“In addition to punishing sexual offenders and protecting our children, we must also provide services, resources and counselling to the people who are victims of these horrible crimes.”
— Jim Costa,
Democratic congressman, California
Do you remember the outcry over property ownership when Russell Williams was convicted of his odious crimes?
There was a public uproar over the suggestion that he might have been trying to safeguard his wife’s legal entitlement to her Ottawa home.
Common sentiment expressed about Mary Elizabeth Harriman at the time ran something like this (although these comments are from unidentified people specifically in response to the April 11 Maclean’s.ca article, “Russell Williams’ final victim: his wife”):
“The number of people already here who think Ms. Harriman is completely innocent and write in support of her are appalling. I do not believe she is without blame … and never will. … Any woman who ignores the type of activity that Williams was involved in, is guilty by association.”
Others slammed Harriman’s place of work, the Heart and Stroke Foundation.
“If this is the type of person the Heart & Stroke leads with, they won’t get any more of my money,” one person wrote.
“People will always hate this woman … and perhaps more so for acting like she is a victim (also),” wrote another.
“She is not.”
In an affidavit, Harriman denied trying to underhandedly acquire her husband’s assets, saying that while she wanted to safeguard her financial security, “The revelation of these charges has been devastating to me.”
The fact of the matter is, Mary Elizabeth Harriman need not have said anything at all. Because she was not her husband’s accomplice, nor his defender.
Rather, as the Maclean’s article pointed out in its headline, she was also his victim.
It is easy to say she must have known about his criminal proclivities, but many criminals are experts at deception. If Russell Williams had not been as practised in his deceit, he would’ve had far fewer victims.
Lives blown apart
We tend to be shortsighted when it comes to the victims of crime. If you can imagine that every heinous act is like a stone hitting the surface of the water, for every ripple spreading outward there is a person who has been negatively affected by that act.
Just ask Shannon Moroney.
She’s the author of “Through the Glass,” a brand new memoir from Doubleday Canada that describes how her husband committed horrible crimes just one month into their marriage.
She was later to learn that he was a voyeur who used a peephole camera in their bathroom to record images of her, her mother and family friends.
So, Moroney was victimized many times over — by having her sense of trust betrayed and her right to privacy shattered, but also by having to deal with the stigma of guilt by association.
The fact that her husband had killed a woman when he was 18
didn’t help her situation. (He’d served his time and disclosed his past to her when they met and she believed he had been rehabilitated.)
When — as a newlywed — the police contacted Moroney during a business trip to tell her that her husband had kidnapped and sexually brutalized two women and brought them to their home, her life was rocked by one staggering shockwave after the next.
First, she had to arrange the cleanup of the crime scene in her house — a bloodied couch, hanks of ripped-out hair and pieces of duct tape from her husband’s victims. Next, she had to take sick leave from her job as a guidance counsellor — a job she was eventually ousted from, with her principal’s admonition ringing in her ears: “Don’t come into the school without permission. … You represent something terrible.”
She was denied victim services because even though she found her husband’s crimes abhorrent, she continued to visit him in prison in an attempt to discern why he had come undone in a torrent of violence.
Some longtime friends wrote to express their disgust at her husband’s crimes and the fact that she had not distanced herself from him fast enough. Before long, she was on unpaid medical leave, scrabbling to pay the bills and suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
“I am a victim of crime,” she would tell herself. “Not the perpetrator.”
Still, people were quick to judge.
The fact is, reaction to Shannon Moroney’s situation is not isolated. How often, when we read about criminals making their way through the justice system, supported by their spouse or parents, do we dismiss their supporters as being just as bad?
We make assumptions about other people’s values and morals without even knowing them.
If your husband committed horrible crimes when you were still basking in the afterglow of your honeymoon, would you immediately file divorce proceedings or would you want answers first?
If your otherwise loving daughter turned out to be the armed robber in the mask and hoodie who’d hit the convenience store the night before and traumatized a store clerk, would you disown her?
This province’s Victim Services Program helps adult victims of crime and child victims and witnesses of crime.
“Priorities for service are victims of violent crimes,” the website says.
But perhaps it’s time we expanded our notion of what makes someone a victim. If someone you love, through no fault of yours, commits a criminal act and the repercussions drag you down into a vortex of financial and emotional stress, shame and unwanted notoriety, then you’re a victim, plain and simple.
The problem is, as Shannon Moroney found out, the services available to victims do not ripple out far enough to reach all of the people who need them.
Pam Frampton is The Telegram’s
story editor. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.