Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Rape and Capital Punishment

I was linked this article today.

The gist of this recent Supreme Court decision is that the death penalty in America shouldn't be resorted to unless the crime involves espionage or treason, or the crime results in the death of the victim. The context is whether or not people who sexually abuse children should be faced with capital punishment as an option.

Now, on the one hand... if someone raped anybody that I know, I don't know that I'll be responsible for my actions in the matter. That counts both for a child and a grown adult. In that sense, I can understand why many people have a problem with this ruling. After all, it's natural to want to hurt and even eliminate someone who hurts us badly enough, and the rape of a child is not just an offense to the whole community, but downright damaging to the whole community.

But the rape of an adult woman is, too. The UN Security Council just equated it to a war crime. It happens in war because, as the article states, "rape is a deliberate war tactic meant to intimidate and destroy communities." This is coloring my reception of this ruling. As the article I first linked states, "The Supreme Court banned executions for rape in 1977 in a case in which the victim was an adult woman."

If we executed people who rape children but not people who rape adult women... I feel that would create a harmful double standard. To say that raping kids is morally more reprehensible than raping adult women kind of smacks of the old view that raping virgins was a grievous evil, but raping adult women (who might have had sex before) was merely rude.

Now, granted, I think raping children is weirder than raping an adult woman, but that doesn't make it worse. Just weirder. To say that an adult woman is morally more rapeable than a child really is a throwback to days that I don't think anyone wants to see us repeat. Sexual violence should be treated the same way across the board, no matter what stage of life the victim is in.

Personally I have my reservations about capital punishment in practice, but that's a topic for another day. Right now I'm concentrating on the fact that rape of adults and children is being treated the same way by our legal system, and I think that's a good thing.

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