There’s a crime story that has two major cities in the Northeast gripped right now. Imette St. Guillen was a 24-year-old Boston woman, a grad student studying criminology in New York City. She was last seen alive in a Soho bar, alone and very drunk, at 4 in the morning. Her body was later found in Queens, nude and wrapped in tape. She had been brutally raped and murdered.
The circumstances of Imette’s death have provoked a great controversy. On the one side are those who say that she was “asking for trouble” by being out, alone, and drunk at that time and place. On the other are those who say that Imette had every legal right to be there, in that state, and to say such things is tantamount to blaming the victim.
I agree with both sides. Both are right, but they are arguing past each other. The difference is that one is arguing legal and moral grounds, while the other is taking the pragmatic approach.
LEGALLY and MORALLY, Imette did nothing wrong. Likewise, a few other examples:
A woman has the right to walk through a frat house party in a bikini without being touched unwillingly.
I have the right to walk through the streets of my city, even the allies, with money hanging out of my pockets.
Children have the right to wander their neighborhoods, looking around.
Pedestrians have the right to step forthrightly on to a crosswalk of a busy street without looking in either direction.
No one is legally obligated to lock their homes or cars.
In each of these cases, the folks have not done anything wrong. They should suffer no legal consequences for their actions.
But in the real world, each is inviting a disaster.
We all have a duty to ourselves to protect ourselves. We are all obligated to avoid harm, or at least to minimize our risks.
This is in no way exculpatory to those who exploit those who chose unwisely. “They were asking for it” is, in my fantasy world, justification for adding even more to the penalties of a crime. The crux of civilization is that we are all capable of controlling our baser instincts, of mastering our impulses and desires, and acting in a mature, responsible fashion. (This even includes Muslims who might be inflamed by the Evil Hair Rays emitted by unshrouded women, or who catch the slightest glimpse of a woman’s skin.)
In Imette’s case, the police believe they have a likely suspect in the bar’s bouncer — a guy with a long criminal record. And if he is convicted, I would be delighted no end if he got the needle or met an untimely demise earlier.
But the tragic part of the whole story is that while her killer might have murdered anyone, Imette — through her own choices and actions — placed herself in harm’s way, and suffered for that decision. And I hope that some good can come from her death, as a cautionary tale to others who might also be placing themselves in dangerous situations.
No, you are not doing anything wrong. But you are being stupid — and in the real world, sometimes that is a capital offense.