Struggling with Justice

Below is a chapter from my book  “One of Us: Sex, violence, injustice. Resilience, love, hope.”

Day 272 since the incident: Friday, August 5, 2011

Pader, Northern Uganda

On Friday, August 5th, I walked 15 minutes to the school to see the Senior 4 students.  The majority of them stay in two side by side dorm rooms.  I went inside the first and the girls happily greeted me.  We talked about them sitting for exams next term and when they would go home for holiday.

They know my time is coming soon to leave Uganda since my 27 month service is quickly closing.  What they don’t know is that I may have to go back to the states for trial and life plan “E” is the possibility of having to stay stateside afterwards.  With that looming overhead, I didn’t know if this would be my last time to see them or not.  Juliet, our head girl, came out of her separate room and sat down beside me.

“Cindy, (as the majority of them never say Sandi) when are you leaving us?” asked Juliet.

“In September, but I have to go back for a little over a week.”

“Eh! You are always coming and going!  Why must you go in August?  Last time you left, they said you were sick.”

“Well, I have to take care of some business.”  She wasn’t very satisfied with my answer.  I hadn’t disclosed with any students what had happened but now that I would be leaving I thought the risk of sharing a small idea of what happened wasn’t as great.

“I have to go testify in a trial.”

“Cindy!  What did you do!!”

“I didn’t do anything, Juliet.  I am going to testify against someone else.”

“Eh! Sorry.  I hope he did not hurt you!”

But he did.  I quietly said that the man was violent during a bad incident.  I said how he was looking at a possible 60 years in prison for his actions against me.

“You want him to rot in jail the rest of his life?  Oh, Cindy, you must forgive him!”

Juliet is an interesting one.  She is the former “wife” of Joseph Kony, rebel leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army.  For her to say that I just needed to forgive him, after her story includes abduction and forced sex slavery to a rebel commander leading to a still born child, made me intrigued by her answer.

***

I found out that trial would be postponed until September so I was able to have a follow up conversations with Juliet. I returned with the purpose to speak with her the following Friday before the students went back to their villages.

I found her at the dorm and we walked to the teacher’s room.  All the teachers had left so we sat alone at one of the large tables.

Asking a few general questions about justice versus injustice opened the conversation.  To her, injustice is the unfair treatment given to a person while justice is a fair treatment offered to a person.

I explained how I was raped by a member of the United State military in November and how that was the real reason I had been coming and going.  That the pre-trial was difficult but I knew I had to follow through with the actual trial.  The week before, the first thing she said I needed to do was forgive him which is understandable.

Forgiveness is the only thing I personally can do to bring peace within my soul.  In fall 2006, my mentor and I discussed the book Forgive to Live which has been very useful in life.  Forgiveness helps us to try to look at things from the other person’s perspective, helps us to move past the hurts committed from others and steers us away from having a victim’s mentality.  Once we have forgiven, we are slowly able to move forward, releasing the weight of the other person’s actions from our shoulders.

I told Juliet the main reason why I was going through the legal justice system is because I couldn’t let my silence be the factor that held him unaccountable for his actions therefore passively enabling him to traumatize someone else after me.  I wasn’t as concerned about the amount of jail sentencing but rather that the action of rape wasn’t repeated.

“You just let them know you only want him to serve 2 years then.”

Doesn’t quite work that way in the states.  You can have a say but ultimately the verdict is up to the acting judge or jury.

Traditionally in Northern Uganda, there are ceremonies that must be completed after someone has killed a member of a family.  The breaking of the egg and a drink of the bitter root are a couple of traditional reconciliation methods.  Once the ceremony is over, the perpetrator is accepted back into the village and people live side by side.  Not that there isn’t resentment or distrust of the person, but ultimately the ceremonies are supposed to be a way of putting the past in the past and moving forward.

Juliet explained about the first time she saw the guy who abducted her from the village.  He saw her across the Gulu reception center where individuals would go for physical and psychological support after escaping captivity.  She said how he was still a young man and how she forgave him since he did not understand what he was being forced to do.

I can understand her acceptance to forgive someone who is threatened with death if they do not obey a command.  What is difficult for me is the fact that the man who chose to rape me was not a rebel soldier, did not act out of fear for his life, but instead was a fellow American that as a country we expect to be a good soldier and yet instead he chose to break the law out of his own selfish desires.

When I asked Juliet about how much prison time she thought would be legal justice for her forced abductor, she said 1 year.  She said it was good for a man to understand what he did was wrong but she didn’t believe that too much time would be needed.

“I have visited the prisons, ah, and they are not good places.  After a year or two, he will change his behavior.”

“What if he doesn’t change his behavior?  We can’t control what they learn or if they change.  What should happen if they do it again?”

“If he has not learned, he should go back for 10 years.”

“Now, Juliet, I know a bit about your past.  What about Kony who is the leader of the rebel group?”

“Ten years.”

Somehow, I don’t believe that a guy responsible for giving the commands of abduction and murder of thousands of children and adults should only receive 10 years punishment.  Not quite what I would consider justice but this is being said by an individual with firsthand experience with the man and is now a vibrant and resilient young woman.

