The Consequences of Crime upon Victims
What is acceptable in today's world may be tomorrows horror
The idea of victimization, who falls within its rubric and why?
The answer to this query mirrors, to some degree, the times in which people lived, and their cultural values. Though it may strike us as unlikely, a century after our time, there may be those who look back with disdain on the ways certain groups or individuals were treated by our society. Perhaps some will say the fact of our having been willing to pay two people to fight one another, risking lifelong injury, even on an Olympic level, may be regarded as barbarous.
Hence, in fairness, we need to judge our forebears with the understanding we hope to gain from our descendants.
Changing views and priorities
For the ancient Romans, gladiatorial combats were seen as a way in which prisoners might earn their freedom if able to overcome a ferocious, long-starved lion. When ambiguity arose regarding the winner, the majority of spectators’ thumbs-up or thumbs-down served as a macabre version of our current parole boards. Presumably, a sufficient amount of courage indicated a prisoner’s right to return to society.
Thumbs are also believed to have served a further purpose in law. While the expression “rule of thumb” may derive from the Romans, some scholars attribute it to a medieval law stating that, though a husband was allowed to beat his wife via his hand or a stick, that stick could not be thicker than the heft of an average male thumb.
Although from our perspective, such a law seems brutish, it does represent the roots of concern for domestic violence.
Who is a victim?
The word “victim” evokes images of the most vicious crimes: murder, mutilation, rape, and other crimes involving irreversible harm. Still, the largest numbers of crimes consist of day-to-day violations. These offenses include mugging, fraud, or vandalism of one’s home, car, or any other item connected to one’s sense of identity.
Hurt by the children they helped
In their memoir, (Angels on the Walls) Wallace and Mary Brown recount the hurt experienced by a couple who, while engaged in religious efforts, found their home had been burgled. The police report informed them that these burglars apparently knew the layout of the house fairly well, and had entered via a small window. This indicated that one of the boys that the couple were giving guidance towards a better path in life had broken in and given access to the others.
Mary brown later said, “It’s not so much what was stolen, but the terrible sense of intrusion. … I think it was one of the children we were trying to help. … It’s as if the kids just walked all over me.”
Further personal betrayal
As the above scenario shows, as difficult as it may be to rebound from a random crime, it tends to be far harder when the harm has been done by someone known to the victim. Perhaps the pain is deepened when such a theft cannot be understood by youth or poverty.
One young woman, new in her office, invited all her colleagues to a New Year’s Eve party at her home. Next morning, she realized a small wooden box, with the outline of a dove on its lid, had been taken by one of her guests. While the loss of this heirloom distressed her, the primary vein of hurt lay in the knowledge that someone she had welcomed into her private sanctum had stolen one of its ornaments.
The lack of its market value made its having been taken even more painful, as it stripped the theft of any financial incentive. The hardest aspect to bear was the knowledge that, unless a fellow employee returned the box, she would feel the need to withhold trust on any number of levels. Thus, during a laugh at a coffee break, sharing hamburgers at a summer company picnic, or enjoying a Christmas sherry in a local bar, the thought of who had taken the box would continue to plague her.
Assassination of Julius Caesar
"Et tu, Brute?"
This Latin phrase has come into our language as an indicator of the penultimate sense of betrayal by the most trusted of friends. Translated from the Latin as “and you, Brutus?” this phrase is believed to have been among the last words cried out by Julius Caesar when, finding himself trapped and ambushed on the steps of the senate by a knife-wielding group of conspirators, saw his beloved friend Brutus among them.
The reason words and phrases take root are due to their primal place in human interactions. Disheartening as it is to find one’s trust violated by children we have tried to nurture, or colleagues invited into one’s home, the most scarifying hurt comes from the deliberate effort of a supposed long-term friend to expose one to serious harm or even death-in a sense, becoming a Brutus.
A spiked drink: was it done out of spite or foolhardiness?
