Traumatic Loss and Responsibility: The Requirements of Redress in the Aftermath of Murder
Adelsberg, Geoffrey Aaron
In this dissertation, I respond to the question: “What should institutions of criminal justice provide to persons aggrieved by murder?” I argue that a common response of victims’ rights advocates—that support for aggrieved persons is provided by harshly punishing perpetrators of murder—is too narrow. In light of a case study drawn from the experience of members of my family and my Jewish community, psychosocial research on traumatic experience, and my commitment to a Du Boisian vision of flourishing in the aftermath of trauma, I argue for a reorientation of victims’ rights advocacy. I argue that institutions of criminal justice should serve persons aggrieved by murder by constituting communities capable of providing support for grief, testimony of aggrieved persons, and the memorialization of those lost to murder. Throughout my dissertation, I explicate and respond to arguments for the good of punishment for persons aggrieved by murder. I look to contentions that punishment delivers “closure” for aggrieved persons. I look to arguments that punishment satisfies moral demands for accountability among those aggrieved by murder, which are the condition for moral recovery in the aftermath of traumatic experience. I respond to each of these arguments by suggesting that the ends they seek—support for recovery from traumatic grief and accountability for crimes—can be meaningfully delivered by non-juridical community forums organized in support of aggrieved persons and the memorialization of the victim of crime. I offer a critique of the limitations inherent in offering a place for testimony of aggrieved persons in victim impact statements at the sentencing phase of trials, presently allowed in most jurisdictions of U.S. criminal justice system. I thus seek to separate support for aggrieved persons from the traditional guilt and sentencing proceedings of criminal trials. This dissertation provides grounds for victims’ rights advocates to shift their focus from increasing punitiveness to creating institutions capable of response to a more nuanced conception of the needs and demands of persons victimized by crime. This is one that makes the response to the grief, testimony, and needs for memorialization an occasion for communities and their polities to transform their understandings of traumatic experience. It is an occasion to reinforce commitment to the resisting the repetition of violence.