The Central Park Jogger and the Reification of Victims’ Perspectives

Those of you familiar with the Central Park Five case should be under no doubt that, despite Trump’s insistence on propagating a strange narrative of the case, the five teenagers railroaded into confessing and sentenced to years in prison have been completely exonerated and compensated, with a single perpetrator’s confession backed up by solid DNA evidence.

You may also recall that the victim, Trisha Meili, who was violently assaulted and left for dead, has no memory of the attack. But she apparently does not see this as a barrier to opining about guilt and innocence.

In my forthcoming book Yesterday’s Monsters: The Manson Family Cases and the Illusion of Parole (forthcoming Feb. 2020 from UC Press) I discuss the serious problems that happen when we reify the perspectives of people at the heart of trauma regarding things they are not qualified to comment on, such as the sincerity of parole hopefuls, their participation in rehabilitative programming, and even their physical health. And here we have a person who cannot recall the attack pushing for a political outcome, claiming the authority to do so because of her victimization.

Trisha Meili suffered horribly at the hands of someone terrifyingly violent and deserves every sympathy and compassion for that horrible ordeal, as well as respect and admiration for regaining her health. But she has no authority or special knowledge to chime in about events she does not recall or to use her authority as a “moral memory” of the crime to push for processes that completely contradict forensic evidence.

This is what happens when we decide that trauma itself is an admission ticket to the discourse. And lest we forget, the right has not cornered the market on this reification of victims.