Numbers: Four and Thirteen

I’ve had a very difficult couple of weeks. The details are not really mine, so this will remain more cryptic than I normally am here, but I can’t write anything at all without writing something about this.

The numbers are four (years) and thirteen (victims).

Both are too small.

It would not be difficult for me to imagine a way in which this case has consumed four years of my psyche, my emotional energy, four years during which this has confined and limited and restricted me. And I’m not one of the thirteen.

Many of them could say that this has eaten away at, taken, absorbed, occupied, maybe even destroyed, but minimally, affected, four decades of their lives.

That number–thirteen–only counts the direct acts of violence. It doesn’t count the friends who were trusting him with their children and who are still reconciling themselves to that betrayal and their own sense of guilt. It doesn’t count the other children from the very, very small community, many of whom knew it was happening, but didn’t understand what it all meant, and so just did everything they could to have it not be them, and it doesn’t count the remorse they feel now that they understand what that meant for others. It doesn’t count the children of the thirteen and then some, who could never quite figure out why there was so much anger, so much dismissal of emotion, so much abuse in their homes. It doesn’t count the people who had to learn that someone in their family, someone they loved, is exactly the kind of monster they worried about from far-off TV news stories, whether he ever touched them/their children or not.

And it only counts the thirteen who were strong enough to speak. Who were strong enough to remember, over and over, and subject themselves to questioning, investigation, trial, judgment, side-taking and accusation. It doesn’t count the ones who have never, or have barely, admitted it.

I honestly don’t know what “justice” means. I don’t. I’m not confident I believe in a legal system based on the concept of punishment and retribution, because I know that my own desire to see others suffer, no matter the ways in which they’ve wronged me, has always caused me to suffer more in turn. I’ve often said I don’t even know what to think about heaven and hell and divine justice, because I genuinely don’t spend much time on the subject, but I’m confident I don’t want to think of my God as a punishing one. I wish that meant that the inadequacy of four years didn’t matter, but it doesn’t.

I want restoration and wholeness and grace and healing. I don’t want revenge or an increase in the net suffering of the universe. But I can’t make myself okay with “four” (and fewer because a pudgy 74 year old doesn’t cause that many problems in a cell).

The world is broken, and I’ve long known that. I know it above all else with respect to sexual violence and the complete lack of value we as a society place on preventing or punishing it. I’ve seen stories of judges dismissing the claims of victims, minimizing the pain of victims, blaming victims, putting victims on trial both literally and figuratively. I don’t hear a lot about the “success” stories like this one–there’s nothing so heinous about it that it would capture the righteous indignation of the blogosphere, there’s no gross and blatant misrepresentation of what happened and why it matters. The judge said all the right things about the effect on an entire community, a betrayal of trust and the suffering experienced by everyone sitting in that room.

And then she said “four years”, and I wasn’t prepared for that. I don’t know why, I just wasn’t. I wasn’t prepared for someone not to say anything horrifically wrong or completely misguided about sexual violence but to conclude nonetheless that four was a satisfactory number. On some level, I can understand–hate, but understand–the mentality that leads to victim-blaming and denial. I can’t understand a mentality that knows, but decides it’s not really that important. It’s only four years important.

Whether I agree with this system in terms of its functionality and philosophy or not, this is the one that assigns numbers and scales and gradations to what acts are more damaging than others, and it’s the one that we use to talk about what we as a society care about.

And these numbers are fucking fucked up.

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3 thoughts on “Numbers: Four and Thirteen

  1. Erin says:

    I’m a couple weeks late but…

    I have to say that I whole heartedly agree with your last statement.

    “These numbers are fucking fucked up.”

    If there’s something that should just in the world…it should be the criminal justice system. And acknowledging that there weren’t just 13 victims, but their families and friends and their lovers…and those who couldn’t speak up…

  2. purtek says:

    Thank you. While I’ve had a lot of supportive friends, many have said that it’s unfair or unrealistic to think of it this way. They’re trying to be comforting, and I know they’re right–if you read anything else I’ve written, you can see that I’m not exactly unfamiliar with the treatment of sexual violence in our society or criminal justice systems.

    But nonetheless, I wasn’t prepared for this, and I wasn’t prepared for the emotions I felt the day I heard the sentence. So, again, thank you.

  3. Sometimes, there is no justice in the justice system. It really stinks sometimes. Thanks for sharing your feelings.

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