New Scientist journalist John Hoyland coined the term ‘nominative determinism’ to describe the alchemy by which some people seem to be drawn to their jobs by virtue of their birth name. Though given that most surnames originated from people’s jobs, it has always seemed back to front to me. Hats off to Revd. Randy Vickers though, he must have been very sure of God’s purpose for him to survive a career as a vicar…
The phrase ‘nominative determinism’ came to mind (and was rejected) because I was trying to think of a way to encapsulate our ability to conjure up a mental picture of a person and ascribe qualities to them based purely on words, names on CVs, labels. Try it yourself – ‘Mohammed Emwazi and Barnaby Carruthers-Smythe’. Got a picture of them both? I’ll bet you have. I’m prepared to bet that you might at a pinch ascribe characteristics to each of them. Absolutely no logical reason why; but it is almost impossible not to do.
The same thing applies to labels. Defendant; Victim; we have mental pictures of both – one reason why the new ‘justice’ is so fond of putting the defendant in a bulletproof glass box – ‘dangerous animal, must be caged’ and the victim behind a velvet curtain – ‘delicate child, must be protected’.
I quite shocked myself the other day when I found myself making excuses for the crimes of a convicted sex offender. I am well aware that there are those who claim that I am a serial defender of paedophiles. I’m not actually – but I do firmly believe that whatever the crime you are accused of, you are entitled to a fair trial, even when you are accused of paedophilia, even if you have been convicted of such before – it makes no difference to me. Each trial is a separate entity, and the defendant is entitled to be treated as innocent until proven guilty.
I was reading through a 9,000 word deposition to the Goddard Inquiry regarding Lord Janner. First I read of how Leicestershire police had released a statement on their website, describing Lord Janner as ‘an animal’ although he had not been convicted of any offence. The word didn’t particularly shock me, I have seen far worse written about him, but it lodged in my mind, it’s a label. Unjustified before conviction, certainly wouldn’t appear to be in line with the Code of Practice applicable here.
In conducting an investigation, the investigator should pursue all reasonable lines of enquiry, whether these point towards or away from the suspect
Criminal Procedure and Investigations Act (CPIA) 1996
(s. 23(1)) Code of Practice, para 3.5
But I passed it by without feeling any need to question my mental picture of Lord Janner. Then I came to the description of ‘Complainant 1’. Unusual, I thought, I suppose they mean the ‘victim’.
In a brief five years of this moral panic, I, someone who has spent the entire five years railing against the perversion of language that has occurred, was falling into the trap of mentally thinking of ‘Complainant 1’ as the ‘victim’. I was now prejudging what I was reading. I now had a mental image of ‘Complainant 1’; child, inhabitant of a children’s home, male. That mental image of him was entirely complimentary to him. Maybe not physically, but in terms of character.
I saw a physically slight young man, underdeveloped, probably undernourished, with that vague expression worn by those who sniff glue in underpasses, spindly legs, the haunted eyes of the unfortunate males who find themselves on the Jeremy Kyle show trying to defend their sexual shenanigans with related, tattooed, ten ton lasses. The consumptive pigeon chest. Hoodie? Yes, most probably, and cheap jeans.
See? Even calling him ‘Complainant 1’ wasn’t enough to stop me drawing conclusions – I had supplanted the word ‘victim’ on my comprehension of what I was reading, and awarded him all sorts of characteristics on the basis of nothing more than a ‘label’.
So there I had them – the whey faced, pathetic, child victim of an overprivileged ‘animal’. Oh, I could picture Lord Janner too. The silky smooth barrister; the gourmet lunches at exclusive dinning clubs, the bar mitzvahs, the glamorous weddings, cruises, trips to Jerusalem, tennis on a Sunday; I was still open minded about whether he was guilty or not – but if he was? No excuses. An animal.
Then I discovered that the ‘whey faced, pathetic, child victim’ was actually a middle aged sex offender, had spent ten years on the sex offenders list – for abusing a child victim. He was, himself, a genuine, convicted ‘animal‘.
Do you know what I did? I made excuses for him. I said to myself, well, ‘if he was abused himself as a child, then it just shows the harm that was done to him that he turned into an abuser himself’. I didn’t call him an animal.
When I realised the quantum leap my mind had just made, I understood the true power of a label. The label of ‘victim’. I was prepared to extend an understanding and forgiveness towards someone for behaviour that I would never have excused in Lord Janner. Because mentally, Janner was stood in the dock, already labelled an ‘animal’, and we all know that only perverts and evil criminals end up in the dock – it’s just a matter of whether they get away with it or not. No excuses.
If someone like me, who has devoted the best part of five years writing of false allegations, can fall down this rabbithole, can think they are being ‘fair minded’ as to whether the man in the dock is an animal or not, yet be non-judgemental and excuse the convicted sex offender hiding behind the anonymity of putative ‘victim’ simply because one is labelled defendant, and one victim – then the insidious power of the media campaign has done its evil work.
I have shocked myself rigid. I truly fear for anyone who has to face a jury that has been so comprehensively groomed.
As for Lord Janner? He doesn’t even get a jury. He’s following in the footsteps of Jimmy Savile. Posthumous trial by media.