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Victims Exploited to Achieve Punitive Objectives

Victims Exploited to Achieve Punitive Objectives

Embargoed until 10.00am, Saturday, 19 November 2011

“The most influential international social movement advocating for the increased punishment of offenders, has been achieved through the right wing takeover of the victim rights movement.” said Kim Workman, Director of Rethinking Crime and Punishment. He was speaking on the topic ‘Limiting the Rush to Punish” to an audience of 350 Psychiatrists and Psychologists attending a Conference in Wellington.

“Thirty years ago, the international victim movement drew inspiration from the civil rights movement, and was inspired by progressive, humanitarian ideals. The movement developed two prongs: one focused on victim rights, the other on victim support. By 2000, the victim rights movement had been taken over by a punitive right wing lobby. It had so successfully secured a place at the centre of government policy overseas, that other victims groups such as Victim Support and Rape Crisis were marginalised. In 2001, the e Sensible Sentencing Trust was formed in New Zealand , and has carried on the right wing tradition, with considerable success.”

“The fundamental basis of their power flows from the public and political perception that these are “good people” who have suffered at the hands of “bad” people. That view renders the cause politically irresistible, but it also works to support a narrow punitive focus.

The strategies employed by these takeover groups are universal. First, they co-opt statements made by individual victims of crime or a particular class of victims, e.g., the families of murder victims, as if they represented the views of “all” crime victims. Both then and now, victim’s views on sentencing are as varied as those of any other cross-section of the general public.[1]

Secondly, they constantly misrepresent the response of victims , claiming that they are all ‘outraged’ and want revenge and harsher law. As psychiatrists and psychologists you will know that victims may experience anger as their initial impulse, but after the initial shock has passed, victims’ emotions and reactions may vary considerably from physical retaliation to withdrawal, to efforts to prevent future harms, to forgiveness of the offender

Thirdly, the Trust publicly attacks judges, senior public servants, who chose not to agree with their own views. Judges, senior public servants, and so on are all fodder to the cause; former Commissioner of Police Howard Broad was called on to resign, when he expressed the view that too many people were being sent to prison. They also publicly endorse those who follow its policies.

Fourthly, it rejects the evidence for “what works”. There is no scholarly basis to its beliefs. It has its own framework of knowledge, which is based on the membership’s personal and punitive beliefs.

They also actively pedal the idea that anyone who supports victims is good, and anyone who works with offenders is bad. That immediately puts groups like the Salvation Army, Church Social Services, Prisoners Aid, Corrections Officers, psychologists social workers and psychiatrists in the “soft” category, and severely compromises those of us who work with both offenders and victims.

Perhaps the most destructive element of all is their view that the way to restore the frictional imbalance balance between victims and offenders rights, is to attack and reduce the basic human rights of offenders. The idea that every time you acknowledge the human rights of offenders and observe due process in their treatment you take something of value away from victims is fundamentally flawed and exists in a moral vacuum.
In the early years, the Sensible Sentencing Trust did some excellent work in enhancing victim rights. It’s recent efforts at formulating criminal justice policy have been a dismal failure, and if adopted, would lead to increased victimisation in our society.
For the full paper, go to: www.rethinking.org.nz

Kim Workman


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