Sunday, June 10, 2007

Crime - Punishment and Justice versus A parent's desire

I was already thinking about this topic when I read this post by Apostate on the subject, which was interesting.

What had gotten me thinking about it in the first place was this tragic recent newsstory about the 18 year old girl who was abducted and then later found dead. In fact, I thought about it before she turned up dead, so I'm going to get into my thought process from that earlier point.

When I first heard about this, I confess, my first thought was rather cynical. I'm rather cynical about the media so I figured this was another big 'missing pretty young white girl' story. If she had been black or if she had been ugly or if she had been older, and definitely if she had been a he, well, there would be no story. Because no one cares if a man is missing. No one cares if a woman is missing unless she's young and beautiful and sexually appealing to the largest media demographic. Then I got a bit less cynical when I heard there was abduction video. That usually trumps everything else - the media business LOVES to have pictures, moving pictures especially - without that, many stories are not stories, and with it, many non-stories become stories because now, when the talking heads talk about it, you can loop the images while they speak. That's good tv, after all. Not only an abduction, but one you can watch! I remember there was a lawyer shot at outside a courthouse last year or so and that became news mostly, I think, because it was all on video - caught by a newscrew there, I think - the lawyer trying to hide behind a tree while the guy repeatedly shot him with a handgun.

In any case, once I got over my cynicism, I looked at the story itself, and started to think about my own daughter. How horrible it would be if she were kidnapped like that. How horrible I'd feel sitting and wondering if I'd ever see her again, and with each passing day, knowing that the odds were dropping down to zero. It especially hit home when they published pictures of the young woman. She looks very much like my daughter's sixteen-year old babysitter. So now I was thinking about both my babysitter and my daughter in that context. So it hit me really hard when they found the body, even though there was little doubt in my mind that this was what would happen. I guess there was small mercy in that it was not drawn out - they found the body within four or five days.

Then I began to think about what I'd want as a parent from this situation. Would I want the person who did this punished? Yes. But that would not matter to me one one-millionth as much as getting my daughter back alive. And I began to wonder, what could help with that? Why do these cases almost always end with a body found in the woods? Other serious violent crimes don't necessarily end that way. Could it be the potential punishment?

In my state, rape can have basically exactly the same sentence as murder. Life. Or any term of years, for that matter (which could even be longer than life, given the way that is reckoned - I saw one case where someone was sentenced to 95 years maximum for rape - a 'Life' sentence would have allowed parole sooner). I wondered, does that give the incentive to kill? I mean, if a rape will get you life anyway, you might as well kill the victim if you are a rapist because the penalty is no worse and even if you think you can't be identified, why risk it? I wondered if the penalty were substantially less than murder, if it would be more likely that a rapist would let a victim go afterwards. I really don't know the answer to that question. I'm sure it does play a part - how could it not? I remember hearing that in medieval times, when even petty crimes were punished with death, that a perpetrator of a petty crime would often go on crime sprees, getting revenge, settling scores, murdering and so on, because hey, they'll be killed in any case, so might as well make it for something worthwhile. So what if rape of the worst degree was punished with, at most, five years? I'm sure that would not seem enough for a rape victim. If my daughter was raped, I'd be ready to execute my own personal death sentence on the perpetrator. But in the end, if I had a choice between the rapist getting life in prison and a funeral for my daughter, and the rapist getting five years and my daughter comes home alive, I'd chose the latter, and it wouldn't require a second thought. Rape, for all its horrors, sure beats murder. You can recover from a rape. Murder is permanent. And I could not bear to lose my daughter.

Now, could there be other consequences? Might this leave a person free to rape after their five years are up? Yes, that could be a concern. But again, if it means that the second rape victim comes home alive, and that second victim was the one who was my daughter, it would still not even be a close issue. I'd chose that over a funeral. (yes, one may say, but what if the first term was longer and so your daughter was not raped at all? But unless every rape sentence is life, the felon gets out eventually, and so there'd still be the chance for my daughter to be victim number two, except perhaps, since the first sentence was so long, the odds of victim number two ending up a body in the woods is just that much greater.)

Because as I see these stories, and as I saw this story, unfold, I looked at it from the perspective of being a parent of a victim, and the only thing I would want, the only thing that would matter to me, is if my daughter came home alive. Sure, in some cases, that is selfish, but I can't help it. I love her so much. I can say honestly I would die for her if it would save her. My wife feels the same way. So a rapist can retire to a life of luxury for all I care, so long as my daughter comes home alive. That's my visceral reaction to thinking about this.

Now, I don't mean to trivialize rape or say that rapists should not be punished. As I said already, I'd want anyone who would hurt my daughter like that to not just face justice, but to die a horrible, painful death. But I'd give up any thoughts of revenge if I could have her home alive.

I don't know if things would really work out that way. If it turns out that rapists are going to kill victims no matter what the penalty is for rape, then I'd be all for life imprisonment for them because it wouldn't make any difference and that is what they deserve. But the practical side of me, the side of me that wants my daughter home alive, can't help but wonder. I hope I never have to face this situation first hand. I hope, really, that no one does. But people do. And I'm sure if you asked any parent in that situation, what they want more than anything else is simply to see their former babies home alive. Nothing else matters one iota to a parent.

(There is also a separate, but related issue, regarding rape - I've heard it speculated that long sentences can lead to juries to be reluctant to convict for date-rape type situations (for instance) because it may seem out of proportion if it was more a case of an honest mistake or boorish behavior versus an actual intent to have sex against someone else's will. I won't pretend to try and tackle that issue here. I hesitate to even mention it for fear of derailing the primary point of this post, but hey, it's my blog, my thoughts, and I just can't but help of think of that now, too. Suffice it to say that I'm sure there could be an interesting discussion about it, but I decline to get into it here or even state my thoughts on the matter beyond mentioning it came to mind. I feel somewhat better about mentioning this knowing that perhaps someone in comments would have mentioned this anyway.)


Thorne said...

"So a rapist can retire to a life of luxury for all I care, so long as my daughter comes home alive. That's my visceral reaction to thinking about this."

This is the true heart of being a parent, eh DBB? This statement literally brought tears to my eyes. I also understand where you were going with the rest of the thoughts, but I'm not so sure about them.
In the end, I still believe rape is a violent act, and murder isn't far from it for the person doing the violence. I don't think most people are considering consequences at all during the commission of a violent crime.
Yes, I'm one of those women who does believe that "no" means "no", but that said, there is a world of difference between a violent rape, a date rape, and statutory rape.
I detest this story, this feeling... Good writing.
BTW, thanks for commenting at my place. Please know that you are welcome any time!

Enkidu said...

"So a rapist can retire to a life of luxury for all I care, so long as my daughter comes home alive."

Yep, at that time, in that place, that's all any parent would want.

"Yes, I'm one of those women who does believe that 'no' means 'no', but that said, there is a world of difference between a violent rape, a date rape, and statutory rape."

I don't agree. A girl in a car screaming "NO!" is a rape. Dragged into the car, enticed into the car, it's a forcible rape.