Tuesday, May 6, 2014

People Aren't Projects or Object Lessons

I'm sure you've heard of the judge who sentenced a rapist to "community service" at a rape crisis center.

Nope, not making that up. 

There is so much wrong in this picture that it's hard to know where to start. First of all, rape is a serious violent crime. For serious violent crimes, we try to keep perpetrators away from the rest of society for our safety. We use "creative sentencing" for things like graffiti, defecating in public, and smoking weed (wait, no that's considered a serious felony, my bad). However, any crime in which the perpetrator committed a violent act against another person warrants something more than "creative sentencing" or community service. We don't lock people up for their health - we do it because there's a threat to public safety. Rape is assault, not graffiti. Community service as a penalty lessens the seriousness of the crime. 

Second, if you insist on creative sentencing for a violent assault, you could not pick a worse option. If you're a parent, how would you feel if a child molester was "creatively sentenced" to tutor children after school? That rage and sickness you feel is what should be felt by every reasonable human being at the idea of a rapist serving community service hours helping rape survivors. I don't think this needs elaboration. 

The third point, however, deserves more thought. This is not the sole action of an idiot judge: this is the logical continuation of a larger problem. We frequently treat the oppressed - rape survivors, homeless, children in third world countries, domestic violence survivors - as objects rather than subjects. We say "My church's youth group is working at a soup kitchen to feed the hungry." The nameless, generic "hungry" are the object, not the subject, of that sentence. Taken one more step, charity is often used as a way to teach compassion, or fill up community service hours for college, or just to "feel good." How many churches send groups on short-term mission trips? Short-term trips are wasteful and inefficient, and Christians in poor countries often urge Western churches to cease and desist. With the money it takes to fly a bunch of kids to Bolivia, you could raise an enormous sum for the Red Cross. So why do we send amateurs who get in the way? We do it for the people going - because it builds their social consciences. 

Chew on this: what's more important, for a 15-year-old to learn compassion, or a village to avoid dehydration through the building of a well? What's more important, building self-reliance and resources for people in less privileged circumstances, or giving ourselves warm fuzzies? 

The poor are not there to teach empathy. Rape survivors didn't undergo a horrendous assault to teach rapists how to play nice. These are individual people with just as much worth as you and me, yet we consistently put our wants above their needs. 


  1. Very well said. I totally agree with you but I wouldn't have been able to articulately reveal the problems with this sentence for a rapist. Even if a rapist might learn something from hanging around the wounded - which I doubt, because such a violent form of insensitivity would not be so easily remedied - it is grossly unkind to the victims to force upon them, at a facility where they need the utmost support, the last person who could have a soothing or healing effect. It is truly hard to believe!

    1. There are many injustices in America concerning rape survivors, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Most people don't realize how inept the system is until they have personal experience with it.