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Does Rape Justify Murder?

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Two novels with the same premise, one British one American.

An adolescent girl is raped by her violin teacher. The victim then murders her abuser. What happens next forms the substance of each of these novels. In both the murder takes place some time after the rape and is part of a desperate attempt to save a potential future victim.

In Diane Chamberlain’s The Silent Sister the rape victim is still a teenager at the time of her crime. Faced with prosecution she escapes to a new life by faking her suicide. Years later her much younger sister uncovers this and a series of related family secrets as she tackles the task of settling her father’s affairs following his death.

The novel alternates between the younger sister’s discoveries and the older sister’s new life. In the background are a couple who know the truth and threaten blackmail and a private eye who doesn’t believe the suicide story.

The protagonist in Christobel Kent‘s What We Did is older at the time of her crime. She has spent 20 years building a “normal” life after the abuse when the perpetrator reappears in her life. The book explores her feelings as she now has to conceal the body at the same time as preventing the secrets of the past tearing her family apart.

Meanwhile a hardened female journalist believes she is on to a scoop, aiming to reveal the violin teacher’s secret life as a paedophile.

I read both books recently, unaware until I began the second, of the similarities between the two. Both were page turners, hard to put down. There were passages in The Silent Sister that I found quite moving. I was certainly rooting for both sisters as the possibility of the murderer’s exposure came closer. Similarly, as the level of threat to the rape victim’s family in What We Did increased, I was in her corner, hoping that she would succeed in her poorly thought out quest.

Of the two, it was Kent’s novel I found most engaging, for the way it portrayed the inner life of the protagonist. Perhaps this was inevitable since writer, protagonist and I, as reader, are all British. Hiding our true feelings are common traits for us Brits. A character that does that and starts to fall apart as she faces the possibility of having to reveal the truth seems all to real to us.

There is also a strong sense of place in the (fictional) small university town in East Anglia with its cobbled lanes and looming towers.

Only after reading both books did I start to question the underlying assumption in each – that a victim of rape deserves to get away with murdering her abuser. The law, in the USA and the UK, does not excuse murder in cold blood, although the punishment may be reduced in circumstances such as these. Both books, however, rely on the murderer successfully evading the forces of law enforcement. And, as readers, we applaud.

Should we? I wonder. What do you think?

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6 Comments

  1. tidalscribe says:

    I read a blogger writing about her abuse and I think her moving words were ‘he had taken away the person I was meant to be.’ Yes, I would have been cheering the women on, but that doesn’t really make it right. The downside of belonging to a civilised country which does not have the death penalty is that there are criminals you certainly feel should be killed! If someone murdered your child, or ruined their life by rape the only closure you might feel would be their death.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. TanGental says:

    The state has to have general rules that are blunt instruments. As there are categories of unlawful killing there are defences and mitigation. There may be sympathy for the original victim which might mean prosecution is unlikely to be in the public interest but bottom line if someone kills someone the state has to investigate and take action. It cannot allow this sort of retribution to be condoned whatever individual sympathies might suggest.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. I don’t ever believe that violence is the answer, however, as a victim I understand the pain and why someone would want to murder someone. The pain is unbearable and even though the abused is the victim, the abuser sadly most of the time, receives the comfort even though they are to blame. Overall the situation is just horrible.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Sha'Tara says:

    Quote: “Both books, however, rely on the murderer successfully evading the forces of law enforcement. And, as readers, we applaud.

    Should we? I wonder. What do you think?”
    Law enforcement doesn’t equate justice. As an individual I reserve the right to make my own choices in the matter and I certainly would not pass judgment on a victim getting her “revenge” for a terrible wrong. So many truly abhorrent mass murderers and rapists get away with it because they are in government; have loads of money or are highly regarded religious figures so why shouldn’t the “little guy” get away with a justified getting even?

    Liked by 1 person

    • franklparker says:

      I can see where you are coming from, Sha’Tara but, as Brittian asked above, is violence ever the answer? Especially the kind of violence that ends with the deliberate taking of life?

      Like

      • Sha'Tara says:

        I fully understand, and accept, that in order to place ourselves up there as human beings (humane beings) we need to eschew our violent (vile) natures. But that is another point. The point here is a victim and a perpetrator, a predator whom the victim knows is going to do more of what he did to her. Her dilemma, knowing the current system she lives in, is what to do to prevent more harm to another innocent victim? If “justice” government style isn’t going to help her, she must help herself. Her only choice, thus not even a choice, is to kill the predator. This is the set up, this is where it’s at. Forget the lofty rhetoric of forgiveness and “the buck stops here” in dealing with the violence. I’ve always maintained that as a self empowered individual, I can make a choice to allow a perpetrator to do what he will to me but I cannot make that choice for another. If I saw a perpetrator abusing and threatening the life of a helpless victim, be it a child, another woman or a man, and I had the power to stop it by killing the abuser, then I would have to kill the abuser as an act of conscience, even of compassion. One has to operate within the system one lives in. Our “leaders” murder millions of innocent victims yearly through their wars and their support for exploitative/oppressive corporate institutions world wide and I should feel guilty for killing one rapist, one murderer, one predator and abuser? How do we define justice then? Let the leaders be the example. Let them abandon their wars of exploitation; let them close down their jails; let them set the captives free: let them be the first example of real justice.

        Liked by 1 person

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