Justice and Closure, Are They Fantasies?
As some who read the blog Stand Up For America are aware my wife and I had been confronted with a situation that is the secret fear of all parents. My step-daughter littleSpoken (thanks again Anita), an intelligent and loving 12 year-old, revealed to us the sexual molestation she suffered at the hands of my wife’s ex-boyfriend. The abuse went on for six months to a year and only stopped after my wife and I married and we all became a family. LittleSpoken provided detailed information on what had happened to her one Sunday after coming to speak with me about the nightmares she was having on a regular basis. I remained calm and gently questioned her on what she experienced as a seven year-old. The answers she gave created a knot of turmoil in my stomach and a great deal of anger at the person who abused her. Some of the information she gave in answering questions about what had happened to her were not things that even a 12 year-old would likely know if they had not experienced it directly.
It was two days before I had the uninterrupted time to sit down with my wife and tell her of littleSpoken’s revelations. The pain and anguish I watched come to life within my wife was one of the most difficult experiences I have ever had to go through. It was heartbreaking for her and all I could do was try and provide her some comfort to ease the hurt. What made it harder for my wife is that she had to be very careful in what she initially said to littleSpoken. You see my wife is a ER/Trauma RN with specialty training as a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) and could be accused of contaminating any information littleSpoken could give in a statement against her abuser. So she would have to wait to speak in any depth about it until a later time. This is, as any mother would suspect, a very difficult stand to take with their own child. All they want to do is to comfort their child and make the world safe again for her. Not to mention that my wife had her own self-guilt as she felt she failed to protect her child – even when there was no indication of anything happening.
The next morning after telling my wife, the police agency that would have jurisdiction over any case was notified. This had to happen regardless of our personal feelings one way or another. Under state law my wife is required to report the abuse. Even if she was not required to we knew that littleSpoken would need counseling and the counselor would also be required to report the abuse to law enforcement authorities. A week later littleSpoken gave a statement to a trained specialist interviewer in child related sexual crimes for the police. My wife and I also spoke with the interviewer before and after the interview.
I spent my adult life in law enforcement and corrections. I spent years dealing with those suspected of and, in the huge majority, guilty of every crime in the book. I have no misconceptions about the criminal justice system in America, which is what brought about my contemplations of late. In speaking with the interviewer after the interview of littleSpoken, I revealed my background to the interviewer. I could almost see the easing in the interviewer’s face when I told her that I had a strong belief that this was a case that had, at most, a forty percent chance of going forward since it was a “he said-she said” case without physical evidence. The interviewer laid out the path forward. The interview (which was video and audio recorded) would be written up and provided to the detective assigned to the case (he was unable to attend the scheduled interview because he had been called out in the early hours of the morning to investigate a sexual assault on a child that had occurred). The detective would, after his investigation, turn the case over to the district attorney’s office for review. The DA assigned would determine whether there was enough to file charges or whether the case would be marked “inactive” due to a lack of evidence to charge the abuser. The interviewer was quick to say that “inactive” didn’t mean closed, just that the case could not go forward (yup, my wife and I know what “inactive” means – not good).
So how does littleSpoken get justice? Is there really justice to be obtained, by her or any victim of a crime against their person? What is justice even? Is it successfully getting the abuser adjudicated and locked up for a term in prison? Does that get justice for her, or is that only “justice” for the indirect victim – society? It seems pretty weak calling it justice for littleSpoken (or any direct victim) since it doesn’t lift the lifetime sentence she will live under, never able to forget or undo what happened to her. I would argue that returning her to the state of life she was in prior to any of the abuse occurring is the only honest justice she could get, and that is not possible. I could argue that justice would be making the abuser suffer a fate worse than he forced littleSpoken to suffer and I would be most willing to get her that kind of justice (as any parent would), but that accomplishes nothing of value. It wouldn’t really be justice, just vengeance. All vengeance would gain her is the loss of a parent who loves her as I sat and rotted away in the very prison society would require I endure as justice for my assault against society. I cannot and will not abandon her and my wife for vengeance. So, really, there is no justice for her in my humble opinion.
What of closure? We hear talk of victims and their families getting closure, which is linked to getting justice. If there is no true justice, can there be any true closure? The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines closure (in this context) as “an often comforting or satisfying sense of finality <victims needing closure>; also : something (as a satisfying ending) that provides such a sense.” A “satisfying sense of finality,” just what would that be for littleSpoken? The only finality I see directly is that the abuse stopped. The impact of the abuse on her psychologically and emotionally still exists and must be dealt with for a lifetime. Counseling will aid her in dealing with her mental and emotional feelings, with the goal of getting her to a point where she controls her feelings and is able to prevent them from interfering in her future years. That will bring her some peace but that isn’t finality in my thinking because there exists the inability to ever forget.
So, in the end, there isn’t justice or closure. Neither is attainable as they are concepts that do not provide for undoing the wrongs done. They are society’s way of essentially telling a victim that what happened cannot be undone so you must get over it and move on (which is true, one must move on). But, really it’s not much more than society satisfying its own conscience.
I am not saying I have any better answers. I struggle to deal with my own emotions over what happened to littleSpoken. I spend each day making sure she feels as safe as possible and loved as much as any child would desire. I can’t fix what happened to her, I can only provide her the opportunities to take control of her inner self and get herself to where she can be as whole as is possible considering what happened. Counseling for her may go on for a long time, that will be up to her. I can only pray it brings her peace eventually.
P.S. After careful consideration we have found a counselor for littleSpoken. A woman who has specialized training in child trauma and abuse. Very soon her therapy will begin and she can start the walk to heal.