Since the late 1970s there has been a pernicious popular movement afoot in our culture which seems to glorify and indulge the state of being a victim.
The apparent relish with which Debbie Houk has donned the mantle of “victim,” and the uncritical, even reverential, acceptance of her antics by the media are indicators of how thoroughly this movement has changed the justice landscape.
“Victimology” is an academic subset of Criminology which, when the field was established in the 1940s, tended to use textbook or dictionary definitions of victims as “hapless dupes who instigated their own victimizations.” But over the years, ideas about victim precipitation have come to be perceived as a negative thing: “victim blaming” it’s called. Research into ways in which victims contribute to their own victimization is considered by victims and victim advocates as both unacceptable and destructive.
As we have seen recently, one result is that there has been little examination of the fact that Kenzie Houk had chosen to enter into an abusive relationship with her real killer, had been engaged in a paternity and child support legal conflict with him which ultimately proved to be baseless and dishonest, and through her own actions and decisions helped establish a compelling motive for why she was killed.
But this line of thinking is decidedly out of fashion. The notion of “victim precipitation” was vigorously attacked by feminists in the 1980s, and was replaced by the notion of victims as anyone caught up in an asymmetric relationship or situation resulting in power differentials that leave a “victim” with the short end of a stick.
Today, the concept of victim has been broadened even more and watered down to include any person who experiences injury, loss, or hardship due to any cause. So the word “victim” is now used to indiscriminately describe anyone who has suffered injury and harm by forces beyond one’s control: cancer victims, accident victims, hurricane victims, holocaust victims, victims of injustice, crime victims, etc.
Since the 1980s, America’s “tough-on-crime” movement has used the victimology movement to enhance the legal standing and improve treatment of crime victims. Criminal justice activists seeking greater accountability for offenders through tougher sentencing guidelines have found allies in outspoken violent crime victims and politicians who have played to the public’s fears about crime and its impacts. This alliance has brought greater political support for crime victims’ rights legislation and increased funding for crime victim services.
Since about 1981 (the start of Victims Rights Week), so-called victim’s rights measures have been instituted (including denial of bail, anti-suppression of evidence, and victim-initiated appeals) which are clearly anti-defendant and pro-prosecutor to the extent that they now have undermined cherished principles that an accused person is considered innocent until proven guilty, and that the burden of proof must fall on the state.
As we have seen in Pennsylvania over the last three years, this has evolved to a nefarious new configuration, an alliance between a corrupt prosecutor and a victim’s activist family, through which the rights and reputation of an innocent child were trashed, unconstitutional legal gambits were employed, and the burden of proof was shifted from the state to the defendant. As a result, the state gained a conviction without motive, evidence, or proof of any kind—with only an implausible and unsubstantiated theory that gained political traction outside the courtroom through the manipulation of the media. In other words, the state secured a conviction through extra-legal means and relied on a court to apply a veneer to the outcome to give it the appearance of it’s being legal. Talk about an asymmetric relationship!
In my opinion, Jordan’s lawyers were unequal to this new configuration. In continuously suppressing any push-back in the media to the lies being promulgated against Jordan, they allowed the opposition carte blanche in its extra-legal campaign. They insisted on relying exclusively on the law and court procedure to prove Jordan’s innocence; but as we now see, the conviction was secured outside the law and court procedure. First and foremost the judge’s ruling was a political decision. The whole “legal” process was ensnared in electoral politics from the start. Now it’s ensnared in official, self-protective, CYA politics.
The best decision Jordan’s lawyers made was recognizing almost two years ago that Jordan might not receive a fair trial, and to appeal Jordan’s adult status before the Superior Court. Otherwise, Jordan would most certainly now be facing a mandatory life-without-parole sentence for something he didn’t do.
Yet the fact remains that a perversion of justice has been perpetrated against an innocent child. It cannot be allowed to stand, otherwise we will all be subject to political trials at the whim of the state.
We will redouble our efforts and see this through to a just conclusion. We categorically reject calls from those who are now urging us to accept the judge’s ruling as truth and to accept that Jordan is “guilty.” He isn’t. Jordan Brown always has been, and always will be, innocent.
We cannot carry on this campaign for justice without your help. Please visit Jordan’s website at www.redemptionforkids.org and help as your head and heart command.
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