Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A Case of Yapese Justice


The recent stories about Dominique Strauss-Khan’s legal difficulties reminded me of a case I read about on the island of Yap in the Federated States of Micronesia. The whole issue of sexual assault is a hot-button issue in the last decade. It seems to be a problem in every known society. Jane Goodall’s studies of chimpanzees indicate that males of that species are capable of egregious, aggressive conduct towards females. That’s why I believe socialization of young males by their families and communities is so important.

I once knew a very attractive young woman named Ann Marchant who had traveled a great deal throughout Europe in her teens. I once told her that she had the makings of a good doctoral dissertation on how different European nationalities respond to cute blonds. The Norwegians, she told me, were polite, and had a mellow, almost androgynous, outlook, the Italians were vocal, if in a friendly way, but she found Greeks to be vocal and downright nasty.


My younger brother Mark once attended a community college in Kansas where he informed me there was no friction at all between blacks and whites. They were united by a common enemy: Arab exchange students who had got their ideas about American women from watching too many episodes of Dallas. They seemed to think any woman who was bearing as much as her ankles was asking for it. Their attitude caused serious tension and several fistfights.

But back to Yap. I have passed the bar for Ohio, federal courts for the southern district of Ohio, and in 1999 I passed the bar for the Federated States of Micronesia. While studying for the bar in Micronesia, I read about 2 cases of sexual assault on the island of Yap, where I once served as public defender. In both cases, some very ill-mannered young men had assaulted a Yapese. The retaliation of the woman’s family was swift and severe. Every male relative of the victim—fathers, brothers, uncles and cousins—got together tracked the guy down, jumped him, and took turns beating him within an inch of his life. One guy had his hand smashed with a 2x4, one guy was beaten with fists until he could no longer stand, used as a soccer ball until he wasn’t moving, and then the assembled multitude used him as a public urinal.

As a trained lawyer, I’m supposed to deplore lynch mob justice, but in this case, I rather wonder if in Yap it doesn’t make perfect sense. If you attack a woman, retribution will be swift, certain, and severe, an object lesson not only to the perpetrator and any would-be wrongdoer, but also as an object lesson to young boys: not only do you not mistreat women, it is both your right and affirmative duty to personally punish anyone who does.