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The Impact of Public Shaming on Society

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“We’re creating a culture where people feel constantly surveilled, where people are afraid to be themselves… This is not the culture we wanted. It’s a public culture that seems broken, but what can we do about it” (Blackford)? Public shaming is a form of punishment that results in public humiliation. It is a demeaning practice that has been around for centuries and is still in use today. Shaming is brought back as far as the 1620’s, in the book The Scarlet Letter, where puritans used public shaming to punish sinners and lawbreakers for religious wrongdoings. Public shaming is unlawful and overvalued as a form of discipline that is used around the world, every day. As a result, public shaming is not an effective punishment because it affects everyone around the criminal, underrates the intensity of a crime, and labels people as criminals, making them act as one. To begin, public shaming effects everyone around the criminal, not just themselves. When a criminal is publicly shamed, their family, friends, and community will be publicly affected as well.

For example, in The Scarlet Letter the author states, “Hester, I am a dying man. So let me make haste to take your shame upon me… Lo, the scarlet letter which Hester wears so miserably burdened she may have hoped to find repose. But there stood one in the midst of you, at whose brand of sin and infamy ye have not shuddered”(Hawthorne197). Dimmesdale explains he can not handle the pain Hester feels because of the scarlet letter. The public punishment of Hester’s crime has made Dimmesdale feel weak to the point where he wants to die. Even though the public punishment is Hester’s, Arthur Dimmesdale is affected by it because he is part of her life, going through it with her. In addition, a writer for an article states, “Whatever the case, the damage of public shaming can be severe. Trust can be broken. Lives can be destroyed or permanently altered. In fact, experts say that public humiliation and shame teach nothing but fear, and that they may even be worse forms of discipline than hitting”(Organ).

Many people may not know but public shaming can go as far as someone’s life. The same writer states that a 13-year-old girl committed suicide after her father recorded a video of him cutting her hair off as a punishment. The daughter’s family was devastated and isolated themselves from the father after this “punishment” because it went too far, to the point none of them could take it any longer. Furthermore, public shaming underrates the intensity of a crime. Crimes are supposed to be frowned upon, but when the crime is publicly shown to embarrass the criminal, it is not taken as seriously. For example, Professor Moskos, a professor at the University of New York states, “ If you were sentenced to five years in prison for whatever you did or didn’t do, and the judge gave you the choice of 10 lashes, what would you pick? And almost everyone would choose the lashes, but we don’t allow that because we consider it cruel and unusual”(Some Judges Prefer). This shows how criminals can be let off so easily with public shaming for how less strenuous is. In this case, criminals would rather get whipped than go to prison. A criminal will not learn their lesson if their crime is not taken seriously and seen as ok. Secondly, In the book The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne states “At the very least, they should have put the brand of a hot iron on Hester Prynne’s forehead. Madame Hester would have winced at that, I warrant me. But she,—the naughty baggage,—little will she care what they put upon the bodice of her gown” (44-45 )!

Hawthorne explains that a woman in the community believes Hester is lucky for her punishment for her sin. She states that Hester should have gotten the letter ironed onto her forehead at the very least and should be grateful she is not dead. This shows how Hester’s crime is not seen as serious because public punishment is not as bad as prison or death. Lastly, public shaming labels someone as a criminal, which may cause them to act like one. In the scarlet letter when Dimmesdale is standing upon the scaffold, he states, “May God forgive thee! Said the minister. Thou, too, hast deeply sinned!. . . God knows, and he is merciful! He hath proved his mercy, most of all, in my afflictions. By giving me this burning torture to bear upon my breast!”(Hawthorne198-199). The public shaming Hester is enduring is also privately shaming Dimmesdale. He thinks God gave him this torture so he would act more what he is supposed to be, a criminal. The shaming has made Dimmesdale go insane because of the shaming that came after the crime of adultery for Hester and himself, making him feel more of a criminal he really is. Secondly, a writer for CBS2 News states “A judge has a lot of power to create unusual sentencing because the statue says that a judge may impose any other condition that reasonably relates to the crime and the purpose of which punishment is imposed… It’s the shame effect. There’s research around the world and countries that tend to impose a shaming effect tend to have less recidivism and less crime”(Earl).

This shows how many judges will publicly shame innocent people for the smallest of crimes. Crimes such as littering, J walking, or unpaid parking tickets are small crimes that can be resolved by fines, but judges take public shaming to an advantage making lawful citizens feel as if they are criminals for the small unoffensive actions they took. In contrast, opposing arguments suggest that public shaming is an effective form of punishment because it gets the criminal to notice his crime and not commit it again. One may think this because punishments such as holding signs, wearing costumes, and advertising a criminal crime to the public will show what the person did which is embarrassing, rather than sitting in a prison cell for 5 years. Professor Turley, a professor at George Washington University Law School states “I think that’s the key. But the purpose of incarceration, ironically, is to make someone feel ashamed… the idea of locking someone in a cage and somehow, magically, assuming that they’ll get better, which is why we invented prisons in the first place. But we know that it doesn’t work”(Some Judges Prefer).

However, this is not true nor effective because a public punishment is way less severe than countless years in prison. Having a criminal in prison locked up from society will make them regret their crime instead of having them free in the world. The same writer also states “And I mean, the purpose of prison – there are really, three purposes. One is to rehabilitate prisoners, and we know through research that it doesn’t work. The other is to hold truly dangerous, evil people away from us… and the third is to allow society to express its disapproval, and to do that- that is, to punish someone- we have to open our minds to other forms of punishment. And I think shame is one of the better forms”(Some Judges Prefer).

However this is also not true because prisons keep criminals out of any trouble they can do, but when criminals are let in the public, no one knows what they are capable of because they are not held behind bars. So because of this, lawbreakers need to learn their crimes and do their punishment, behind bars. To conclude, public shaming is not an effective form of punishment because it affects everyone around the criminal, not just themselves, underrates the crime, and makes lawful citizens feel like criminals. Public shaming has been taken advantage of over the years and is unlawful and demonizing. Compared to other punishments such as jail, public shaming is an easier alternative for criminals. Overall, criminals belong behind bars and not on the streets where they can harm others.

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The Impact of Public Shaming on Society. (2020, March 16). GradesFixer. Retrieved September 22, 2022, from
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