By Gunnar Eigener

CW: sexual assault, rape

Crime is a constant in society. The effects seep into many different aspects, from devaluing houses on a street to scaring off tourists from a whole country. While we are accustomed to people getting away with burglaries, assaults and even murders, we are taught to believe that those who commit the gravest crimes will be punished.

The Nuremberg trials, the tracking down of Osama bin Laden, the executions of Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi; the guilty will be caught and they will suffer the consequences of their actions. Yet the wheels of justice turn slowly and, increasingly, it is becoming apparent that those who are responsible for the most damage to society are getting away it. Not because there is no evidence or witnesses, not because prosecutors do not know who the criminals are, but because those in charge do not seem to care enough to take a stand. Bilateral trade agreements, peace deals, oil prices, national security; these are just some of the excuses that stand in the way of justice for ordinary people who have been victims of extraordinary crime.

Too  often justice remain elusive for those who deserve it the most.

Too  often justice remain elusive for those who deserve it the most. The Khmer Rouge trial has been going on for years and despite recent successes, the former Khmer Rouge Navy Commander, Meas Muth, continues to live comfortably in Cambodia even though two arrest warrants exist for him. The Cambodian President, Hun Sen, declared any arrest would humiliate and affect his honour, rights and dignity. Although responsible for the genocide of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, the army is unlikely to face a trial for their actions. In Syria, government intelligence files were smuggled out by rebels, leading to France issuing arrest warrants for three senior officials in the Syrian government for war crimes. Yet with Russia and China vetoing any action against Syria and some countries rebuilding relations with the regime, it remains unlikely that they will ever be brought to justice. Israel’s ever-extending settlements onto Palestinian land have been ruled illegal by international courts yet Israel carries on doing it, often due to the backing it receives from the United States who veto any action that might curtail such Israeli activities. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2013 showed that the Church has paid out nearly $3 billion in the previous 11 years on allegations, 28% of priests involved in cases were deceased and not even half of the reported cases had been substantiated. The Church has been allowed to protect many of its priests over the years and many of those affected  have not received any justice.

Elsewhere in society, those escaping justice are obvious. Bill Cosby had for years been raping and sexually molesting women and many in the industry knew yet allowed him to get away with it. Harvey Weinstein’s rape and sexual assaults of women were considered common knowledge in the movie industry, as was Jimmy Savile’s behaviour within the BBC. They got away with it for so long and as their individual status got bigger and more important, the less people made a noise about it. Members of the political establishment also got away with having to answer for their crimes. The Liberal Member of Parliament Cyril Smith, was accused of sexually assaulting teenage boys in the 60s but it was not until after his death that the allegations were accepted publicly. Nevertheless, stories did circulate at the time but never received the attention from the authorities they should have done. In the US Congress, sexual misconduct by members can be reported but accusers have to undergo mandatory counselling and mediation, the whole process taking months or longer to resolve, against a hostile atmosphere where party loyalty counts for more.

We have adjusted to not expecting justice for ordinary people. The higher, richer levels of society seems impervious of punishment, where the concept of affluenza was created to allow a rich teenager to escape the consequences of vehicular manslaughter. Caitlyn Jenner caused the death of a driver yet escaped any charges. Vince Neil of Motley Crue has avoided a long list of offences that would have put any other away. Or maybe justice is expected more than ever but does not materialise; a Spanish court declared that the Wolfpack, a group of men who raped a woman at the Pamplona rally in 2016, had not, in fact, raped her but had sexually assaulted her, resulting in lesser prison sentences.

What is justice now? Why does it seem like the rich and powerful escape with puny sentences while the rest of society receives actually penalties? It could be a matter of perception. In the United States, the three strikes rule has left many, in particular black citizens, imprisoned for the slightest of offences. Burglars, rapists, and even paedophiles often seem to fulfil only the most basic of sentences. Perhaps, at the end of the day, justice is dispensed on a case-by-case basis, as it should be. Maybe it is the media who sensationalise one crime above others in order to sell their own stories, resulting in perception being skewed. Maybe not all the details are ever truly revealed and we are left to fill in the blanks ourselves.

Elsewhere in society, those escaping justice are obvious.

Justice is important; it validates our belief that those responsible will be dealt with correctly and justly. We have our own ideas, supported or restricted by the laws of our societies. This becomes the point of argument; that laws have been predetermined on the basis that they apply to everyone in that society equally. All too often, when individuals or companies get away with crimes that most people would be penalised for, the rest of society simply shrugs its shoulders. This happens because society has become desensitised to such things occurring, the base line has shifted in favour of such people always getting away with such crimes. This is what needs to change: not only do the public need to start expecting and demanding justice, they also need to hold to account those who fail to deliver justice.

Featured image CC0


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