Justice is a word used too easily and too often by those who’s intent is not the redress of wrong but to affirm a modish perception of right behaviour. Justice becomes then the affirmation of prevailing attitudes to morality and not the vehicle of redress for real wrongs. The recent hysteria about historic sexual abuse cases illustrates this point. See examples of recent trials HERE and HERE
Rape quite rightly is and should always be punishable, as should systematic sexual abuse, exemplified in cases involving the conduct of some priests and social workers who were charged, especially, with the care of children. Condemnation and redressing the crimes of serial paedophiles, as illustrated in the Jimmy Saville case, again highlights why justice is quite rightly sought and should be administered, even if historically.
These cases however should not be used to justify the pursuit of historic cases where evidence is the contested memory of claimants who were then teenagers or young women, (and men) and where the alleged sexual abuse too often seems more a condemnation of the sexual attitudes and conduct of the period than real, aggressive and systematic sexual assault. In such cases justice becomes not a conduit to address wrongs but a condemnation and humiliation of the morality of another time.
Today it seems difficult to imagine a time where Saturday nigh family television regularly featured dancers dressed as sexy schoolgirls, and on popular television programmes the cameras would leer at the scantily, but fashionably dressed, young women in the audience of programmes like Top Of The Pops. It is hard to imagine that once upon a time, having ones behind pinched for women, (and men) was if not normal, then not exceptional, and certainly not behaviour that would cause outrage. Once popular media was full of racist and sexist language and attitudes unimaginable today. We can and do look back on that distant, but for many still living memory, of the sixties, seventies, and eighties, and tut, and express outrage at behaviour that would today be unacceptable. To seek redress however for behaviour that was borne of attitudes and the prevailing morality from that period, an unsolicited pat on the bottom, for allowing sexual favours in return for a promised whatever that was never delivered, or an unwelcome and drunken squeezing of a breast, seems more a justification of today’s victim culture than the pursuit of justice. Today everyone is aware of their rights and that, especially sexual assault should (quite rightly) be reported and compensated. Current attitudes however should not justify an historic pursuit of justice from primarily old men who’s crime was to be successful and sexually active in what was another world from the one we know today.
The prevailing compensation culture, the prevailing hysteria about historic sexual abuse cases , casts a shadow over the pursuit of justice when prevailing hysteria and celebrity turns justice into a circus and where the popularity of the accused within the public arena may affect the judgement of any jury, no matter how well they are prepared.
It will be interesting to see how history judges the trials of today. One thing is for certain and that is that judging the moral behaviour of others from an historical perspective is a dangerous occupation because one day we will be the history being judged.