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Men who do bad things and why being surprised is part of the problem.
Here in the UK, we have had a few tragic and traumatising events that have prompted conversations about badness and evil, and why men do things like: murder, child abduction and sexual assault. I make no apology for choosing to write about men, as in my experience, although there are some similarities between men and women who do these things, the differences are more important than the similarities.
There have been speculations about what these men are, what their problems might be called and what should be done with them. As a women and a mother, I have a visceral and deep emotional response to these things: I am shocked, appalled, revolted and enraged; I have cried, felt sick and realised how lucky I am to have my family and friends around me. I think that if I let these emotional responses guide my thoughts and actions, I would be part of the growing group of people who are labelling this evil and unbelievable and calling for the reinstatement of the death penalty.
As a clinician, I have worked with some people, who have been labelled as evil, bad and mad. A very few of these people have hurt others, most have hurt themselves. But I have never worked with anyone, who'se history and personal experience, didn't make sense of where they were when I met them. I have not met someone who has been DAMAGING and ABUSIVE, who has not got a history of being DAMAGED and ABUSED by someone else, and by someone else imortant to them. This is centrally important in how we respond and react to news and information about vicious and appalling acts of abuse and violence. These people have not had a few minor experiences in life that they have over-reacted to. They have not gone a little overdrawn or "had a bad curry". They have typically been subjected to violence, abuse, neglect and deprivation, over an extended period of time. Often this happened in early childhood and was done to them by those that should have been caring and protecting them.
We should not be surprised by this - it has happened throughout history, and will continue to happen. Global prevalence of sexual abuse is: 19.7% of girls (that's 1 in 5) and 7.9% (that's nearly 1 in 10), the vast majority of these will have been subjected to physical violence too (Clinical Psychology Review). 78% of children that are abused have been severely neglected and 17.6% subjected to physical violence (National Child Abuse Statistics).
So who should be punished for the crimes that they commit? Them, their abusers, those that neglected to protect and guide them...and how far should we go, how many generations, how far should the net extend - to anyone that had contact with them as a child?
Of course not. Many people would hesitate about the parents being held responsible if it meant sending them to jail - afterall, if the crime was committed as an adult then they are not responsible are they? What about friends and other family members, teachers, doctors, religious leaders, sports coaches, college and university lecturers, employers etc.
I suppose that many many people have a part to play in the creation of these individuals. Some by commission, but many more by omission. We all have to take responsibility for what we can do, for those around us. Looking around for a quick fix is understandable. Wanting the individual to be put to death or put in prison is normal for those who are desperately hurt by the terrible deeds that men like this can do. But in reality, we do not make ourselves safe by punishing those that have already committed crimes - they have already done damage to others. Sure they should face the force of the law, and I believe, even posthumously should be exposed to the consequences of what they have done. More importantly, those that have been damaged and abused (and those that love them) should be heard and supported, recognised for their incredible bravery and resilience, and given any help that they need to rebuild their lives.
Unfortunately, punishment - even death - doesn't act as a deterrent for people like this. They are driven by pain and torture that lies deep inside them. For those that acquire power as adults, (either by fame and fortune, or by joining with others to form gangs or group) there is also the additional silencing of others, who are fearful of retribution or disbelief, if they speak out. Men who do these things, are known and feared, and spoken about in whispers. They are known to be frightening and dominating and to use their power destructively.
What needs examining is why those that knew these things, did not or could not speak out. I don't mean their victims. I mean others around them, that knew them.
When you think of what they have done it is hard to feel interested in them as people, let alone compassionate towards them. Work with these people, after they have been brought to justice, may not mean that they are ever safe to take their part in the community again.
But I believe that many of us meet these men as children along the way. And I do believe that kindness and care go a long way. I have worked with many people, who have been damaged and abused in childhood by those that should have protected them, but have been shown compassion, love and integrity by one or two individuals. And it is this that helped them build a blueprint of how to be as an adult. It may have been one or two teachers, coaches, employers, neighbours, nurses, doctors, therapists, extended family members, friends, friends parents etc.
We all have a part to play and we can all give a little of ourselves to those that need it. You don't have to have special teaching or special powers, to notice those that are struggling around you. And we all have a bit of time. Perhaps, if we all used these experiences to notice those around us that we could help, as well as taking the time to be close to those that we love, we might create more opportunities for more people to make a better life.