Friday, March 26, 2010

Society: Being of two (or more) minds on crime victims

By Randy McCall

Society as a whole tends to be in denial in its view of victims of crime.

Victims of crime are recognized as needing society's help and support, yet at the same time many people can't help speculating whether the victim didn't cause -- or at least contribute to -- their own suffering.

Some people want to hold victims up as a noble icon -- the heroic sufferer of outrageous events . Yet society as a whole also sees victims as reminders that terrible things can happen to good people, that there is still a savage underside to society, and that the world isn't as safe as many people feel it is. Feelings which, consciously or unconsciously, makes people want to hide victims from view, so they don't have think about these bad things.

Society says victims are citizens who deserve protection and justice. Yet, there are elements of society who are more than willing to exploit crime victims, particularly when there is the potential for monetary gain or personal advancement.

Just scanning the news for the month of March provides several sterling examples:

Crime exhibit dispute shows families' scars linger

A dispute over an exhibition of gruesome evidence from famous crimes escalated Thursday, showing that time does not heal the scars to murder victims' families even after four decades.
The son of assassinated Sen. Robert F. Kennedy wrote he was horrified that his father's clothing from the night he was assassinated in 1968 was being displayed in Las Vegas. He called it "a macabre publicity stunt."

In this article, we see that officials in Los Angles decided to display evidence items from various sensational crimes to provide the public with an insight on "...tragedy of murder and the difficult jobs law enforcement detectives have in solving often very complicate cases." The items on display included Bobby Kennedy's bloody shirt, the rope taken from around Sharon Tate's neck, and items from the OJ Simpson trial.

According to all reports, no family member of any victim was contacted before the items were put on display; items were removed and apologies were issued only after family members complained.

While the Chief Beck and DA Cooley have offered apologies, the victim's families are not impressed with the fact the very people charged with protecting victims saw no problem with exploiting their loved ones for profit... whether financial gain, increased prestige, or otherwise.

Remember we were talking about society's denial in it's treatment of victims? Well, really, just how successful could a display of murder weapons and bloody clothing be?
"Cooley said it had more visitors in two days than the Los Angeles Police Historical Museum has had in a year. Police detective Dennis Kilcoyne, who oversaw the exhibit, estimated at least 6,000 visitors saw it."
The response of the surviving family members was summed up nicely by the son of Bobby Kennedy:
He said he spoke personally with Beck and that "the chief maintained to me that hanging my dad's bloody shirt from a mannequin in a casino was part of an effort to train detectives. Perhaps he believes that, but to me it seems like a cheap bid for attention."

"It is almost like a traffic cop inviting motorists to slow down and take a good look as they go past a tragedy," Kennedy wrote.
It seems that, sensationalism aside, the people who came to view the display chose to see it as a display of history or technical expertise, looking only at the surface. They chose to ignore the terrible details of the violent events these items represented; of the crimes and suffering which had to take place for a simple piece of rope or bloody clothing to have such "historic meaning."

When asked what he thought of the family member's complaints, one member of the public put his views this way:
He said he found nothing distasteful about it, adding that he thought "it would be more gory."
Asked if he thought it might be hurtful to victims' families, he said: "How would it be hurtful? It's history. It already happened."
Two other stories from this month's collection of media pieces also point out how some people are more than willing to use victims of crime as tools for financial or personal gain.

Georgia House passes bill to keep crime photos sealed
The desire to change legislation comes as a reporter for Hustler magazine made an Open Records request to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation for photos depicting the nude and decapitated body of Meredith Emerson. Emerson was murdered in 2008 after hiking in the North Georgia Mountains.
Just the fact someone would try to acquire these photos underscores my point about the split personality of society when it comes to victims. Why? Very simply, they would not have attempted to acquire the photos if they didn't think they would sell to at least some elements of the public.

Another issue in the news is the use of recorded 911 calls by media, just to wring the heartstrings of their listeners. While some victims support the use of these calls to ensure mistakes by 911 operators or systems are made public and corrected, others find the replaying of loved a one's last desperate call for help to be overwhelming and too much to bear:
...Hoblick, out of town when his son Jake died, heard his older son John's 911 call on the news and asked Cretul to do something about keeping the emergency calls out of the public domain.
So we again see the dichotomy of crime victims in society... with society saying they wish to protect and honor victims, but at the same time feeding off the tragedy and drama of their victimization. The media use the audio tapes to increase their viewership; conversely, the media wouldn't try to use such tactics unless they had been proven effective.

In other words, more people do "tune in" to the media who use the tapes.

Can arguments of free speech and education be made to support these kind actions? Certainly, but:

What education is contained in a scream from a recorded 911 call?

Is the attempt to acquire and publish the picture of a the body of a nude, decapitated woman really a free speech issue?

Is the lure of impressing colleagues and the public (ignoring the topic of revenue generation through admission fees) so seductive that even those charged with protecting victims can't generate the empathy to realize surviving family members might be affected by such a display of items from their deaths?

The answer, sadly, is recorded in our daily news.


Wait... hold the presses!

I'll bet you thought I was done, didn't you? Truth to tell, so did I... but the universe sometimes has a way of helping you reinforce the point you're trying to make.

After finishing my article, I thought I'd go to the gym and -- like so many other people -- try and wear off a winter's worth of inactivity. My gym has a bank of televisions set up for those who are using the treadmills, so I was watching a national new channel while trotting away.

The news anchor, running through a list of stories, said, " listen to this". Low and behold, they started playing a partial recording of a 911 call; a transcript overlaid on the screen showed the 911 operator telling the caller to "put the phone down now", as a threatening person was in the room.

As the audio faded out, the anchor said that what followed next was a vicious beating, which we would get to hear right after a break for commercials.

Unbelievable. My condolences go to the victim of this crime. Their call, their assault, their pain and cries for help were reduced by a media outlet to a sound bite, used to entice jaded viewers to not change channels during the commercial break.

Media companies in general are publicly very supportive of victims of crime, yet at the same time they have no qualms about using those very same victims to appeal to the lowest of sensation seekers amongst their audience. Why? All in the name of retaining viewers, since viewers watch commercials, and the selling of commercial time is what makes them money. The larger their regular audience, the more they can charge for air time, and the higher their profits.
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1 comment:

  1. Very good post Randy, very insightful. Thank you


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