Let’s imagine for a moment that there simply are people who, for whatever reason, will initiate sexual relations in ways that we have decided are criminally offensive. I’m talking about rape and child molestation and lewd and lascivious behavior and the like. These things happen in our society and are going to continue.
What is the role of the punishment that we as a society hand down to these folks…the ones committing these acts? Do stiffer penalties prevent the crimes or make them worse?
The way I see it, people who rape and have inappropriate relations with minors are unlikely to be persuaded by the open threat of punishment. These people are more or less fucked up and have needs that either, they don’t know how to fulfill in a socially acceptable way, or simply can’t be. But to the person with those needs, they’re still needs. They’re going to do what they can to satisfy their needs with as little hassle as possible.
Imagine a guy who needs to have sex and is so messed up, he doesn’t know how to just get some. People like this are out there. He’s unable to connect with other people, but still has to get laid...he thinks it’s an attempt to be normal and to feel good. He’s not really keen on hurting folks, but he has this need and he’s going to do what he has to do. OK, still with me? He’s going to rape someone. He’s decided that he needs to, or maybe the opportunity just presents itself and he goes with it. Anyway, he rapes a woman.
So they’re under a deserted train bridge behind an industrial park and he has successfully restrained and fucked her. He knocked her around a little and she’s bruised, emotionally and physically. But he gets to thinking...he works just around the corner and lives in the next town over and she’s seen his face and she’ll go right to the police and they’re going to catch him and put him in prison for ten or twenty and then release him -- branded for life as the worst kind of criminal, unable even to get a job. So what’s he do? What would you do?
He kills her.
Now, how would his decision have gone if our reaction was to catch him and restrain his movement (just like we do anyway), evaluate his mental problems, and treat him? Sure, he’d still be giving up some freedom, the streets have to be protected after all, but what if there were no major, permanent stigma attached? What if we recognized that some people are fucked up and need more help than most of us? Should revenge be wrought upon the broken people as Moses directed, or should we treat them for their afflictions? What do we gain by doing what we do?
Are the streets more or less safe?
I believe that the issues are very nearly identical for child sex offenders.
Is it crass for me to include a disclaimer? It was suggested after I first wrote this up that it might come off as an apologia for rapists. That's not my intention. I think that rape is an incredible traumatic crime and it's not my intent in any way to trivialize it. But I do think that how we're responding to rape, and all crime really, bears some heavy thinking. Are we really helping anyone as it is?