June 18, 2007
Connecticut State Senator Louis C. DeLuca was arrested and charged last week for going too far in trying to protect a family member from abuse, according to state and federal authorities.
Senator DeLuca said: “I tried to protect a family member who was vulnerable, who was in a physically abusive domestic relationship, and who needed help. My family and I went to the police three times to get help for my relative, but the police said that they couldn’t help because the victim wouldn’t file a complaint.”
He contacted a mobster who offered to have someone “pay a visit” to the alleged perpetrator, most likely to scare him off and stop the abuse. We do not know if this “visit” ever took place and whether the abuse continued. Senator DeLuca was charged with conspiracy to threaten.
Where is the line between a warning and a threat? It could depend on the nature of the action considered. If the considered action is illegal, then it is a threat, if it is not, then it could be just a warning.
We sometimes take foolish measures when we think that we have no alternatives. “I had no choice” is rarely true, and most often an excuse. Ethics is about making choices between alternatives. We always have options particularly in our society where the rule of law prevails.
What could have been the alternatives in this situation?
The general rule in the US is that there is no legal obligation to report a crime. Certain professions such as teachers, physicians, lawyers, and clergy are required to report such crimes as child abuse. However, as responsible citizens, I believe we have a moral obligation to do so.
One alternative would be of course to confront the alleged perpetrator. Even if it is met with a denial, the confrontation might just be what is necessary to stop the abuse. The perpetrator will know that his actions have not gone un-noticed and that negative consequences might fallow if he or she continues.
The most challenging alternative is to try to persuade the victim to come forward. Maybe a convincing argument is that the victim is not doing it for himself or herself alone but for other potential future victims.
As Eleanor Roosevelt once said:
One's philosophy is not best expressed in words; it is expressed in the choices one makes... and the choices we make are ultimately our responsibility.