#sorrynotsorry: The Power Dynamics of Mediated Forgiveness




Dean's Fellow

Project Summary

This project’s main goal was to study how apologies factored into crimes – take police shootings, for example. Not soon after Philando Castile was shot, his mother, Valerie Castile, was asked live on CNN if she forgave the police officer who killed her son. Not only does this corner the victim’s family in a difficult situation, but it also puts them in a position to grant an early forgiveness. The problem, though, is that “I forgive you” is associated with moving on. By forcing an early apology, all power is stripped from the victim or his or her family.

 Over the past 10 weeks, I have looked at multiple situations of forgiveness and crime. I started with sexual assault and eventually moved onto school shootings. I discovered that, in these situations, the only families to willingly offer their forgiveness first were the ones who were religious.

This then led me to look more into religions, to see the various aspects of forgiveness on each one. I researched the unforgiveable sins of each religion, and found that, despite regional differences, most religions encouraged forgiveness as a foundational pillar. Finally, I found this ideal of attempted universal forgiveness was consistent dating back to the 1980s.

Moreover, I later started to examine journalistic guidelines for interviewing trauma victims in over 20 different countries, to see if a reporter asking a victim about forgiveness was ethical. What I discovered was fascinating. In every country I looked at, from all areas of the world, there was at least one code of ethics or article that advised the reporter to be sensitive, and avoid causing the victim more pain. This means that, by forcing the question of forgiveness, these reporters are violating codes of ethics worldwide.

Overall, this research experience has led me to look at crime and the psychological aftermath of it far more closely. I have been forced to consider ethics every step of the way of my research; I have looked at terrible cases of right and wrong, and seen how religion and personal reasons compel people to forgive even the most heinous crimes. This has given me a new perspective on the world, and, for that, I cannot thank PURM enough.