From the Salem News:
MARBLEHEAD — A local man pleaded guilty yesterday to beating, raping and nearly choking to death his former girlfriend in a fit of what a prosecutor called "irrational jealousy" over her choice to have dinner with another man.
Christopher Houghton, 21, had been told by a Salem Superior Court judge that he would receive a three- to four-year prison term if he pleaded guilty rather than go to trial on charges that include two counts of aggravated rape, attempted murder, burglary and multiple assault charges.
But after hearing victim-impact statements and testimony from a defense-hired psychologist, Judge David Lowy said he would impose a slightly longer term of four to five years.
I disagree with the prosecutor's assessment that Houghton was acting out of irrational jealousy. After reading a description of this man's crimes (don't follow the link if you have a weak stomach) I'm appalled that this man would be offered a plea deal with a sentence of less than a decade.
His actions were extreme, but they were absolutely rational. He believed that he owned his ex-girlfriend and he believed he had the right to destroy what he owned. This thinking is unfortunately supported by many people in the way they talk about relationships and violence within relationships.
Houghton might have needed to get drunk before he could block out any sense that he was fully responsible for wanting his ex-girlfriend dead and trying to kill her, but his reported statements during the attack communicate his rationality from the beginning of the attack to the end.
This man also had a history of violence toward this woman -- so much so that she felt the need to text message him while she was out having dinner with a friend in order to prevent him from reacting violently because he didn't know where she was. Unfortunately, clear evidence of violence gets dismissed or diminished by many people once a relationship gets labeled as tumultuous.
Too often trying to murder your ex-girlfriend is more acceptable and less of a crime in many people's minds if there is a history of violence within the relationship. This happens because of victim blaming which puts some or all of the responsibility for the violent person's actions onto the victim of that violence.
This was no consensual encounter which can be reimagined by a defense attorney as somehow inexplicably spinning out of control. Yet by the plea offer it seems like the prosecutor believed a jury might dismiss breaking into a home while a woman slept and attempting to murder her as nothing more than a squabble.
Violence is not a squabble. This victim felt the need to pretend to be dead to halt the attack. Not surprisingly, for me at least, once the woman's uncontrollable physical reaction to assault revealed her to still be alive the attack continued with the same level of brutality.
He wasn't out of control. He was in the most extreme level of control. There's nothing more controlled than deciding someone doesn't deserve to live and trying to give that person what you have judged that they deserve.
Houghton's rage-filled actions which resulted in these charges are well-grounded in his thinking. He in no way snapped that night. His claim that he doesn't remember the attack is troubling because that is a handy way for him to avoid taking any responsibility for his actions. I bet he could tell those he feels are sympathetic everything this woman ever did to wrong him. Any lack of memory for what he did to wrong her is a choice. And that choice fuels his ability to be violent.
Those who think that this was merely an unhealthy relationship and therefore this man is no danger to the public have it dangerously wrong. The fuel for his crimes are in the way he thinks. He carries that fuel with him everywhere he goes and he brings that way of thinking into every human interaction he's involved with.
Once he justifies violence against one person, he has the thinking needed to justify the same level of violence against others who do something which puts them in the "don't deserve to live" category. That might be a boss who doesn't give him the pay raise he deserved.
The thinking by those who murder co-workers over some job-related dispute is the same thinking as this man used to justify his crimes. But would the public stand for the same plea deal if it had been this man's boss he'd attacked in this way? Would a tumultuous working relationship be seen as an excuse for this level of violence?
This woman who was brutally attacked did nothing that most people see as justifying this level of rage, but that does not make his actions irrational. It makes his actions inexcusable even under the normal level of victim blaming which so many people accept without a second thought.
Yet if this man's actions are truly inexcusable, why would he be offered such a short sentence considering the crimes he admits he committed?
The answer is that "irrational jealousy" is an excuse not an explanation. And that excuse materially supports those who commit these sorts of crime. Therefore his actions become excusable.
Considering the crime which included attempted murder, 4 or 5 years is appallingly low even with a plea deal. However, because this crime was committed against an ex-girlfriend, he is likely viewed as less dangerous than a stranger rapist or someone who attacks a boss.
His last statement to his victim after failing to stop her from calling 911 was revealing. "You did this to yourself." This is an excuse which has been heard by many rape victims and by many physical abuse victims.
This excuse allows the perpetrator of a serious crime to make the victim into the only perpetrator. A short criminal sentence supports this shift of responsibility away from the perpetrator.
When the police stopped him as he was driving away with blood on him, he was still enraged and wanted the police to arrest his victim for biting him while trying to get him off her. That isn't irrational, it expresses his core belief that he was entitled to inflict violence, but she wasn't entitled to defend herself against his violence.
That core belief makes him very dangerous to anyone who he sees as having wronged him. He has given himself the right to be judge, jury and executioner.