Then again, I am still confused by what justice even means.  To me, there is no simple definition to the word “justice”.  It is a confusing, intangible, and objective word.  Situational and culturally defined.

Wikipedia defines Justice as a concept of moral rightness based on ethics, rationality, law, natural law, religion, fairness, or equity, along with the punishment of the breach of said ethics.

Some would say justice is traditionally associated with fate or reincarnation.  You do good deeds therefore good deeds in return happen to you.  If you are evil, sleep with both eyes open.   The association of justice with fairness is more of a modern western concept.  If you hurt me, then by golly, you should pay.

Then there are the different types of justice.  Utilitarianism, retributive, restorative, distributive, and oppressive justice.

Retributive justice is where evidence is brought forth on the crime committed and then a morally and fully deserved punishment is given in return.  The consequence should be equal to the crime committed.

An eye for an eye?  That is too simple.  Someone breaks the moral rightness and then is given an appropriate consequence.  Another problem arises— how do we quantify the value or worth to whom the moral wrongness was committed against?

How does one decide the equal consequences to violating someone else’s body?  First, there is the physical act committed.  Then there is all the emotional and psychological damage afterwards.  Medical bills are easy to value because they usually come in dollar signs.  What if she contracts an STI where she isn’t able to conceive in the future?  What is the price for destroying the basic human ability to have children?

A price tag can be placed on an actual therapy session but not the psychological and emotional damage the individual is facing.  The individual could have been an extremely outgoing person who loved going to school.  They could have been raped by a fellow student in their Chemistry class after a house party.  Now, there is no longer a desire to attend class and be faced by the rapist who took advantage of them. They don’t want to hang out with friends or even leave the dorm room.  They drop out of college, work a minimum wage job and quietly drifts through life.

No, the perpetrator didn’t hold a gun to their head and tell them to drop out and become apathetic to life but that’s what happened because everyday life was filled with anxiety and depression.  So, how do you decide the penalty for destroying the life of someone?

Technically, there are quite a few events that Dominik is being charged with: lewd behavior because of the conversation in the taxi (1 year), indecent exposure for revealing his penis at the club (1 year), forcible rape/aggravated sexual assault with threat of life in the bed (30 years), same but in the shower (30 years), sexual assault for the bed the second time (1 year), sexual assault in the bathroom the final time (1 year).  If found guilty sentences would not be served at the same time but rather consecutively equating to 64 years in a military prison.

First, the fact that the last two events are 1 year rather than 30 years because I said I wasn’t fearful for my life is ridiculous.  They are in the same classification as sexual harassment or groping someone.  He had already conditioned me that unwillingly taking his violation was the path to the least physical harm to my body.  The fact penetration occurred doesn’t make a difference.

I’m not that concerned with him serving 60+ years.  What is disturbing to me is that I responded out of shock and numbness when the last two events happened.  What if someone else has been psychologically manipulated with the circumstances by the perpetrator, and has Stockholm syndrome where they empathize with their captor or rapist?  Their psychological damage could be worse yet if they didn’t feel threatened for their life the rapist would look at the maximum of 1 year?  Where is the justice in that?

Retributive justice is similar to the law of retaliation which is a military theory.  I am interested in seeing if the military will actually keep the perpetrator accountable for his actions and retaliate on him as he did me.

With retributive justice, the key seems to be finding some legal “truth” of what has already happened and then presenting an equal punishment.  Restorative justice is concerned less with retribution and punishment as with making the victim whole and reintegrating the offender into society.  I feel like this is more of what Uganda leans towards.  This approach brings an offender and a victim together so that the offender can better understand the effect of their offense on the victim.

Restorative justice focuses on the aftermath.  Counseling, providing appropriate services to the victim to live a positive life.  Although these services are provided in the states, they can be rather costly and difficult to obtain.

The second part of restorative justice is about the offender, bringing the two together to create understanding of what happened.  I feel like to some degree, this is what I wanted by sharing my counseling letter with the other three girls involved.  That didn’t go over well since the girls saw no reason to explore their behaviors and how they contributed to the night.

I wonder if I could successfully relay to Dominik the effect of his choosing to rape me.  Then again, it would probably feed into his twisted masculinity mindset.  Anxiety and stress fills my being as I think about the week of trial and having him staring at me as I speak about the rapes.

Justice.

I am in no need of a court room with a judge and jury members to validate what happened to me as rape.  I already know the truth.  The legal system is set in place for retributive justice and keeping law breakers accountable for their actions.  Hopefully this will be found

Yet what I find more importantly is restorative justice where the focus becomes the wellbeing of the individuals involved.  Not an ideology typically practiced in America.

What does justice mean to you?

Justice to me:  If he admitted his actions against me were legally and morally wrong, sought counseling to better understand the issues at hand, and his behavior is kept accountable or monitored.

As Juliet suggested, if he chose to rape and traumatize someone else after understanding his actions then the punishment should be more severe.  If someone chooses to be a perpetual perpetrator, they are a danger to others and can’t be trusted.

No, Juliet, I don’t want him to rot in jail.  I want him to never traumatize another woman and to be held accountable for his wrongful actions.

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