This is not a column I ever expected I would have to write. However, recent remarks from former Supreme Court judge and lawyer Jón Steinar Gunnlaugsson have unfortunately forced my hand.
In a recent interview with Eyjan, Jón Steinar talks about his client, Róbert Downey. Róbert was recently granted a sort of legal clearing of his reputation, having done prison time for sexually abusing four teenaged girls, and is now free to work as a lawyer again. This has prompted no shortage of public outcry, not least of all from the survivors of his abuse.
Jón Steinar has been ceaselessly defending his client, as one would expect a lawyer to do. The problem is, his defenses have gone beyond simple legal duty and entered the realm of absolute horror. In his own words:
“He served his sentence. When has humanity ever improved itself with hate? I ask you. Should we not instead show forgiveness? It’s much better to do that and then respond if a crime is committed again. Of course we should rather do that. … I can assure you that those who have been abused, they will feel much better if they learn to forgive.”
First of all, Jón Steinar is in absolutely no position whatsoever to be telling the women that his client traumatised that they ought to forgive Róbert. That much we can all agree on.
Secondly, though, as disgusting and condescending as Jón Steinar’s remarks are, they are unfortunately all too common. Anyone who’s survived abuse and sexual assault will quite likely recognise this tired refrain. Jón Steinar’s assumption that a lack of forgiveness means a person is living in a state of perpetual hatred, bitterness and sorrow is as wrong-headed as it is pervasive. I can speak from personal experience, as a survivor myself, that this is so. And I’m sick of it.
For how long are we going to be implored to forgive abusers? To whom, exactly, is this important other than for the abusers themselves? You don’t need to forgive in order to heal, but the abuser sure needs your forgiveness in the hopes that you will stop bringing up the fact that they’re abusers.
Don’t get me wrong. I know there are people who have forgiven and even reconciled with their attackers, and found it to be a healing process. Good for them. I know others still (myself included), however, who never, ever forgave their attackers and only focused on healing themselves, eventually coming to a point where they could develop their interests, make friends, fall in love, build a career and all the other good stuff that makes life worth living. All without wasting a single breath forgiving the people who traumatised them.
That the women Róbert abused refuse to forgive him does not in any way, shape or form imply that they are not today living happy and fulfilling lives. They clearly are. This false binary of “forgive the person who broke you” or “live in hate and sorrow” needs to stop.
No one is ever going to forget what Róbert did. And if no one forgives him, either, I guarantee you that won’t stop anyone else from being happy, except maybe Róbert himself.
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