problems in the home can be particularly influential.  If a child witnesses or experiences violence, they are likely to repeat violence in other situations.

What a child understands at the time of the crime is of great importance to the justice system.  The minimum age of criminal responsibility (MACR) is the age at which children are deemed capable of committing a crime.  The MACR differs between jurisdictions, but allows any person at or above the set chronological age to be criminally charged, and receive criminal penalties, which can include life imprisonment.

Many courts consider criminal responsibility in terms of understanding.  So they may consider someone criminally responsible if, at the time of the crime, they understood the act was wrong, understood the difference between right and wrong or understood that their behaviour was a crime.  But this approach has been criticized as being too simplistic.  Criminal responsibility requires the understanding of various other factors, many of which children cannot appreciate.

Children may know that certain behaviours are ‘wrong’, but only as a result of what adults have taught them, and not because they fully understand the moral argument behind it.  Morality and the finality of death are abstract concepts, and according to theorists such as Swiss psychologist-philosopher Jean Piaget (whose theory of child development has seen much empirical support), most children under 12 are only able to reason and solve problems using ideas that can be represented concretely.  It is not until puberty that the ability to reason with abstract concepts (like thinking about hypothetical situations) develops.

Prepubescent children are also not fully emotionally developed, and less able to use self-control and appreciate the consequences of their actions.  This, in combination with the fact that many child murderers are impulsive, aggressive, and unable to deal with their emotions, suggests that when children kill, they are treating their victim as a target, as an outlet for violence.  Most victims are either much younger than or close to the same age as the perpetrators, which may suggest they were chosen because they could be overpowered easily.

Research to date suggests that child murderers don’t fully understand the severity or implications of their crimes.  And psychiatric assessments have shown intense psychological disturbance, making true appreciation of the crime even less likely.  Yet many children have been found criminally responsible and sentenced in adult courts.

Jon Venables, Robert Thompson, and Mary Bell received therapeutic intervention while incarcerated, and have since been released.  As far as the public knows, only Venables has reoffended.  However, Eric Smith (convicted of killing 4-year-old Derrick Robie) remains behind bars today, even though he was imprisoned at 13.

Critics of judicial leniency for children accused of murder often cite the refrain ”adult crime; adult time,” choosing to focus on the severity of the crime rather than the age and competency of the offender.  Make no mistake; the murders of these children were brutal, depraved acts that caused intense suffering for the victims, their families, and communities.

But in our zeal, in our outrage, do we dehumanize these children?  Children who—like their victims—can be victims too.

– Contributing Writer: Jennifer Parlee, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

– Chief Editor: Robert T. Muller, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

Copyright Robert T. Muller

Photo Credit:torbakhopper/Flikr

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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I Do but I Don’t Have To: Marital Rape

00Divorce, Environment, Ethics and Morality, Featured news, Gender, Law and Crime, Marriage, Punishment, Religion, Stress, Trauma October, 14

Rape is often thought of as forced sexual intercourse by a stranger. So as a crime within marriage, rape is often overlooked.

Worse, many consider it a husband’s right to have intercourse at will.

Rape scenes on television and film are commonplace. Even AMC ‘s award-winning show, Mad Men, known for its poignant showcase of gender issues in the 1950’s tackles the topic of marital rape in graphic difficult-to-watch dramatic scenes.

There’s a Difference

Marital rape is often regarded as less traumatic than stranger rape but studies show this to be false; survivors experience long lasting effects.

Unlike stranger rape, marital rape is often a reoccurring event. Raquel Kennedy Bergen, Professor and Chair of Sociology at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, notes that marital rape victims are “more likely to experience multiple assaults and often suffer severe long-term physical and emotional consequences.”

There is also a difference in the type of abuse suffered. Married perpetrators may use verbal and psychological means of control, for example, anal or oral rape to humiliate the spouse.

The psychological trauma can also spread through the family when children become witnesses to sexual abuse. In a study by researchers Jacquelyn Campbell and Peggy Alford, the authors found that five percent of the women indicated that their children had been forced by their partners to participate in sexual violence and 18% of the women indicated that their children had witnessed an incident of marital rape at least once.

Now considered a global problem, findings from the National Violence Against Women Survey, University of Minnesota, indicate that an astounding 20 percent of rape survivors were victimized by a spouse or ex-spouse, and four percent were raped by a current or previous cohabitating partner.

Why Don’t They Just Leave? 

Believing that the perpetrator might change results in general underreporting of sexual abuse by family members. 

Women under misconceptions -rape myths- believe the crime is only committed by strangers. So help-seeking is hindered by their failure to recognize being crime victims at all.

Even if they recognize the husband as abusive, there are barriers to escape. Social and religious shaming can represent obstacles to separation or divorce.

The nature of the spousal relationship can serve to imprison many women. Financial dependence and in some cases photographs and film taken of the sexual abuse are used as blackmail, also limiting options. 

Punishment

Criminalization of marital rape didn’t take place in many countries for decades after the feminist movement brought it to the forefront in the 1960s with countries such as Canada, Israel, and Australia waiting until the early 1980s to create laws against it. In the United States, it wasn’t until 1993 that rape laws in all 50 states had removed a marital rape exemption, which allowed a husband to legally rape his wife. 

