At a hotel in Manchester, Ronson sat with a group of men and women who were training to become expert witnesses, hoping to make some extra money. They were taking a courtroom familiarization course, and Ronson had joined them out of his curiosity about whether shaming was a significant enough part of the courtroom process to earn a mention. And, it turned out, it did: right away, the experts began warning the potential witnesses that lawyers for both the defense and the prosecution would attempt to mercilessly shame them. The rest of the day, it turned out, was entirely about shame-avoidance techniques. As Ronson participated in the exercises, he found himself judging his fellow participants by how they reacted in the face of even a mock shaming.
This passage shows how lawyers and prosecutors use shame in the courtroom in order to turn the tides of a case, sway the opinions of the jury, and potentially destroy lives in the process. By shaming a witness on the stand, a lawyer can undermine credibility and completely change the outcome of a trial. This passage confirms that shame is an immensely powerful tool—and that when it's used for the wrong purposes by the wrong people, it can be incredibly destructive.
Ronson began corresponding with a Scottish woman named Linda Armstrong whose 16-year-old daughter Lindsay had been raped on her way home from the bowling alley one night. Linda sent Ronson a copy of the court transcript from her daughter’s case. Ronson read it, horrified to find that Lindsay’s rapist’s defense lawyer had attempted to shame her for the provocative underwear she was wearing at the time of the attack. The lawyer forced Lindsay to hold the underwear up in front of the court—he attempted to use shame to win his case.
This passage shows how abominable it is that a 16-year-old rape victim was shamed on the witness stand in her own case. The defense lawyer knew just how powerful a tool shame was, and they leveraged it to their advantage—perhaps without fully understanding what the potential consequences could be.
While Lindsay’s rapist was found guilty, he only served two years in a young offenders’ institution. Just three weeks after the cross-examination, Lindsay committed suicide. Ronson wonders what a world in which we refused to shame our fellow humans might look like, and whether there was a corner of the justice system that was trying to create such a world.
Lindsay’s case was a classic example of shame being leveraged against a woman in order to destroy her credibility. Lindsay took her own life as a result of her shame, illustrating how shame can lead to trauma, violence, and even death.