Published by HQ on February 23, 2017
Erasing Violent Crime – Is It Really That Simple?
In my recent thriller, All Is Not Forgotten, a teenage girl’s memory of a violent sexual assault is medically erased. Before you start to think this is science fiction, consider the fact that researchers are already altering some components of trauma memories using drugs. Many believe it is only a matter of time before we will be able to target and erase unpleasant memories entirely. From car accidents to shootings to sexual assault – imagine being able to zap those memories forever.
But for survivors of violent crimes, is this really as good as it sounds? Can we really erase a violent crime by erasing the memory?
Part of my research for All Is Not Forgotten involved reading the accounts of rape survivors describing their attacks, and the emotional suffering that followed. While each account was unique, one thing was the same in virtually every piece that I read. The factual memory of the rape was only part of the emotional pain. But we already know this from survivors who have no factual memory due to date rape drugs, alcohol, and other substances that rendered the survivor unconscious or unable to retain memories during the attack. The mere knowledge that they were assaulted, as they describe it - violated, rendered powerless, their will and their bodily integrity eviscerated – these things cause pain even in the absence of any memory of the attack itself. That pain is severe and enduring.
The following conclusion emerged. We are not machines. We are not only the product of our factual memories. As human beings, we have powerful feelings from things that are purely conceptual, spiritual, and not at all necessary or even related to our survival. Pride, integrity, honor, to name but a few. The simple knowledge that the crime occurred is what wounds these things, and they cannot be healed by erasing a memory.
While memory altering drugs and treatments can serve to mitigate PTSD and other physical manifestations of emotional pain, I think it is dangerous to think we can erase a crime simply by erasing the memory. As memory science marches forward, this will surely be one of the most intriguing issues that we will have to face.
believed, or worse, that they will be blamed. Every generation has witnessed newsworthy accounts of rape prosecutions where the woman’s story is torn apart by her behavior, her appearance, or her “poor judgment.” And we have heard the argument that “boys will be boys” in many forms and contexts. How we perceive these cases is inextricably tied to how we perceive the rights of women and men and the power that they should be afforded. And those perceptions are now at risk of change.
Regardless of our individual views on various economic and social policies, regardless of our political affiliations, women have taken to the streets, in part, to make one thing very clear. The anger that underlies the political climate cannot result in an increase of sexual violence against women, or a decrease in prosecutions and sentencing for those crimes.
So what more can be done now that the marches have ended and the urgency of the situation has faded? The best arguments I have read call for zero tolerance of any degradation of women and any exertion of power over women through the use of sex. That means zero tolerance of sexual harassment. Zero tolerance of unwanted touching and “grabbing.” Zero tolerance of unwanted explicit text messaging. Zero tolerance for sexual assault of any kind. We already have laws against these things. What we need now is for women to use those laws, use their voices, and use the power they do have within their work, their schools, their families and their personal lives to continue to send the message of zero tolerance. The appropriate venue for the anger driving today’s political climate is in the political arena, and not through an exertion of power through physical oppression and violence.