PTSD and restorative justice

scott from finding your marbles just sent me an email wondering about my thoughts on the development of this story about PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) as grounds for acquittal.

a groundbreaking ruling that found a former soldier not criminally responsible for a sex assault he admitted to committing was overturned by the manitoba court of appeal on thursday.

the appeal court ordered a new trial for roger borsch, who did not face criminal penalties for breaking into a colleague’s home in the pas, man., in 2004 and attacking her 13-year-old daughter. borsch argued that his mind was affected by atrocities he witnessed on a six-month tour of duty in bosnia a decade earlier.

the question that is asked in cases like this is, “is this person criminally responsible?”

but i’d like to put that aside for a while and simply ask, “is this person responsible for his actions?”

in my mind, the answer is a clear and unequivocal “yes.”

it doesn’t matter what the state of one’s mind is, one is always responsible for one’s actions.

when i was in my late teens, drunk on tequila one night and heartsick because of a fight i had had with my boyfriend, i engaged in serious flirtations with an ex boyfriend. that was a significant event in a horrible downward spiral for his then-girlfriend, who ended up committing suicide.

yes, i was drunk out of my mind and yes, i was heartsick, but that does not change the fact that it was i who behaved in such abhorrent ways. it wasn’t someone else. it was i who was the cause of suffering for this young woman.

so is roger borsch criminally responsible? that’s for the judges to decide. but no matter what, he is responsible for the suffering of this young girl. he is the one who raped her.

what does this responsibility mean? in my opinion, an opinion strongly informed by restorative justice, it means he needs to respond. he needs to respond to the suffering that he has caused. he needs to be part of the healing for this young woman, who may now be suffering from PTSD herself. what that type of restorative justice looks like depends on many factors but saying, “PTSD made me do it” doesn’t sound responsible to me.

we also need to remember that as a society (that means each and every single one of us), we are at least partly responsible for the experience our soldiers have in war. when we send someone into war and strife, they are bound to get hurt, not just physically but also emotionally. it’s reasonable to expect that that will have unpleasant consequences, and we need to help them deal with them because we are responsible for sending them off to begin with.

for a perspective on what it’s like to be in prison with PTSD, you may want to try budhi’s blog.

(this post was referenced in the 20th brain blogging carnival

5 thoughts on “PTSD and restorative justice

  1. Scott

    I knew a guy, a childhood sexual abuse survivor, who confessed to his support group that he had fantasies about sex with children. He was very worried that he might be becoming a pedophile.

    The group’s response startled me. To a man (they were CSA survivors themselves) they strongly supported him and said that he was very brave to confess his fantasies. He has since brought up the fantasies with his therapist and has been under treatment.

    It makes me wonder what would have happened if the support group had responded negatively to this guy’s admission of these fantasies. The resulting shame might have forced him to suicide, or even worse, to ignoring his fantasies until they became so strong that they overwhelmed him.

    I have nothing but admiration for people who suffer from mental illness and who confess the dangerous thoughts that they sometimes have. I think that the only way that we are going to grow as a society is if we adopt a caring and understanding way to deal with this type of potentially dangerous behavior, and I think we should applaud individuals who come forward and take responsibility for themselves.

    However, in this case, I agree with you, Isabella. It sounds to me like this soldier is trying to use PTSD, a condition that rarely causes “acting out” behavior, to avoid the responsibility for raping his friend’s daughter.

    If he is acquitted, I worry that it will send a very negative message that people with mental illnesses are out of control maniacs who are a danger to everyone. Such a stereotype would only help ensure that anyone who is suffering from dangerous thoughts will never come forward and ask for help.

  2. isabella mori

    it’s not just people with mental illness who have dangerous thoughts. everyone does. and they need to be contained. one way of doing that is talking to a therapist about them. often (there is very little room for “always” in human behaviour) this prevents the violent thoughts from being acted upon.

    i’m a bit leery about basing decisions too much on what the message is to other people. it can so easily get into a mentality of “what will the neighbours think”.

    IF he will be acquitted, i think it should still be possible to make sure that the stereotype you alluded to will not be nurtured.

  3. lin

    Thank you for mentioning restorative justice. Though the fellow who abducted and raped me when I was a kid was punished for hurting children, the criminal justice model is unsatisfying. A perp is prosecuted for committing crimes against the state, though those who are hurt are always individuals.

    lin’s last blog post..Exhilarating

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