Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Public Shaming as a Tool in Human Rights Violations

Over the years I have observed, and represented,  individuals who were so humiliated by the court that they determined not to pursue remedies against their abusive partners.  As with other forms of discrimination, many incidences of this form of abuse go unadressed because the target of the humiliation is too discouraged to permit further action.   Let me describe two incidents of which I am aware and verfied through transcripts and discussions with the principals.  

One woman sought a civil protection order against a man who had sexually assaulted her on two occassions.  The first time was as she was walking into her apartment building.  The second happened when the individual broke into her apartment and assaulted her.   The unrepresented woman explained to the court the circumstances of the assaults by the man who up until the first assault was unknown to her.  The judge's response, in denying the protection order, was to ask if she had heard the saying "Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me."  The woman was absolutely devasted, as you might expect.

On another occasion, a judge denied a protection order after hearing that theh oarties had sex within the prior few weeks.  The judge in that instance interpreted the petitioner's act as evidence that she was not afraid of the intimate partner.  Upon learning that the petitioner was receiving public benefits, the judge instructed her to turn around. The judge then announced that the petitioner had just wasted money of the taxpayers who were supporting her by bringing her frivilous petition.

In both instances, attorneys approached the petitioners and offered to assist with any further actions.  Both petitioners were too humiliated and embarrassed to pursue further action. 

While these incidents might seem extreme, these and more subtle forms of humiliation are often employed by government representatives to silence those who bring claims of abuse and other forms of discrimination.  The frequency of public shaming and other forms of humiliation that ar employed to maintain control over a targeted group are innumerable.  This is particularly so for those who have been oppressed by institutional as well as individual discrimination.  These are examples of just one of the situations where human rights advocates can make a positive difference in the lives of the oppressed.  Even if no further action is taken, validating the experience of the survivor makes is significant.

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