I was immune to the trauma bond - or so I thought. We didn't know who had murdered our daughter so I wasn't bonded with anyone - or so I thought.
As first I had almost been envious of other parents of murdered children who knew who had killed their children. But then as I watched them, I began to see how all-absorbing this knowledge could be. There seemed to be an invisible bond – later identified as a trauma bond - between them and the murderer.
They were obsessed. Most of our support meetings were spent talking about the perpetrators and the ongoing conflict in the media, in the courtrooms and eventually with Corrections. It seemed as if the perpetrator was in control of their lives. One father described it as being tied to the murderer with a rope and being jerked around with every one of his movements.
Even though the case remained unsolved, I had come to my own conclusions. There were some suicides reported in our area of town so I had decided the murderer – a stranger to us had not been able to live with himself and suicided. We would never know what had happened: he was no longer a threat. I felt free of all of that. We were able to freely tell our story without including anyone else. We were able to freely “forgive” without any responsibility as to what that meant in the real world. There was a freedom in not knowing.
However, without really realizing it, I was being slowly drawn into the world of Restorative Justice, a growing movement of the time which was exploring this trauma bond. I was being positioned as the forgiving victim in dialogue with the repentant offender. It began as a hypothetical dialogue….
And then the dialogue became rea when I was asked to tell my story at a Restorative Justice day being held in a local high school. I was sharing the "story telling" day with an offender I had never met him. I told my story to a class room of students in the morning and was invited to hear "his" story that afternoon.
The school gymnasium was filled with squirming high school adolescents – a collective audience of hormones – a challenge for any speaker even at the best of times. And this was the most challenging time of all – right after lunch.
They wiggled, they talked, and they threw things at each other – until he walked on to the stage.
He placed his hands on the podium, and immediately a hush fell over the gym. There was something about him. He embodied the indescribable power of someone who is exceptionally confident, composed, and ready to take on anything the world wants to throw at him. We all felt it – we all knew it.
“I am René Durocher,” he said in a thick French-Canadian accent. He paused and scanned the audience.
“When I was a young boy, a priest came to our house. He told my mother that I had great potential. He said that I would become a great person someday. He just wasn’t sure whether it would be a great prime minister – or a great criminal.”
No one was talking, throwing things, or punching anyone anymore. You could have heard a pin drop in that full gymnasium.
“I chose to become a criminal.”
He paused to let his words sink in. Then he added quietly, “And I became one of the best.”
No one moved after that – he had the students in the palm of his hand as he began to tell his story - of how he had become the "most wanted" man in Canada.
The hypothetical victim/offender dialogue - had become a reality. He had been presented by the organizers of the event as a rehabilitated offender. On stage I saw him become a dangerous repeat offender glorifying his crimes and having access to the most vulnerable of audiences.
All my victim alarms went off, I wanted to escape... but I too was mesmerized.
If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality. - Desmond Tutu