I came across a disturbing case from the Languedoc region of France today, while perusing headlines on Salon.com. A 14 year-old girl who had been repeatedly victimized sexually by her father had reportedly caught the abuse by employing her computer’s webcam. The key to the most disturbing aspects of this extremely upsetting story lies in the fact that the local police had informed the young woman that they could not (would not) take any action without “evidence” of the abuse. In other words, a 14 year-old girl had to arrange a sting operation of her own father/abuser, and then put herself in harm’s way to not only be abused again, but to have evidence of that abuse be digitally captured – a format that is easily copied and transferred, transmitted and will never lose its data integrity. As many in law enforcement and abuse victim advocates explain, a victim having knowledge of his or her abuse being seen over and over again can often feel that each viewing is yet another victimization. In this case, the new instance of assault caught on camera could have been avoided altogether had police or other authorities removed the child from the home when she first brought her allegations forward.
The onus that this 14 year-old child was under to do the police work that should have been undertake by adults is a burden no one should ever have to face. And yet it is one that, in an era of “pix or it didn’t happen,” appears to be becoming status quo for those who have been victimized at the hands of others; two years ago, I wrote about a case of a Texas teen having caught her physical abuse on video and then using YouTube to seek justice against her father, a local judge.
Yet more disturbing still, even when abuse allegations can be proved via what appears to be unequivocal evidence, (warning: link contains photos) such as in the case of the Steubenville rapists who documented their sexual assault of an unconscious female throughout a night, the evidence does not serve as conclusive or clear-cut in the eyes of a jury or the public. In that case, the images made their way through social media and into the mainstream; even if one wanted to avoid viewing them, it was almost impossible not to when following the trial. In the case of the French child, the father’s lawyer is already trying to find a way to minimize the impact of what ought to be damning evidence; the first excuse that has been offered is that the father was dealing with a period of unemployment. Okay.
When the onus for protection is shifted in this way onto an abuse victim and/or onto a minor child, a disturbing precedent is set. What of those who can’t or do not want to record and document their abuse in this way? Are they then to have access to some lesser form of justice, or perhaps, no justice at all?