CSI: Morally Depraved (The CSI Effect)

There’s been a lot of media focus on the Cavan tragedy this week, most of it probably well-intentioned, but mostly sensationalist. Article after article, depicting Hawe as a family man, an upstanding member of society, a man obviously suffering behind closed doors. None of us have any idea what went on behind closed doors of the Hawe household, and it is insulting to the family to assume we do. What can be assumed, however, is that we are morbidly obsessed with motive in something called the ‘CSI Effect’. Usually pertinent to jurors, the CSI Effect is depicted as the undue influence Crime Scene Investigation, Criminal Minds and other forensic crime TV shows has on the general public, with glamorised, shortcut-riddled scientific methods and basic criminal profiling – that are not necessarily applicable in the real world – being taken as gospel.


Without claiming that this is the case for absolutely everyone getting involved in this discussion, seeing how the media have jumped on the ‘he must have been ill’ bandwagon has reignited a burning point of controversy within me – the CSI Effect has caused a ongoing obsession with the what and why instead of who. The victims in cases such as these become just that – victims. ¬†Faceless, nameless numbers who become a product of the perpetrator’s actions, rather than innocent individuals whose lives are worth remembering publicly. Perhaps its fair to say that this effect extends further back than CSI – Manson, Bundy, Dahmer, the Wests – any serial killer one can name. Documentary after book after documentary, and I, like so many, still can’t name their victims. The killers retain the glory long after the memory of their victims has passed. Why?

I’m a psychology student, and no stranger to the baffling effect of pseudo and pop-psychology on the masses. Human pathology and abnormal psychology is fascinating, but trying to understand why the killer is so much more interesting to the general public than the victims he (or rarely, she) chose is the hardest part. In relation to the Hawe family, trying to sort through the articles depicting Hawe as a great man suffering despite the horrific way in which he conducted the murders of his family are more baffling still. Despite our fascination with those who act differently than is morally expected, we seem obsessed with offering a plausible motive. Claiming a killer was sick or in some way troubled is far easier to stomach than acknowledging that perhaps that person wanted to do it.

The particular issue with the Hawe family incident is that it seems incredibly indicative of a domestic violence case (though no inquest has been heard to date). Hawe’s children were brutally killed, as was Hawe’s wife, Clodagh (who the media are widely avoiding commenting on as it could possibly disrupt the narrative that he was ‘a troubled but very nice man’) and yet there appears to be a public conspiracy attempting to absolve him of his actions. There appears to be a public conspiracy involving an outcry for mental health services to improve to prevent such an incident happening again.

I’m so, so for the improvement of mental health services.

I’m so, so for an increase of help being made available to women like Clodagh and her children.

I’m so not here for people equating mental illness with moral depravity.

A person with depression does not murder their family because they have depression. A person with depression has depression. That’s it. It might be mild or severe and it might affect their relationships and day-to-day functioning and be incredibly painful, but depression does not cause murder. With that, mental health services can assist those with depression. They can assist those with a variety of mental illnesses and help them, through medication and therapy, get better. What a mental health service can’t do is change the fact that there are people out there who can rationalise murder. There are people out there who can convince themselves that murder is the way to go, and there is very, very, very little that anyone can do to change their minds. Notwithstanding the fact that the Garda√≠ have stated that Hawe did not suffer with ill mental health, it appears to be a public affliction whereby people assume that for someone to commit an act as horrific and calculated as murder, there must be an illness there somewhere. Not so, unfortunately. Despite the CSI Effect causing individuals to believe they understand human pathology, the divide between reality and scripting is so huge that avid watchers and pop-psychology followers can’t seem to reconcile the fact that those murderers depicted on-screen exist in real life, and they don’t need a reason. Criminal Minds was and is particularly bad for investigating suspects with ‘a history of depression’ as a possible motive. While there is no denying that a stressor may cause a person capable of committing murder to do so, a mental illness – particularly an incredibly common one such as depression – is not indicative enough of a person’s capability or morals. A person suffering with psychosis or schizophrenia is less likely to be favourably looked upon by the media than in instances were individuals are searching for a reason to empathise with the killer. For some reason, mental illness does not get media empathy. For some reason, people with illnesses such as psychosis or schizophrenia where the person is most likely to injure themselves before anyone else, are treated as though they have a duty to lock themselves away on the off chance they hurt someone. Sadly, the truly dangerous people are the killers who have been eulogised time and time again, and committed to martyrdom which perseveres long after the names and faces of the victims have faded from our memories. I wonder what the reporting on the Hawe family tragedy would have been like had Hawe suffered from a known illness. I wonder would the outcry be for help, or would people be asking for those suffering from anything at all to be rounded up and locked away, just in case? I don’t want to remember Hawe’s face. I want Clodagh’s to be remembered. I want her children to be remembered. I want this to be the start of a culture which rejects a need to know why, and which focuses on who. Remember who. Her name was Clodagh.


Have your say!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s