A young man, at a reunion with six of his closest fraternity brothers in college, enjoyed an alcoholic frolic through memories of shared youthful joys and hi-jinks. At this writing, he remembers standing up, shaking hands all around, then turning to begin his walk home. His next memory is waking up in a hospital, in the intensive care unit.
When he asked the staff how and why he was there, he learned, to his bewilderment, that he had been found on the roadside, where he had lain for some hours. His rescuers had been a crew of street sweepers on their early shift. Once examined, though still unconscious, Blood-alcohol tests left no doubt of his having ingested a substance connected with date rape and other scenarios where a memory blackout was intended.
Recovery and its results
Given the resilience of youth, fairly soon he was able to resume his day-to-day life, continuing his high level job, and maintaining his long-term relationship with a partner. Still, the sense of betrayal remained. At age thirty, all these friends had known him since at eighteen; most of them had started college together. Thus, had the spiking been a practical joke, reminiscent of earlier times? Did whoever spiked his drink understand the full ramifications?
Worst and most haunting of all, was there some festering grudge which had suddenly surfaced? Dramatic as this might sound, he felt the need to consider its vague possibility. Ultimately, rather than risk forfeiting his core of friends, he chose to view it as a prank gone awry. Still, he will, in all likelihood, never completely shed that lingering taint of uncertainty.
Genuine goodness evolves from the soul
The thrill killing of Shaun Ouillette
Until fairly recent times, admissions of killing a fellow human being with no motivation beyond the pleasure of the ultimate power experience, was not admitted by a defendant. Indeed, many hunters of animals claim a need for food to have been their sole incentive. The concepts of thrill killing, wilding and hate crimes are comparatively new additions to the legal lexicon.
Aware such an admission could result in the ultimate penalty allowed in his state, why did Rod Matthews confess? In all probability, his admission was based on his belief that his status as a minor would shield him from those penalties handed down to adults guilty of similar cruelties.
The chubby kid had few friends
Fourteen-year-old Shaun Ouillette seemed freed from the fixation of most teenagers to emulate the sought-after and glamorous. Instead, he accepted himself as he was, making little effort to hide his enjoyment of eating. According to his mother during a TV interview, he would request helpings of fattening foods with no sense of embarrassment.
Still, he must have felt a degree of sadness at his social exclusion.
In 1986, his family moved to Dedham, a town south of Boston, where he entered the local high school as a freshman. Given that most new teenage students are appraised by their peers with little compassion, Shaun’s chubbiness did not invite immediate popularity. Still, having started the term in September, by late November, when he was killed, he undoubtedly would have developed some friendships. When on November 20 1986, invited to visit the good-looking, popular Rod Matthews, his mother said he was elated as he viewed this as progress.
Rod Matthews’ premeditation
Fifteen-year-old Rod Matthews had decided to find out how it felt to kill someone. He did not, however, wish to deprive himself or his friends of someone they would be likely to miss. This concern impelled him to make several lists of those who would be most expendable. Eventually, he targeted Shaun Ouillette. Having found his victim, the rest proved straightforward. As mentioned above, his invitation to hang out after school was met with alacrity.
Absolute proof of the plan
Any doubt as to Matthews’ plot was shown by the way he went about this killing. Claiming the need to return a borrowed baseball bat to a friend, Matthews asked Shaun to go with him to return it. When Shaun agreed, Matthews took a path through a wooded area. Once sure it was secluded enough, he walked behind Shaun, deliberately stepping into his footprints in the snow in order to blur them.
Having distracted Shaun, he then struck him on the back of his head, with full strength and lethal force. Knocked to the ground, Shaun cried out, “Help me!” Later, Matthews would tell authorities he would have rushed for help at that point, had he thought it could have kept Shaun alive. His only reason for making no effort lay, he insisted, in what he thought would be the futility of any attempt.
This statement is belied by the fact that, some days later, he showed some of his closest friends Shaun’s corpse as a trophy of power and victory. Later, some of these friends, plagued by conscience, testified in court against Matthews.
