Friday, September 21, 2007

If Crimes Make Us Sick Does That Mean The Guilty Are Sick?

This case is shocking to many people.

John D.R. Atchison, 53, of Gulf Breeze, Fla., an assistant U.S. attorney based in Pensacola, Fla., was arrested Sunday at Detroit Metropolitan Airport when he arrived for a meeting with a woman he thought was going to let him have sex with her young daughter, authorities said. The woman actually was a Macomb County sheriff’s detective and part of an Internet sex sting operation.

I wish I could say this arrest shocks me, but unfortunately after 9 years as a volunteer on the local rape crisis line, I've learned too much to be surprised that someone whose job it is to uphold the law would travel halfway across the country to break the law and with plans to cause serious harm to a child in the process.

Many people will react to this case by calling this man and others like him obviously sick and in need of help, but from the details released about this case that assessment has it completely and dangerously wrong. Once you get any sign of rationalization, you are dealing with a rational person who has to deliberately distort reality to feel okay about what can never be okay.

He's either guilty of the crimes he's charged with or he isn't. He doesn't get a sick pass.

Rather than viewing those who would plot in advance to rape a child as sick, I view them as completely self-centered to the point where others aren't as human as they are. The problem with calling these people sick, besides being wrong, is that it gives these people a handy excuse both to escape accountability and to continue offending until the criminal justice system stops them.

Instead of viewing themselves as being perpetrators like common criminals they are either afflicted with something that is as much their fault as the flu or they are superior to the rest of us and therefore immune from normal accountability. This directly helps them remain dangerous. If we focus on helping them as if they were ill, that feeds into their selfishness. It's still only about them.

This is a con job which works far too often because most of us can't imagine committing the crime he is accused of planning. The very idea sickens us. Yet while I can't imagine robbing a bank and murdering someone in that bank, I don't assume the bank robber is sick and in need of help. I think, get that person off the street before someone else is hurt.

When we think about who needs help related to a case like this it should be those children who are really offered to adults for the raping. For many of us, thinking about the victims is far more painful than thinking about the perp. Because we want to avoid pain, we can decide to block the victims from our minds and focus only on the person charged. This is why defense teams work hard to humanize those charged and make them seem like they can't possibly be monsters.

That is dangerous since that disconnect can lead us to buying into the very excuses which allow people to commit horrific crimes.

This man's suicide attempt shouldn't fool us into thinking this is an illness. Many people don't want to face the rightful consequences for their actions and they don't want to face the consequences of having their carefully crafted facade torn apart by the results of their own actions.

Cornered bank robbers sometimes take their own lives but we don't view that as proof of mental illness. We owe it to all the children who are raped to not make excuses for those accused of rape.

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posted by Marcella Chester @ 1:08 PM   0 comments links to this post


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