A little under a week ago an official conference was arranged between my daughters and one of the young men who burned their house down 14 months ago. My wife and I went along to support them. There was a representative from the police, the young man and his mother, his counsellor, their lawyer and a Victims of Crime support worker for my family. Ironically, the support worker was there because she believed the girls needed support. However, technically, as there was no direct impact on my daughters (i.e. they were not in the house at the time) they were not seen, in a legal sense, as victims of crime, despite the fact that they lost most of their belongings and were rocked by the event.
Let me say from the outset I think these conferences are a great idea. They do allow perpetrators to hear of the damage that they have caused. The charges and outcomes were all read out and the questions with regard to motivation and reasons were put to the young man. I also applaud the fact that the system is trying to prevent these young people from committing further crimes. It was pointed out that a 6 months age difference (if technically he had been an adult) could have meant 5-10 years in gaol.
My daughters were amazing. I was so proud of them. They were gracious, forgave and reflected Christ in a wonderful way and were a witness to the gospel. The lawyer even said at one stage that he had never been at such a meeting with so strong a sense of forgiveness.
However, some aspects of this process still sat uneasily with me.
One of the subtle aspects of this process was that the perpetrator becomes the “victim” in need of help. I agree that he needs help but he is also the person who created this situation. Yet the process seems to turn the tables somewhat. My daughters who were the victims, received no assistance, were largely left out of the information loop, were offered no counselling for the trauma suffered and, largely, became bystanders. All the attention was on the young man.
Maybe I am biased because I am the dad, but the “system” as well meaning as some its motives may be, is not a “just” system. There were all these people involved but the real victims were sidelined. That bothers me – not just for my daughters but for the many others in this situation. My daughters have a strong network of family, friends and church. Not everybody has that. What constitutes a “Victim of Crime” needs serious reconsideration.
For us as a family, however, at the end of the day, even if the legal system had been a disillusionment, we could celebrate the grace of God. We went to their new home, had a meal together and thanked God for His care over the last 14 months.