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A Tragedy for All Concerned - nhpeacenik
A Tragedy for All Concerned
My friend Zeb, whom I have known as a neighbor since he was a teenager,  has been convicted of four counts of aggravated felonious sexual assault (essentially "statutory rape") this week. He may spend the rest of his life in prison. In county jail, he has already been beaten by fellow prisoners  and placed on "suicide watch" and in solitary confinement. Though there are some exaggerations in the story, this newspaper account is essentially accurate.

Zeb is not a violent person, and he is perhaps more moral and thoughtful than most people I know. I knew him as a good neighbor, and energetic and positive person, and a good citizen. I did not know about the incident that has caused his downfall until it came out in the press last year.

As I understand it from talking with people who knew both Zeb and the girl involved, a few years ago, he was asked to take care of a 12-year-old girl, the daughter of a friend who trusted him. He took the girl in, took good care of her, helped her with school, and fell in love with her. It was a mutual falling in love by all accounts, but a 12-year-old girl  is not legally allowed to make the decision to have sex under our legal system, so it was a very serious crime for the older male partner. The girl suffered from serious emotional conditions, and seemingly still suffers from them, but it is my guess that these stem from much earlier in her life, and cannot be attributed solely (or perhaps at all)  to her relationship with Zeb. I have nothing to go on but hearsay, of course, since I have never consciously met her or talked with her. For her mother to have given her up to Zeb's care must have been an act of desperation.

I was asked to testify about the nature of the community where Zeb grew up, the land-trust where I live, since the prosecution had made allegations that we were a "commune" that shared a common philosophy and that we approved of adults having sex with children. This was simply not true. We are a land trust, and we subscribe generally to the principles of ecology, but we are of different religions, Catholic, Quaker, Unitarian, non-religious, agnostic, etc., and we emphatically do not condone adult sex with children. We live in separate households and houses on a hundred acres of rural land, a sort of village within the town.

The comments on the online newspaper articles that have appeared show how hypnotic and demonizing the word "rape" is for the majority of us. Many comments state that Zeb is a "scumbag" who deserves to spend the rest of his life being tortured in the way that our society tacitly condones for those labeled as "sexual offenders": with repeated beatings and rapes by fellow inmates. I want to emphasize that no one deserves to be treated that way for even a moment, never mind the rest of his/her life. A single illegal act (or a short period of irresponsible actions) do not invalidate the infinite value of a human life. Zeb has a lot to offer, and I hope that he will have an opportunity to offer his skills to help others within the circumscribed world where he will seemingly spend the rest of his days. The example of convicted murderer Pamela Smart comes to mind; in the context of her New York prison, she has been involved in tutoring other inmates and working to heal the mental wounds of fellow prisoners; nevertheless, she has been severely beaten and nearly killed.

I have known women who were raped, in the more archetypal sense of being violently coerced to have sex with strangers. I have also known women who were victims of incest as children. I can't minimize the harm that these women have suffered and their struggles to overcome trauma, fear and rage, to restore normality and self-respect. If the rapists in these cases could be made to effectively help the victims in this process, that would be the ideal, but it is a tragedy for all concerned if both the victims and the perpetrators are sent to separate hells to suffer forever, as our legal system seemingly mandates now. It seems even more of a tragedy that in cases such as Zeb's, where the "rape" is far from archetypal, and where there is real remorse and desire to repent on the part of the perpetrator, that genuine restitution and mutual healing is impossible.

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Current Location: Greenville, NH, USA
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