There has been quite an uproar in the past two weeks about the parole of Michelle Martin, who was convicted (along with her sadistic, serial killing husband) of the rape and murder of 4 Belgium girls. Not surprisingly, the outrage centered around the apparently active role Ms. Martin took in the crimes, which included participating in at least one abduction, unfeelingly watching the rape of a school girl, and refusing to feed two eight year old captives (they died) while her husband, Marc Duproux, was in prison for four months on an auto theft conviction. During the trial, Ms. Martin attempted to do what most females do when husband/wife serial killing teams are caught; she blamed it on her husband.
There is quite a precedent here. Karla Homalka, Charlene Gallago, and many others have presented themselves as terrified victims of violent, abusive husbands. ”My husband would have killed me if I’d let them go.” ”I felt I had no choice.” ”He controlled everything; he became my God.”
For the outside observer (me, for example), it’s impossible to reconcile this self-presentation with the facts of the case. These are women who demonstrated incredible cruelty on their own – often when their spouse wasn’t present. These were women who creatively suggested hostage taking strategies, or who suggested camera angles while victims were being raped and tortured.
And, yet, when we look at the spouses of sexual sadists, we do often find a history of abuse in their backgrounds. It’s not uncommon for these women to be abused by their spouses or to view them with a combination of love and fear. So are these the victims as they claim to be, or are they accomplices?
I wish I had the answer to that question. I do, however, have a theory. To a greater or lesser degree, it does involve domestic violence. However, there is a line that I think most women, no matter how much they were beaten up or beaten down, would not cross. There is something already missing in a women who will participate in the rape and torture of an innocent child or adolescent. Perhaps it’s empathy, perhaps it’s willpower, perhaps it’s a moral compass. It’s this absence that leaves room for evil.