Many faces of evil

Monday morning for us at the Family Support Center started in a sad way. We received a female patient who had been raped by eight men...

The woman was travelling to visit relatives during the weekend and, when she got off the bus, a group of men attacked her and took turns in raping her. She came to our clinic with her clothes torn and muddy, experiencing severe physical pain.

Another patient that presented at the Family Support Center had been travelling on a bus when it was stopped by a group of thieves (here usually called rascals). The rascals robbed all the passengers in the bus of their money and valuables; they forced out all the female passengers, took them aside and raped them.

Since I started working in this project and began to witness all the horrible fates we see in our clinic each day, I have countless times asked myself, why?

Why does someone commit these awful crimes? Who does it?

Like most people, I guess, I am at times inclined to think about the perpetrators as evil by nature – as abnormal, sick and crazy. Separate people: in us, the good; in them, the evil. This simplistic dualism of good vs. evil, however, is not very constructive if we really want to understand acts of evil.

Social psychologist Professor Philip Zimbardo writes that horrific deeds are possible for any of us in the right (or wrong) circumstances.

Social situations and environments have a significant effect on people’s behavior; it is not only about personality variables or genes. Look at the classic example of Nazi concentration camps, which were run by ordinary men and women. Therefore, Professor Zimbardo writes, in order to understand odd behavior, we should always start by analyzing the situation – yet avoiding determinism: people are still responsible for their actions. Neither should people be categorized as evil or good. When upholding the approach of people being either good or evil, the people considered “good” lack all responsibility

Yes, it was the rapist who raped, but what about all the rest of us who contribute to maintaining a system where gender inequality prevails? And would any of the eight men who raped our patient have done so if they had met her alone?

Suggested reading: Zimbardo, P. (2007). The Lucifer Effect. Understanding How Good People Turn Evil. New York: Random House.