What happens to the wife of a man convicted of a terrible crime? Shannon Maroney tells how her life changed when her husband raped two women.
He confessed to the crime; in fact, he called 911 to tell police what he had done. From that point, her life was turned inside out.
News of the crimes hit the media, and I couldn't return to my home, now a crime scene surrounded by police tape. Privacy was ripped away and replaced by public scrutiny. He has a wife. Who is she? What's wrong with her? Was she part of this?She had done nothing wrong and yet she began paying for his crime immediately.
The police were clear in telling me whose side I was on, no matter what my feelings for the victims might be. When I asked if there was anything I could do to help them, the victim services officer looked me up and down and said sternly, "The victims don't need to hear from Jason's arena."
Some friends drew lines in the sand, too. "Shannon, don't you know these women will never recover? You can't have compassion for them and Jason." Others offered their sympathy and support, as they faced their own conflicted feelings toward the Jason they'd known and the terrible things he had done.These women will never recover. Labeling the victims according to the role they played in his crime--the woman who was raped! the wife!--forces the victims into a narrative the public enjoys in a twisted way. You think Nancy Grace doesn't enjoy the stories she details exhaustively again and again, trying to draw the audience into her horror story? The audience of strangers, family, and friends does the same thing, telling and retelling the story, relishing the thrill of the gory details, The players in the drama are not allowed to step out of their assigned roles and be people with complicated emotions about the crimes. These women will never recover.
While Jason spent nine months in solitary confinement — or "protective custody," as it was called — I was left on the outside to deal with the aftermath, completely unprotected, an easy target for judgment and blame. My school principal banned me from entering the school without permission and forced me out of my job. I lost my salary, benefits, seniority, place of belonging, and, worst of all, my relationships with students, staff, and parents. I was made guilty by association. [My emphasis.]She had done nothing wrong. Remember that...because the principal did not.
I turned to victim services at the police for help, as surely they could let the public know I had nothing to do with the crimes, that I hated what Jason had done. ...
But there was no one to help me. The defense counsel was for Jason, the accused. Victim services were for the real victims, not the collateral ones like me. I didn't fit anywhere. All I could do was put one foot in front of the other and try to find a way through to the other side, whatever that would look like.Other wives out there are nodding as they read this story, recognizing themselves in it. With 850,000 sex offenders and 2.2 million people incarcerated in the U.S., that leaves millions of people who are collateral victims ignored by victim services, left alone to deal with the aftermath.
At the end of it, after enormous pain and loss were expressed in victim impact statements, remorse and confusion were expressed in Jason's statement, and the facts of the assaults were reviewed by the judge, all that happened is that one person was sent to prison for the rest of his life and everyone else was just sent home. It was indescribably empty, with no peace or healing to be found. That was something, it seemed, we would each have to find on our own.Even the real victims, the ones who were raped, are left with no peace or healing. While sending the rapist to prison is the right thing to do, that alone does nothing to resolve the ugly mess of emotions caused by the crime. We ought not pretend that fear of him doing it again is the only thing the victims must deal with. Putting him in prison does not help with the rest of their turmoil.
They put the state and the accused in the center and victims around the periphery, typically using victims' stories only to achieve a conviction and to influence sentencing. The focus is on retribution.Retribution is not healing.
Because when we merely lock people up, we seal off much of our own chance to build understanding or have our questions answered. Victims can be plagued by questions their whole lives, questions that only the offenders may be able to answer: Why did you do it? What was going through your mind? Why me? Do you know what you've done? Do you know how you've hurt me and my loved ones? How can I know you won't do it again?Neither the real nor the collateral victims deserve to be left with unanswered questions. Restorative justice programs, Shannon Maroney's passion, offer a chance for them to ask those questions of the perpetrator and for the perpetrator to answer. Answering the questions can be part of healing the perpetrators, too
Maroney refers to the conversations she had with her husband during prison visits as an "informal" restorative justice process. It is an interesting thought, that people like her have been engaging in restorative justice ahead of the professionals.
At the same time, though, she was being punished by her community for being the wife of a man who did something terrible. That is what the sex offender registry does to families: punishes them right along with the sex offender.
We lock down the families of offenders, typically into poverty, stigma, and shame. We often deem victims to be ruined for life. We make pariahs of people who have made mistakes right along with people who plan and carry out murder and harm "in cold blood," rather than getting to the root causes of either type of offending behavior. And all too often, we lock up people who suffer from mental illness, even as we know we cannot punish the mental illness out of a person.Could professionals learn something from those informal restorative justice sessions that could lead to better help for the real victims?