Thursday, June 15, 2006

Legal crimes, invisible victims

I encountered the following passage written by a well known legal theorist. It's a little dense, but I think worth reading for its application to non-custodial parents (aka fathers and sometimes mothers) and the children from whom they are disenfranchised.

“[human] rights can be observed to be a response to atrocity denied. Before atrocities are recognized as such, they are authoritatively regarded as either too extraordinary to be believable or too ordinary to be atrocious. If the events are socially considered unusual, the fact that they happened is denied in specific instances; if they are regarded as usual, the fact that they are violating is denied: if it’s happening, it’s not so bad, and if it’s really bad, it isn’t happening. The given status of certain people is seen as tautologous with, even justified by, the deprivations of their human rights . . . . Victims are thereby ideologically rendered appropriate to their treatment, the unequal treatment serving to confirm their ontological status as lesser humans. When nothing is done, the treatment, and social status accordingly, confirm and create who one is. Legally, one is less human when one’s violations do not violate the human rights that are recognized.”

To summarize, I take from this that institutionalized and legally unrecognized crimes and their victims take on a certain invisibility. Because the crimes are legal, the perpetrators are free to commit them and the victims are perceived to somehow deserve their situation. This, as far as I can tell, seems to apply quite well to noncustodial parents and the children with whom they can find it so hard to maintain an adequate relationship. The family court system recognizes the authority of the custodial parent and their claims against the other parent far more easily than it does the protestations of the NCP trying to do the right thing, all in the name of "protecting" a loved and wanted child from conflict but in reality exacerbating the situation. Result: disenfranchisement and conflict.

What's really interesting is that the author of the piece is feminist legal theorist Catharine MacKinnon in her book "Are Women Human" in which she argues women to be dehumanized by a tendency to recognize crimes against men as violations of human rights but crimes specifically against women as violations of the somehow lesser women's rights. Charles King of The Time Literary Supplement thinks her new book is over-theoretical, confused on exactly who it stands for (women as group or women as category) and this passage in particular "just nonsense". Feminist theory and rhetoric notwthstanding, I suspect that anyone who has been victimized in the name of an unjust law will not think the passsage "just nonsense" at all. Perhaps some of us NCPs will be surprised to find ourselves nodding heads in agreement with a feminist theorist, but I doubt that many feminists will be particularly happy with my reading of one of their icons' words.

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