Jodi Arias and the culture of slandering the victim
"When a man lies, he murders some part of the world." ~ Merlin, Excalibur
On Wednesday the jury returned with a verdict in the trial of the woman accused of murdering Travis Alexander on June 4, 2008. By this jury of her peers Jodi Arias was found guilty of first degree murder. The jury will next determine the appropriate sentence for Arias, which could mean the death penalty.
The trial was a lengthy one that captured the attention of the media, and also prompted strong reactions among the public. Although most of us sympathized with Travis Alexander, there were those who felt conflicted about the case, due to allegations made by Jodi Arias that Alexander abused her.
It is natural to feel sympathy for victims of abuse, and the explicit, sordid account Arias gave was disturbing. But it didn't take long before the most open-minded grew aware that Arias's charges were too impractical to be deserve credence. She alleged to be terrified by this man, yet she was the one that sought him out on the fatal day. She claimed she's a good person, yet she stole a gun to carry out the deed and then went on to change her story to police multiple times. On the witness stand she was confused and foggy when it came to specifics about the shooting, butchery and final, fatal throat-slashing of Alexander; yet she was able to recall with sparkling clarity the intimate details of the alleged abuse. In the end, her memories were too selective and her overall behavior too smug for us to believe her.
Well, most of us.
Arias did and still does have a cheering section that staunchly defends Alexander's killing as the desperate act of a scared and abused woman. This sentiment runs ripe among groups and individuals already known for harboring antagonism toward men, and in particular white, straight men. These defenders are the ones that laud Arias's courage.They likewise praise Arias's altruistic nature, never more clearly demonstrated as in her selling "Survivor" tee shirts at her website, under the claim of promoting awareness about domestic abuse.
Then there are those who are just enraptured by Jodi Arias. As is often the case with those standing trial for murder, Arias gleaned her share of obsessed admirers. For the type of individuals drawn to criminals, Arias cuts an alluring figure. She's physically attractive and is just as appealing going with the coy brunette librarian look as she was as a bombshell blonde. She makes glaring orange jail attire look fashionable. She giggles a lot. And under self-made circumstances that would leave anyone else red with shame, Arias can manage to bring a carefree, girlish smirk when posing for her mugshot.
With these assets it is no real shock that Arias recruited a small army of obsessed admirers ready and willing to pounce to her defense. Accordingly, some of her fellow jail mates have vouched for her personal integrity and have spoken of her in terms of "hero" and "guiding light". Websites and FB pages were created for the purpose of maintaining her innocence. And being the generous gal she is, Arias has fervently given back to her enthusiastic supporters: from the granting of numerous interviews, to making a video of her jailhouse tapped rendition of "O Holy Night", to posting her lovely artwork on her website...a website that was diligently maintained, even as her in-trial allegations against Alexander grew more convoluted by the day.
As to those allegations of abuse, I have the leeway of weighing them through the eyes of someone who has been there. There was a time in my own life when I was abused by someone I loved. The relationship didn't start out abusive, but grew steadily that way as this individual allowed themselves to love drugs more than me. They hid their addiction, or so they believed, and took their aggression out on me. I can honestly say this person hurt me both physically and emotionally. In fact he terrorized me for some time. But despite all the anguish and fear he caused, in the end I realized I was better off without him. So I got away and never went back.
I was still scared of him for a long time afterward. But you know what? I didn't come out of it mistrusting or hating men, and have no desire to stereotype men or feel hostile to their gender. I never sought to get back at this man; never once contemplated venturing back into his life in order to bring harm or death. This isn't to say that a woman, in order to defend her life from immediate harm, or that of someone else, doesn't have the right to do whatever it takes to protect that life. Because she certainly does have that right. However, some things are just wrong; and entering anyone's home with the specific intent to kill that person is wrong, no matter how much abuse they may have formerly dealt you.
In Arias's case I have no doubt she had plotted out the death of Travis Alexander long before she showed up at his home on that fateful day. I also feel Arias enjoys attention with the same passion as she derives from dealing out revenge. Lastly, I believe her entire story about Alexander's "abuse" is fiction, one that was created for the sole purpose of gaining sympathy.
In finding Arias guilty of first degree murder, the jury obviously saw right through that fiction. Their verdict hopefully brings some measure of justice for Travis Alexander, and comfort for his family. But does the jury's ability to see through the web of lies exonerate the purposeful maligning of Alexander's character that was carried out in the courtroom? I don't think so.
Which brings me back to the matter of hostility toward men. Discrimination of any form -whether racism, sexism, religious intolerance, agism or any other- is wrong. The problem here is that we have a culture, or at least a dedicated sub-culture, that has no problem slandering men at every opportunity. On the other hand, dead men can't fight for justice. Alexander couldn't reach from the grave and beg the criminal justice system to treat him equitably. Arias's defense team pulled out all the stops to make the jury believe he was just another example of the abusive white, straight male, and oh yes, don't let us forget, an abusive white, straight male of the Mormon faith. The team wanted the jury to hate Alexander so much that they could never, in good conscience, find Arias guilty.
Now I am not a male and neither am I straight (I'm bi-sexual) or a member of the Mormon religion. And speaking with the experience of a domestic abuse survivor, I am sickened by people who pull out the abuse card to justify criminal behavior. The perpetuation of stereotypes to exonerate crime only pisses me off. Because of this I find Arias a particularly repulsive criminal. All the same, she isn't the first defendant to play the victim card and she won't be the last. But the worst part about it all is that there is more of a likelihood Jodi Arias will some day walk out of prison a free woman than there is a chance the world of criminal defense will suddenly develop an overwhelming desire to treat murder victims with common decency.
If anything positive has come out of Travis Alexander's brutal murder it can only be that the maligning of his name has opened public awareness to the extent of abuse toward the dead as practiced inside courtrooms. I know many people gave Arias the benefit of the doubt when her trial started. But her attempts to manipulate quickly helped them see the absurdity of her allegations. And in course, it made her defense team look, most rightfully, as insensitive twisters of the truth.
The argument of "best defense possible" is not a license to malign the dead. And Arias herself would have fared better if she'd simply owned her deed and thrown herself on the mercy of the court. No one benefits from manipulation and lies in the courtrooms. Who knows, if and when the public as a whole demands an end to the slandering of murder victims, just maybe defense attorneys will follow suit .
We can hope anyway.
This hub ©May 9, 2013 by Beth Perry