In our daily living, we are constantly being told not to avoid the warning signs of how we eat, drink and other wise indulge in bad habits because eventually they will hurt someone or even kill us. Medicine tries to arrest the consequences of a pampered lifestyle, but even they can do only so much, and eventually it catches up with a person and they often die a needless death because of such an erroneous lifestyle. This is also plays out in many other aspects of life.
An article in the paper yesterday caught my eye. It was about a sentence that a HIV-positive man received; nine years for ‘sexually assaulting’ a woman he saw on the street. So many items in this article made me stop and think about how through the use of courts, lawyers, prosecutors and law makers we have artfully changed the definitions and severity of acts such as this.
First on the list was the charge; sexual assault. It was a rape pure, simple and violent. The term sexual assault often is used from a simple inappropriate touching to much more serious and abusive encounters. I believe that the law system through the defence of perpetrators, have changed the terminologies used in defining certain acts of wrongful and harmful aggression just so a lighter sentence could be obtained.
The guilt having already been established, several circumstances were considered that made me question the sentence handed down. First was the consideration of a difficult childhood which included abuse and drug use. I personally know of many who have had a similar background but who have made different and better decisions. Then the blame was shifted to his mother who herself an addict, ‘introduced’ him to a life of crime. Again I know of others who were able to make choices for betterment.
Then the next couple of items almost made me see red. This man had received 60 previous convictions for crimes including assaults; plus at the time of the attack, he was under the influence of several drugs at the same time; all of them totally mind altering. No mention was made of the fact that he chose to ingest these drugs; no one twisted his arm to do so. Yes, addiction has a large part to play in this, but it was still a choice.
Then, to add insult to injury, the judge in this case acknowledged that this man was assessed to be at high risk to re-offend. So after having served nine years less time for good behavior while in a prison, where it is extremely hard to get into more trouble, this man will be on the street, ready and obviously willing to do the same thing again.
Even though I am involved in the business of helping people on the street through services provided at the kitchen, I strongly believe in a degree of accountability. I also believe that each and every person, barring mental illness, has the capacity to choose to make changes in their lives. Addiction is an extremely strong enemy, but it has been proven over and over, it is one that can be defeated.
Of all of the cases that I have read about in the last few years, I for the life of me cannot remember reading the word ‘accountability’. Maybe it has been removed from the English language, or it could be that in my senior years, I am starting to become a little cynical, but it bothers me that a person with a record so long should receive a sentence that is so short.
And it is re-defined due to the skillful art of blame-shifting.
Chris Salomons is the kitchen co-ordinator at Potter’s Hands in Red Deer.