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Does public shaming work?

Edmond Aviv, 62, sits with a sign he made at a street corner in the Cleveland suburb of South Euclid, Ohio April 13, 2014. Aviv, who called his neighbor “Monkey Mama” as she held her adopted, disabled African-American children, and has smeared dog feces on their wheelchair ramp, was ordered by a judge to carry an “I AM A BULLY!” sign on the busy street on Sunday.Reuters/Aaron Josefczyk

It’s a debate with ramifications for both lawyers and parents: Does public shaming work? For people with bratty kids, the answer might seem obvious, but the water gets a lot murkier when it’s the government doling out the shame, not mom and dad. In Ohio this month, a 62-year-old man, found guilty of harassing a neighbor and her two disabled children, was sentenced to carry a sign that read, “I AM A BULLY.”

This was only the latest in a string of efforts to punish via public shaming. It sounds satisfying in a way, but there’s some evidence that shame doesn’t always do what it’s meant to do. Below is a list of well-known public shamings, many of which have backfired. Did we miss any? Leave any other suggestions in the comment section, or tweet them @GlobeOpinion.


1642: Hester Prynne

OK, it’s fiction. But Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic novel tells us two things: 1) It’s all the Puritans’ fault, and 2) As much as Hester Prynne tries to bear her embroidered “A” with dignity, it still warps her kid.

October 2010: Weekend Warrior

A Texas man who stole $250,000 from a victims’ fund gets jail time, but also a peculiar sentence: He’s ordered to walk a busy road in Houston for three hours each weekend for the next six years, with a sign bearing his name and his crime. He reports some sympathy from his intended audience: People tell him they disapprove of the punishment (but also of the stealing).

Dominique Strauss-Kahn is walked to a police vehicle outside a New York City Police Department facility on May 15, 2011Brian Harkin / Getty Images

May 2011: DSK Perp Walk

French officials are aghast when former International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn — charged with sexually assaulting a hotel maid — is paraded before the New York media in handcuffs. “Incredibly brutal, violent, and cruel,” a former French justice minister says (of the perp walk), reflecting widespread disgust abroad at the American tradition of subjecting accused criminals to public shaming. Prosecutors later drop the charges after finding the maid had lied about some details. Years later, DSK remains furious. “You’re supposed to be innocent until you’re convicted,” he tells CNN.


Valerie Bruno holds a photo of her three daughters outside the Carbon County Court Complex in Price, June 6, 2012. Bruno said she has filed a complaint with the Utah Judicial Conduct Commission against 7th District Juvenile Court Judge Scott Johansen for telling her to cut off her daughter’s ponytail in court if she didn’t want the 13-year-old to serve 276 hours of community service.Geoff Liesik / Deseret News

June 2012: Ponytail

A 13-year-old girl in Utah takes a pair of dollar-store scissors and cuts off a 3-year-old’s hair without permission. A judge offers to reduce the girl’s sentence if her mother cuts her ponytail off. The mother complies, right there in court, but later has regrets: “It was beautiful, it was long, it had natural curl.”

Shena Hardin’s demeanor did not please the court.Marvin Fong /The Plain Dealer / Landov

November, 2012: Hold that sign higher

A Cleveland woman repeatedly drives on the sidewalk in order to pass stopped school buses. Finally, she’s caught on camera. A judge orders her to hold a sign that says “only an idiot” would do such a thing. She complies — while texting, smoking, and holding a posture that doesn’t exactly scream “repentance.” Later, the woman apologizes to Anderson Cooper, but adds, “This won’t break me.”

September 2013: Another Idiot

A 58-year-old Cleveland man threatens to kill a retired police officer. A judge sentences him to stand outside police headquarters with a sign confessing that he was an “idiot.” But it takes a couple of tries — and an extra stint in jail — to get him to comply. The first time around, he says he left the sign at his brother’s house.

April 2014: Cat shaming

Be honest: Does this cat look repentant?

(Photo: WTOC video)

April 2014: Tiger Parent

A Georgia father, fed up with his daughter’s messy room, puts all of her belongings in the driveway with a sign that says, “Clean it Next Time.” Later, he says he never meant to embarrass her. They talked it out, and agree on dual sacrifices; daughter promises to be tidier, Dad paints room a different color.