My argument regarding victim impact statements is not that they shouldn`t be used but how they should be used.
Please tell me what we want the accused to hear and know. In giving an account of the impact of the crime to the accused what are we seeking? Do we wish to whisper guilt and responsibility into some part of her soul? Do we want him to feel guilty? Is that social justice?
Do we believe that since this person is involved in a crime they do not have the capacity for guilt or shame? Since they are mentally ill do we believe they are intellectually challenged to the point where they can’t comprehend how they have altered lives? Do you really think Vincent Lee doesn’t realize people are horrified and damaged? Do you believe he has not also been damaged by the events? His world is forever altered as well. It was not in the name of evil, it was in the name of illness.
If a court finds an individual to be neither guilty nor innocent which side do we choose? If it is a stranger or someone in a newspaper we might all honestly choose to ascribe guilt. It is a foreign concept to be separate from reality. For some individuals in society it is part of their illness. For the small percentage that is dealt with forensically we might all consider it may be someone we care about.
If your brother or sister, neighbour or co-worker were to be caught up in similar circumstances what would your concerns be? Certainly we all want to be safe but once that is ensured I would hope every other decision was towards rehabilitation. It is not because I am soft or gullible…a lefty. It is because I knew you when you pushed your children on swings. It is because you always had a smile for me each morning I saw you. It is because we have shared this home/workspace/community. You were my classmate, you were my friend. I worked with you and tipped your service. We were family, we were a ball team. We laughed and worried together.
When you pull me from a headline and place me amongst yourselves how do you want to treat me? Is it “this is what you have done” you want me to hear or “how can we help?” Despite the fact that we see these individuals with the police, in court, in jail and in orange it is the invisible mental illness we must remember. Our treatment of these individuals affects the very illness that brings them to our attention. We can hate what they have done, we can hate their illness but if you hate them you hate someone for an illness.
The court needs to hear from any victim. They deserve their voice but it is not a convicted criminal they are addressing. One in five might be able to imagine what it is like to be exposed to this while ill. Can you imagine it to be cruel? Do we care?
If I was being cared for on the street would my therapist prescribe a recounting of my offences as some new treatment?
When I am well if you want me to know your pain I will listen.