When I was a child, I didn’t even know that perpetrators could be punished. Anger, lash-outs, violence, and abuse were such a common place where I grew up that I had no idea that my abusers were doing anything wrong.
The only person that had done anything wrong was me – because I was supposed to protect my sacredness and I didn’t.
Years later, when I had already moved countries and I was well in my thirties, the reality dawned on me. My perpetrators were roaming free… and it was them who had committed a crime, not me.
This was a shock! I was filled with rage at this realisation. I had hated myself for years up until that point and I realised that I didn’t need to. It was them who needed to pay the price.
I wondered if they had hurt any other children. I wondered if they deserved the respect of the family members who had no idea about the kind of things these perpetrators had done.
I decided to punish them. After all, isn’t this what justice means?
Before I could report the incident to the police, I decided to talk to government agencies. To my surprise, I realised that there was no way for me to report this crime due to its international nature (details of which I am unable to share). The only way possible for me was to go back to Pakistan and register my complaint there…
This was futile. Pakistani justice system is full of corruption and I had no faith that they would do anything about my complaint until I produced witnesses who had seen my abuse or could prove that abuse had occurred somehow.
This made me really frustrated. I couldn’t believe that there was no way out for me… How could I let them go free?
They say ignorance is bliss. When I didn’t know that I had no choice, it was much easier to bear it but after I knew.. I just didn’t know how to handle this. I felt helpless and I felt frustrated. I felt that the justice system had failed me.
I tried to find other ways to punish these men but I really didn’t know what to do. These men lived in different countries and had no connection to my life. I couldn’t see them suffer… Desperate to find another way, I started questioning the motivations behind my anger.
Why did I want to punish him?
Was I motivated to stop other children from being abused or did I want to punish my perpetrators and didn’t really think about anything beyond?
This exploration led to more questions like: “Why did my perpetrators do this to me?”
In my last blog (Handling Anxiety) Future of the Mind – Dr. Michio Kaku, I have talked about how we create stories in our brain to make our life seem coherent and right. I wondered what stories my perpetrators were telling themselves?
It has been long established that people who were abused in their childhood, would continue to perpetuate the cycle of abuse by abusing other children. I wondered if my perpetrators were abused themselves.
This was a hard question to answer. I was realising that I was “justifying” their actions for them and that made it a very precarious affair. I didn’t want to condone their actions but at the same time, if there are bigger factors at work, then punishing them might not do anything for other children of the world.
Marshall Rosenberg, in many of his talks, talks about a particular tribe in Africa. Within this tribe, the members believe that when a human being commits a crime, it is most likely that they have lost touch with what it feels like to be loved. The wise men of the tribe gather and mutually agree to surround this perpetrator with people who love him and they remind him what it feels like to be loved and to be in touch with the humanity.
Apparently, this works wonders because crime is a rare occurrence in this tribe.
But our worlds are different – In our world, we shame; we guilt, and we punish people based on what society considers to be right/wrong and based on how much they have wronged us.
I wonder if we make it worse overall? Someone wrongs us and then we punish them because they have wronged us. They feel wronged and continue their lashing out… Are we stuck in a perpetual cycle of punishment and hurt?
This is what I want to explore this month – the theme of punishment vs rehabilitation. I would love to know your thoughts. I am sure we all would want to rid the world of such heinous crimes… Are we doing it effectively?