Scapegoating violence is "that enigmatic quality that pervades the judicial system when that system replaces sacrifice. This obscurity coincides with the transcendental effectiveness of a violence that is holy, legal, and legitimate successfully opposed to a violence that is unjust, illegal, and illegitimate (Girard, 1977, p.23)." Girard's theory of the scapegoat encompasses "legitimate" kinds of scapegoating through our judicial system2 and illegitimate forms such as vigilantism. Bobby Oatway and many others have been victims of both.
Recently , one of us received this plaintive letter from a pedophile who has served several years in prison:
"While meditating in the sun today, it suddenly occurred to me that I should contact you with the following questions.
"Is there anyone in ____ who will dare to help me:
- to apologize?
- to have the truth told?
- to challenge the mythology
- and bring some healing
"Is there a community leader, politician, writer, 'prophet' who will help with that?
"Or, is there some divine value in:
- not apologizing;
- letting the mythology exist;
- not permitting truth to be told?
"I'd appreciate your comments on these questions.
Bobby Oatway, this individual, and every sex offender, knows the experience of being scapegoated by wider society. Criminologist John Braithwaite refers to this experience as "stigmatizing shaming" (1989), based upon a "degradation ceremony" (also a Braithwaite term, Braithwaite and Mugford, 1994) which both the formal justice system and wider society too readily perform. The result is an expulsion, a scapegoating that is profoundly victimizing.
Read the whole paper, which is dated, but gives a good introduction to the development of Circles of Support and Accountability.