A woman named Susan is sexually assaulted by a man she does not know. Susan calls the police, who take her to the hospital and begin investigating the crime. At the hospital, DNA samples are taken and Susan is treated for her injuries. The police complete their investigation but are unable to make any arrest because they can identify no suspect.
Months pass and Susan receives counseling from professionals and moral support from many friends. As part of her effort to recover and move on in life, she believes that she needs to forgive the assailant. So she makes a decision to forgive him.
Some months later, police arrest a man on a rape charge. When his DNA is tested, it is a match for the man who raped Susan. The police contact Susan and ask her to come in to the station, where she is told of the arrest and asked to view a lineup of suspects. Susan immediately identifies her rapist. Police inform her of the DNA match.
A few days later, a prosecutor calls Susan to say that he is building his case against the rapist and wants Susan to testify against him in court. The prosecutor says, “I am sure you want justice to be served.”
But Susan has already forgiven the man who raped her. Should she now testify so that justice may be served on the man she has forgiven? Why or why not?
I continued today at the penitentiary with the lesson on forgiveness and justice. Dividing the 14 men present into three groups, I handed each a piece of paper containing Susan’s story. They spent about 20 minutes discussing it. One of the groups reached a unanimous answer: Susan should not testify. A similar conclusion was reached by large majorities in the two other groups.
One man, speaking for the majority, protested that Susan needed to protect herself from the inevitable flood of bad memories that would engulf her on the witness stand. She could do this, he said, by refusing to testify. Another who voted with the majority said that if Susan testified against the man it would be like reneging on her forgiveness of him. Supportively, another said that since Susan had decided to move on by forgiving, she should not look back.
I stood with the minority who felt Susan should testify and allow the justice system to do its work. Susan, I said, could still maintain her forgiveness of the rapist while also desiring that he receive a fair penalty for his crime, if convicted by a jury of his peers. Forgiving addresses the anger and bitterness that eventually poisons the mind and heart of the person who has been hurt. Forgiving does not say that what happened is ok or that the person who perpetrated the injury or harm should not be called to account for his actions.
Searching for common ground, I asked how many class members thought that sexual assault was ok. No hands were raised. “So,” I asked, “don’t we need to say in as clear a way as possible that sexual assault is not ok, and that men who are guilty of rape should receive a fair prison sentence?” No one disagree.
However, I am not sure everyone is convinced. In his book, Inside the Criminal Mind, Stanton Samenow writes, “Criminals know right from wrong. In fact, some know the laws better than their lawyers do. But they believe that whatever they want to do at any given time is right for them.”
Can these classes on forgiving help to change such faulty thinking? That is my prayer.