The Correctional Process: Repent or Resent

Today I learnt about this horrible body shaming case that happened in LA last month. I read about it in this interview between the LA Times and the city attorney in charge of the case. A 70 year old lady takes off her clothes, hangs up her backpack and gets into the shower in a gym locker room, when former Playboy bunny Dani Mathers takes a photo of her and posts it on Snapchat with the caption, “If I can’t unsee this then you can’t either.”

Mathers was sentenced to 30 days of community labour– cleaning graffitti off the street. The victim remains anonymous; the city attorney pledges to keep her identity a secret but shares with us what she had to go through. The unspeakable humiliation after realizing her body was appearing on countless strangers’ minds, and then having the situation drawn out as Mathers goes on her apology publicity tour on TV. The individual’s sole demand was $60 in reparation fees, the cost of buying a new backpack. She said that her backpack was in the photo and it was a way people could identify her. She had to replace it.

I felt a lot from this article.

I felt raw for that woman– humiliation is the worst kind of naked; it’s when your dignity is stripped bare. A sense of horror– why is anyone still going through this today, and in the West much less, where body shaming has been a passé form of pleasure, years before Mean Girls came out.

Then I read in another article Mathers’ disingenuous statements. On Good Morning America, she had alot to say regarding her own privacy. “I’ve lost a lot of that myself as well. We’ve had a lot of paparazzi involved in my family life,” she said. “I had my privacy taken away after I took someone else’s.”

Mathers said she meant to send the photo to a friend and had no intentions of “breaking the law” by posting it publicly. “I know the difference between right and wrong and I chose wrong,” she said.

Totally missing the point. It shouldn’t even have to be about the law. It should be about being a decent person and not taking it in the first place. Who thinks like that??? I’m glad not everyone has PR represntatives telling them what not to say so we can see how the types of thought processes inside the heads of people who commit inhumane acts.

Mathers’ reaction to her penalty shows us that there is something wrong with our justice system. The point of criminal justice is to make sure a person pays society back for their crime (in this case scrubbing dirt) but also learns their lesson.

In this case, the person hasn’t. And why would they?

In the moral universe which this woman has spent 30 years in, what she did was right. The public condemnation is just going to make her feel more defensive. In our own lives, we put up a guard when people attack us. We are more likely to change our minds when it’s on our own terms. And more often than not the kind of empathy that leads us to admit to ourselves our wrongdoing comes when we have to face the people we’ve hurt.

Mathers never spoke with her victim, and thus would never be able to empathize with her pain. She will probably never do something so cruel again– this ordeal has probably taken away all the fun she associates with mocking people. She might end up learning some harmless ways of having fun, or she might just grow into a ball of bitterness– which isn’t a very ideal ingredient for a functioning society either.

I’m wonder if is this the most effective way for society to establish order. Fear is a potent tool but it will never be as effective a deterrent as an innate belief system, where you aren’t even interested in committing the crime. It’s much easier to debate about here as this case really boils down to personal values, unlike other crimes that are motivated by a whole host of other elements besides ‘knowing what’s wrong or right’.

This got me thinking about the reconciliation processes after the Rwanda genocide. Getting perpetrators to come face to face with the family of people they’ve killed in the spirit of patching up society makes so much sense. These people will have to live with each other– a community harbouring intense anger and equally intense suspicion cannot function.

Again, that is a much more complicated situation than some idiot hot chick whose bubble just got burst. But that’s something I’m going to look into when I have the time. I’ll look for studies done on the effects of the Rwanda reconciliation process.