Last December, 27 men in Limerick, Ireland, were charged with trying to engage the services of a prostitute. These men were caught as the result of a police initiative – the oddly named, Operation Freewheel – and the ‘prostitutes’ were, of course, all undercover cops (or ‘Guards’ as we call them here in Ireland).
21 of the men pleaded guilty and were fined 470 euro each, to be paid to a local NGO that works with immigrants. The remaining 6 men contested the charge and their cases are pending.
In the great scheme of things this is a pretty petty crime. Seedy and unpleasant but petty. Nobody would ordinarily care that much. Except for one thing – the national papers published the names of the men involved.
Lots of people thought it was outrageous that these names be published. Local papers didn’t publish the names – they too thought that it was wrong to name the men.
I was amazed at the controversy. If 27 men were charged with theft or traffic offenses or fraud nobody would object to their names being published. Nobody would say – ‘What about their families?’ or ‘It’s not fair on their wives and children.’ I imagine that the spouses and children of anybody who commits any crime are embarrassed by the actions of their relative. So –
Why is this crime different to other crimes?
Who exactly will think badly of their wives and children?
If the answer to that question is – People. Then that begs another question –
Who are these people?
Surely they are us?
Surely we can choose not to think badly of these families? As they have done absolutely nothing wrong that should be easy.
Surely if we (the people) do this then we can stop that particular consequence for the innocent families?
We speak about the people who make these judgements and do the gossiping as if they are a tribe of strangers who aren’t subject to our influence or control. As if we’d truly like them to stop this bad, judgmental carry-on but have no power to make them desist. The thing is, this isn’t the case. There aren’t other unnamed, anonymous but extremely powerful people running around out there making these unfair judgements.
We’re the people these families dread.
We’re the people they believe think badly of them – though they have committed no crime.
The buck really does stop with us.
The power is completely ours.
We can clear our heads and discern between right and wrong. We all know how to do this – it’s a natural capacity. If we do that, then the innocent may still get hurt but we won’t add to their suffering. If we do that, we will be able to apply our laws in such a way that justice is done all round.
We can do this. Immediately and without training or qualification. We can stop this unnecessary suffering and the suffering of all families in similar positions. It isn’t someone else’s job, it’s a job that belongs to all of us ordinary people. There is only one thing we need in order to succeed at this –
We have to start thinking for ourselves.