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Should It Matter if a Perpetrator Was Once a Victim?

Revenge and the murder of Omar Veiga.

Key points

  • Forty-one year old Claudia Campos Veiga was arrested for murdering her 65-year-old father, whom she says sexually abused her as a teen.
  • Revenge fantasies are common after an interpersonal trauma; actually seeking retribution is not.
  • The relationship between revenge and trauma is complicated but is more likely when justice and remorse are absent.
Cathy Jonelson/creativecommons
Source: Cathy Jonelson/creativecommons

On September 4, after two months on the lam, 41-year-old Brazilian Claudia Campos Veiga was arrested for the murder of her 65-year-old father, Omar. According to various news sources, she invited her father on a hike on July 9, during which she tied him to a tree, doused him with gasoline, and set him on fire. She burned him alive.

Ms. Veiga reportedly told police that her motive was to pay him back for sexually abusing her for years. Veiga’s ex-boyfriend backs this up and told local law enforcement that she had been wanting revenge for “over a 30-year period.” This latter claim seems unlikely, given that she would have been 11 years old back in 1991 and the alleged sexual abuse began in her teens. But what does seem true is that Ms. Veiga fantasized about killing her father for months — maybe even years — before she did it. This was no crime of passion.

The Complicated Relationship Between Trauma and Revenge

It is unclear at this point just how much premeditation was involved. Ms. Veiga says she called and talked to her brother about her plan a few days beforehand. Some news reports suggest that the only reason she began visiting her father, who had lived for the past five years in a rehabilitation center for the homeless, was to gain his trust before sending him to his grave. Staff at the rehab center said she had visited him a total of three times and had acted like a loving daughter, even asking him to come live with her during their second visit.

Let’s assume that Ms. Veiga’s allegations are true; given how rare false accusations of incest are, it’s a pretty safe bet. Revenge fantasies after an interpersonal trauma are common; after being victimized and deeply hurt, who wouldn’t daydream about turning the tables? This is especially true when the perpetrator was someone in a position of trust. I think there are few greater betrayals than a parent who forces his child to be their sex partner.

And it’s not just the acts themselves that are devastating. What happens after the abuse can either mitigate the damage or aggravate it. Abuse victims who are believed and supported by other members of their families, who get professional help, and who see their abuser face consequences for their actions often see their revenge fantasies fade as they heal. They are, after all, a poor substitute for genuine justice and a restored sense of self-control.

In Veiga’s case, though, not only did her father’s deeds go unpunished, but for decades they were unspoken. She told police that it was only in the last few years that she disclosed the abuse to the rest of her family. No one has publicly talked about what kind of response she got.

Was the Media to Blame for Murder?

There’s a long road between desiring revenge and taking it. Why murder her father now, after all these years? What happened to finally push Veiga from rage to retribution? It wasn’t proximity; Veiga lived a four-hour plane ride away from her dad and could easily have maintained zero contact with him. He clearly wasn’t spending his golden years living the good life.

We don’t yet know what circumstances actually set her plan into motion. But, according to Ms. Veiga, a movie inspired her to put aside any fear of consequences or punishment. It was the 1978 film, I Spit on Your Grave, in which a raped and brutalized young woman seeks violent revenge on her rapist. Ms. Veiga said she watched that movie and hatched her plan.

If you’re tempted to jump on the “media causes violence” bandwagon, please wait: Ever since moral crusaders (typically mental health professionals and ministers) blamed comic books for their corrupting and violent influence on 1940s teenagers, there have been people eager to point the finger at the media instead of looking at root causes of retribution. (Did you know there used to be comic book burnings?) There is, however, very little evidence to support them.

There’s a big difference between a person on the ledge using a movie to jump off, and a well-adjusted teenager chasing his girlfriend with an axe just because he saw The Shining. As a forensic psychologist, I’ve talked to many murderers. As a crime writer, I’ve researched hundreds more. And I’ve never been tempted to slip antifreeze into my husband’s Gatorade or hire a hit man to take out my sister. And if watching slasher movies turned someone into Freddy Kreuger, you might want to steer clear of me this Halloween.

The Bottom Line

Ironically, Ms. Veiga’s horrible actions may have finally garnered her the sympathy she so desperately deserved. Headlines like these condemned Veiga’s “monster” dad while others expressed outrage that, under the circumstances, she had still been arrested for murder. But that’s what she committed.

Should her history of victimization play a role in her trial? Should she be charged with a lesser crime or given a reduced sentence? These are questions we forensic psychologists are asked to given an opinion about all the time. There are no easy answers.

Whether or not they play a role, Ms. Veiga should — and will — have to answer for what’s she’s done. We all do. But I also think that, when a victim becomes a perpetrator, we need to take a close look at the path that led her there. The door to revenge tends to open when the doors to justice and repentance are closed.

References

If you're interested in true crime and forensic psychology, check out my youtube channel, medium page, and new book, Serial Killers: 101 Questions True Crime Fans Ask.

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