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Re: Does the punishment outlive the Offense?

Posted by ethicist on January 20, 2003 at 16:55:53

In Reply to: Does the punishment outlive the Offense? posted by Acheick on January 20, 2003 at 13:05:24:

An interesting question, and I will offer a few shoot-from-the-hip observations that may or may not contribute to the discussion.

First of all, as concerns forgiveness, only the victims can forgive. An interesting book on this subject is THE SUNFLOWER, by Simon Wiesenthal. My feeling is that the real victims of the Family were the children born and raised in the group. We were all victims and oppressed to varying degrees, i.e. women were more victimised then men,but in my mind it all pales when compared to the oppression and abuse the children endured -- often at our hands.

So for me, the only forgiveness that counts is that of the victims. If some other FGA "forgives" me, well, that's nice, but not really too relevant. And I understand and indeed expect that many SGAs will never forgive many of us. and we can in no way compell them too. That was an abusive tactic that the Family practiced. "Well, so and so hurt you, but he said he's sorry and asks your forgiveness, so now you have to forgive him." It's just another way to blame the victim -- like they need more guilt.

I was talking with a counsellor who has a long history of working with drug and alcohol addicts, in the context of AA. He said that addicts cause incredible harm to their spouses and family. So when they finally want to change and start going through the 12 steps, often they want to go and ask forgiveness from their spouse, who they have abused for many years. But that often hurts the spouse even more, as they are not ready to forgive.

I don't even feel that I can ask for forgiveness of the SGAs. That would still be all about me, my needs. "I want to heal, so please forgive so I can move on." I can say I'm sorry for the harm that I was party to, but I feel it would be presumptous to ask forgiveness. Maybe if I manifest my contrition and do what I can to make their healing a little easier, maybe in time a climate for forgiveness will be created. But that takes a lot of time and effort -- and no pressure of any sort from the perpatrator.

Does the punishment outlive the offence? Tough to say. Even if we are sorry and have left the group and denounce all their values and practices, we still have to live with the natural consequences of our actions. The SGas will always have to live with the fact that they were brought up in an incredibly abusive cult. They cannot outlive that -- those consequences. They will each develop different coping strategies, but that will always be a part of their life. In a sense, they have a life sentence. Is it too unreasonable to ask if perhaps the perpetrators should have one?

Having been involved in restorative justice issues, my feeling is that punishment per se does not really deter people from crime. For example, the death penalty does not lower murder rates. Nor does punishment necessarily promote healing on the part of the victims. Studies have shown that revenge does not bring healing.

But for restorative justice to work, offenders must openly admit their responsibility and guilt and be willing to meet with the victim and do whatever necessary to make amends. And the victim must be willing to meet with the offender. And a few other things have to happen. Often all the pieces do not fall in place.

My feeling is that for any long term real healing to help in all our lives, of all generations, we FGAs must be individually willing to accept responsibility, and in some cases guilt, for oppressing and abusing the SGA's in the Family. We may not have been all guilty of crimes or acts of oppression, but we were all responsible for, if nothing else, tithing to an organisation that aggressively promoted the abuse and oppression of children. We were all responsible ,and I feel that this responsibility and in some cases guilt needs to be articulated clearly, formally,and regularly. It cannot be trivialised.

From what I understand, most SGAs do not solely blame 'the cult' for all the horrors, but more the individuals who oppressed them. Berg makes a convenient target in absentia, but these kids were abused and horribly oppressed by adults with real names and faces. Oppression, abuse had a definite face for them, definite legal names, and in many cases they were ours.

A few SGAs have told me that they forgive me -- unsolicited comments. That has meant so much to me. It helps me in my darkest hours to know that healing can take place.

So how long does the punishment last? I don't know. But if there is any risk of us, as FGAs, using this issue to minimalize what happened or say, "Well, ok, we've beaten ourselves up long enough, time for both us and the SGAs to move on," then I say, let the punishment continue.