When I was a first year university student doing my major in Criminology, I was introduced to the concept of shamming through a method of alternative sentencing called Restorative Justice. Back then, the term Restorative Justice was thrown around a lot by various stake holders of both academics and the criminal justice system, as each side had a slightly different take on what it meant to them. All sides incorporated a certain amount of shamming in this concept.
Shamming for the Purpose of Healing
I was introduced to a form of restorative justice that focused on Sentencing Circles and restoring the community and its values of maintaining a relationship between all parties. We would work in groups, primarily with those those offenders who have already been found guilty, and processed through the criminal justice system. We would then gather in a circle and follow various exercises that would help the convicted go through a healing and punishment processes by involving the victims, law enforcement and members of the community, who all participate in this circle. Everyone would work to directly have input and then become involved with the healing/sentencing process too.
The goal of the sentencing circle was to have both the victim and perpetrator express their feelings about that event, and hopefully share, and start to build a bond that was damaged from after the criminal event. This goal was to heal, then restore the lives, and the community, back to it former self. The success of the this method was dependant upon the participants who not only had given up a huge amount of their time, but would also have to endure an emotional taxing experience through the process as well. With the man hours and willingness needed to have success, organising such sentencing circles is a full time job in itself, but everyone who agrees to participate does so with a “mindset” before hand of what they expect the healing and restoring ought to be. It could be healing, forgivingness, shaming, or curiosity – the list can vary from group to group, but each member would have their won reasons for wanting to participate.
Shamming is part of this process. I have seen it take some very ugly turns in the some of the circles that I have worked with. When I first started working in circles, I was very apprehensive about this phase of the sentencing processes becuase I felt, and I still do, that the shamming process should not be apart of it that it would reverse the achievement that was being sought. Latter, after doing several sentencing circles, I found that shamming was almost an integral part of the process but it would have to be tightly regulated with well laid out rules that needed to be agreed upon before hand.
A Culture of Shamming
Shamming is a well practised offensive tactic that we do to elicit an emotional response from our victims, and we all do this very well. Our mentors and guardians use shamming to teach us and correct us when we were young. We then carried and learned more advance techniques of shamming when we are among our peers, and then we reach the stage where we learn to do it to those we never knew before, and carry it out into the public realm.
Public shamming is, in our culture, an almost natural reaction to various forms of crimes and behaviour that we would find unacceptable. The best example, and the reason why I am writing this post out, are the Vancouver Riots from last week after the hockey game, form the Stanley Cup Play-offs. All this week people have been posting their images and naming those in them as part of the public shamming process. The hope is that by naming, or shamming, each of those who participated in the riots, would be embarrassed and ultimately, would be deterred from doing any further act of civil disobedience again.
From Shamming to Vigilantism
The problem is, is it right to do this? Is this public vigilantism? Could this be an offence in of itself, those who are shamming through naming those on social networking sites?
When the Vancouver Police Department asked the public to send in their images and video of the riots, they also asked if anyone could identify those, and send them in, via their Face Book page, their names. I do not believe that the police intended the public to post those names publicly, to start their own shamming sites in the form of there own law enforcement initiatives?
Although I have used shamming for healing, shamming in the context of public humiliation can have considerable negative repercussion, and I my opinion, have the same effect as Labelling Theory suggests, when the harm done is greater than the intended good that was sought as punishment. The publicly defame someone is a life long effect that exceeds the damage done during the criminal event before hand.
The Courts and the Justice System
So, what about criminal justice system, and the wheels of justice in a court of law by a Judge who is unbiased, and who will weigh the scales is justice to fit the crime?
We know from experience that the majority of those who participated, and charged, are not going to be held by police, or convicted in a court of law. We also know that for those who are prosecuted and sentenced, the time and reparations will seem light and mild to the public’s liking. The greatest effect for those sentenced will be the labelling that each person convicted will have in the form of a criminal record which will be with them for the rest of their lives.
It is common knowledge that in out justice system we give the benefit of doubt in a court of law when trying the accused under criminal law. We also know that the standards of criminal law also is vastly different from that of civil law where the scales of justice weigh the amount of rightness and wrongness based on entirely different standards. So only then when that accused has been found guilty that we can say he or she has being convicted and now must be sentenced in accordance to the laws of the land. This is a far cry from the court of public opinion, where shamming maybe tipped towards vigilantism.
Although I do not condole what the people of Vancouver did on June 15, 2011 right after the home town hockey team lost the final match and started rioting causing million of dollars in damages, but I caution people who take it upon themselves to voice their opinions through social media networks of publicly identifying those that they know who participated in the riots rather than going directly to the police. Should those in the riots have to go through the court of public opinion, and be subjected to public humiliation before they enter the justice system?
I think we have started down a slippery slope now that social media devices are common place and people can express themselves, with almost total anonymity, of their feelings and opinions with almost total conjecture and responsibility for their actions. Perhaps there could be a second groundswell of law suits very soon of those who were shamed, as they start to fight back in those same courts, armed with Tweets, Blog-posts and Face Book passages of their defamers.