Further confirmation by testimony
According to a New York Times article, two other witnesses saw Matthews strolling down the street shortly after the killing, carrying a baseball bat. Given Matthews’ previous talk of his plan, one of these witnesses testified to having asked Matthews whether he had killed Ouillette. After some reticence, Matthews said he had done so adding that when his first blow knocked Ouillette to the ground, he struck him a second time.
Defending the indefensible
Matthews’ original plea to be tried as a juvenile was rejected. The meticulous planning of the crime reflected an adult mentality. His defense attorney had only a few shreds upon which to weave a case.
Given the circumstances, he could only claim Matthews had been raised in a dysfunctional home, suffered from mental illness in childhood, and had been emotionally damaged by the medication Ritalin prescribed by his doctor. Still, no documentation existed as to Matthews’ inability to understand the nature of his act and its absolute wrongfulness. Thus, the jury sentenced him to twenty years to life imprisonment, the ultimate penalty in Massachusetts.
Forever Young: Gravestone of Shaun Reni Ouillette
“He is still my son.”
Each time Matthew’s case has come before the parole board, Ouillette’s mother has fought against his release with the strength of a lioness. During a TV interview, she stated it had been her relentless persistence which had pierced the relative nonchalance of the police. She said her refusal to accept this insouciance had moved the crime from page 4 to page 1 in newspaper coverage, based on its having reached the forefront of the judicial system. She added that although no longer on earth, Shaun is still her son and will always remain so.
While Matthews claims he deserves freedom on the ground of his having become a completely changed man, the hurt caused by his murder cannot be erased.
The Manson family
Ouillette’s mother’s steadfastness is akin to that of actress Sharon Tate’s mother, Doris Gwendolyn Tate regarding the 1969 murders of all the occupants of a house, by the infamous “Manson family”. Ms. Tate’s mother has stated, during the perpetrators’ parole hearings, that her daughter pleaded for her life, as well as that of her unborn child, a mere two weeks from delivery-but no-one had listened.
James Bulger's mother recounts the events of her son's abduction and murder
A war with no winners
Although trials of such defendants are often described as court battles, in truth there is no real triumph. On the 12 February 1993, two-year-old James Bulger was abducted, tortured, and then killed by two ten-year-old boys Robert Thompson and Jon Venables.
In his memoir, James father describes his own and his wife’s reactions when their son’s killers were convicted.
They left the courtroom feeling no wish to rejoice, gloat or celebrate. Instead, they felt a deep sadness at seeing two boys, not all that many years older than their son, being walked, under guard, to cells where each would squander those years until each turned eighteen. Although knowing this sentence to have been just, the life of the Bulger’s child had been taken; no waste of a crucial period in two growing boys’ lives could return James to his parents.
Violence as a sign of true love: the more brutal the better
According to investigator Jay Dobyns, an undercover agent in the Hell’s Angels’ gang, some “biker chicks” flaunt evidence of boyfriends’ abuse with the same aplomb as more mainstream girls might exhibit love bites.
In one bizarre example, a biker nailed his “chick” to a cross. Once released, she had those same nails made into a necklace. Those of us outside such a framework can only guess as to the reasons for this type of commemoration. If nothing more, the physical scars will remind her, throughout the rest of her life, of these perceived hours of tenderness.
Reasons for becoming “bad-assed”
Among some established gangs and even short-term high school cliques, an indication of combat with the judicial system enhances “street cred.” Often, the level of crime is acknowledged as a further step towards gang eminence. As murder is the ultimate crime, and in Los Angeles during the 1980s, a series of drive-by shootings conferred exalted status for their perpetrators. Hence, in having been “inside”, or having a partner who is, “doing time” increases seniority. Having one’s time and location controlled by an “Anti-Social Behavior Order” is proof of being perceived by the police as a menace worth watching. This reversal of social standards, to an alarming degree, disempowers the police and further judicial authorities.
