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:
“Is there a community leader, politician, writer, ‘prophet’ who will
help with that?
“Or, is there some divine value in:
“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.
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