Even with the removal of the exemption, marital rape is still often dealt with differently in the legal system from other rape crimes. An Illinois Victim’s Services Newsletter describes a case from 2005 in which a wife reported being raped by her husband. Although the average conviction for rape in Illinois is five years, he only served 19 months.

You Don’t Own Me 

Misogynistic beliefs, the view that women’s bodies are owned by their husbands, and victim blaming attitudes (“she was asking for it”), serve to slow progress.

Certain religions may encourage the dominance and status of males over females, especially in the context of marriage. This cultivates a sense of ownership and religious right to do with wives as some husbands see fit. 

Outrage over a proposal of a marital rape law in the Bahamas had many Bahamian men confused with one stating, “It is ridiculous for them to try to make that a law, because I don’t think a man can rape his own wife. After two people get married, the Bible says that they become one –one flesh. How is it possible to rape what is yours?” 

It is just this culture of justified rape that perpetuates silence.

At its core, marital rape needs to be recognized for what it is -a violation of human rights, rooted in misconceptions that must be amended for the sake of our mothers, sisters, and daughters.

– Contributing Writer: Justin Garzon, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

– Chief Editor: Robert T. Muller, The Trauma and Mental Health Report 

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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Acid Attacks: The New Gender Terrorism

00Dreaming, Ethics and Morality, Fear, Featured news, Gender, Law and Crime, Marriage, Parenting, Punishment, Resilience, Trauma September, 14

With her head bent down staring at the floor, saliva running down her chin, a woman is unable to lift her head or close her mouth. Acid has melted her skin.

An estimated 1500 people per year are victims of acid attacks; 80 percent of whom are female and 40 percent are under the age of 18. Although acid attacks are becoming increasingly common in countries such as India, Cambodia and Afghanistan, they occur more in Bangladesh than anywhere else in the world.

 About 60 cents a bottle, acid (hydrochloric, nitric or sulfuric) has become the weapon of choice against women in countries where their rights are still limited.

 In November 2012, the BBC reported a story about a 15-year old girl, attacked by her own parents because she turned her head to look at a boy passing on a motorcycle. Claiming that she “dishonoured her family,” the parents together beat her and then poured acid over her. After two days without being taken to a hospital, the young girl died of her injuries.

 Rarely resulting in death, the horror of the attacks is nevertheless striking. Within seconds, the acid melts skin, fat, muscle and sometimes bone. Women may be left blind, some with sealed nostrils, shriveled ears and damage to their airway from inhaling the fumes. In time, formed scar tissue tightens and pulls what is left on the face and neck, causing intense physical pain and discomfort.

 Why do the attacks occur? Most show a common theme: a woman stepping out of her subordinate gender role thereby causing dishonour to her husband or family. Choices many of us make without thinking, such as rejecting a marriage proposal or a sexual advance, are enough to instigate an attack.

The violent act is a threatening message not only to the victim, but to women in general, leaving many in a permanent state of fear.

 Victims are left permanently disfigured, socially isolated, and emotionally scarred. With the end results so extreme, some have called for punishment of death for those who inflict this on others. Yet in most cases, the perpetrator is left to carry on as if nothing happened. Laws have been passed with jail sentences as high as 14-years. But inefficiencies and corruption within the legal systems where these attacks occur mean that fewer than 10 percent of cases make it to court.

Many human rights agencies have advocated banning the sale of acid to decrease its availability. But for those who are motivated, acid can be found; many attackers are now using the inside contents of car batteries.

Sital Kalantry, the Cornell international human rights clinical director has called the phenomenon a form of “gender terrorism.” Unless women are able to step into a role of equality of rights and freedoms, the problem will persist.

Worldwide, many are taking action to raise awareness, provide treatment and ease pain. The 2012 Oscar award winning documentary Saving Face, tells the stories of Pakistani women who were victims of acid attacks, and follows them through their fight for justice, through their battle to get their lives back.

Featured in the film is British plastic surgeon Mohammad Jawad who has devoted countless hours to reconstructing the faces and bodies of women damaged by acid. He is one of many who have donated their time to try and heal these women.

The Acid Survivors Foundation, established in 1999, is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping women find a place again by connecting them with treatment and rehabilitation services offered by people such as Jawad.

Still, surgeons cannot repair everyone. For some already suffering from malnutrition, an acid attack can leave their skin almost fossilized, with scar tissue left to take over. For those who are able to undergo surgery, it can take over 20 procedures to restore basic functioning, a process unaffordable to many already living in poverty.

In addition to the physical damage, acid attacks inflict emotional damage and can destroy hopes and dreams. Uli Schmetzer, a Chicago Tribune foreign correspondent, told a story in 1999 of a 20-year old girl, Sufia, who became the victim of an acid attack meant for her sister who had turned down a marriage proposal. Having been accepted into university, Sufia had plans to become an agronomist; following the attack, she was likely to end up a beggar.

Often living as social pariahs following mutilation, these women are left with little hope. Seeing perpetrators get off without consequence, others are left to live in a state of fear that they will be next.

 – Contributing Writer: Crystal Slanzi, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

– Chief Editor: Robert T. Muller, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today