Don't allow your vanity to blur your level of reasoning
A lonely girl’s quest for acceptance
There are strong similarities between the Ouillette case, and that of Reena Virk. Both aged fourteen, each suffered from a sense of ostracism by classmates. Given her circumstances, it is not surprising that Reena Virk, of Indian descent and new to her high school in British Columbia, felt some uncertainty as to the type of friends to seek, and the ways of obtaining them.
Sadly, the most popular girls, dubbed “the shoreline six”, became Reena’s focus. At one point, while at the same juvenile detention center as ultra-cool Nicole Cook and one of Cook’s friends, Reena announced she had a probation officer. This falsehood was ridiculed, both girls reminding Reena she would need to have been brought before a court in order to be assigned such an officer-and they knew she had not been.
Motives for Ms. Virk’s subsequent actions
Once back at school, Reena stole Nicole’s address book from her locker. Having gained access to Cook’s closest friends, Virk began phoning each of them in order to voice such rumors as that Cook had contracted AIDS, and looked like an absolute wreck when not slathered in make-up.
Rebecca Godfrey posits in her book, Under the Bridge that Reena believed she would gain respect and eventual friendship by demonstrating how bad she could be. Unfortunately, her miscalculation could not have proved more fatal. While street credibility could be gained by flouting and thwarting authorities, the ultimate taboo was to slander age mates-especially one as dynamic and glamorous as Nicole Cook.
The consequences and Nicole Cook’s retaliation
At first bemused upon hearing these rumors, Cook soon traced them to their source, and resolved to avenge herself, with the help of her cohorts. Despite some speculation as to who was involved in the subsequent crime, it is known that Cook, or a friend, phoned a girl well-known for her willingness to beat up another-undoubtedly for a significant fee. This girl agreed, though later claiming she had believed it to have been a casual, flippant request.
Still, she was there when, on November 14 1997, Nicole and a friend phoned Reena to say Nicole had forgiven her, and they would like her to party with them. Though a bit reluctant at first, her eagerness for inclusion was such as to impel her to submit to this persuasion.
The details of Reena Virk’s killing have been well-documented. Exactly who was involved, and to what extent, may never be completely determined. It is known that Cook squashed a lit cigarette on Reena’s forehead, while ordering her to stop making such calls. Although Reena agreed, the group adrenalin had reached a point where it soon escalated. Reena was hit and kicked hard several times, then left under a bridge where, falling into water, she drowned.
Proud of their performance
Cook invited others who pretended to admire her daring, to view that area where her group had left Reena to die. Once enough evidence had been gleaned, the participants received prison sentences. Amazingly, Cook could not be linked to the killing in such a way as to cause her to receive any sentence.
Have you ever felt victimized by a stranger or friend?
While both Crimes and their victims can take many forms, we have centered this article upon murder, as it is the most heinous and difficult to comprehend. Degrees of murder and length of sentences reflect societal horror of premeditation. Rod Matthews’ inviting Shaun Ouillette to his home, and Virk’s killers coaxing her to socialize with them, after activating a plan to kill or cause her serious bodily harm , seems too cruel to imagine.
Some understanding could be found if we could believe the sense of immortality which pervades those vibrant years of one’s life could go some way towards explaining these tragedies. (Indeed, one of James Bulger’s killers asked if the boy he and his friend killed would wake up.)
Still, even the kindest interpretation cannot encompass the fact that, at the roots of our souls, from early childhood, we know we are, one day, going to die, as will every other creature and plant on this earth. Thus, in the end, there can be no comprehensible pretext.
- Brown, Wallace & Mary: Angels on the Walls: The risk taking faith that reclaimed a community: Kingsway Publications Dec 2000.
- Bulger, Ralph & Rosie Dunn: My James: The Heartrending Story of James Bulger by His Father: Publisher: Sidgwick & Jackson 2013.
- Dobyns, Jay: No Angel: My Harrowing Undercover Journey to the Inner Circle of the Hells Angels: Publisher: Broadway Books 2010
- Godfrey, Rebecca: Under the Bridge: Publisher: Pocket Books 2007
© 2014 Colleen Swan