Trigger Warning: Rape.
I have no personal experience with rape, and for that reason, this post is a list of questions that I have, rather than any attempt at answers. However, many of these questions stem from discussions I’ve had with rape victims, or from things I’ve read online written by rape victims.
Punishment. Jail time and fines are the most common types of punishments in the United States, but there are others as well; being put on lists, having movement restricted and watched, and a couple other cases. In general, though, punishments tend to fall into three camps depending on the desired outcome of the punishment.
1) Reparation. This is usually a fine. It’s a way for the criminally charged to undo the damage that was done; paying for healthcare, or legal costs, or damages, or stolen items, or paying disability wages.
2) Rehabilitation. This is, supposedly, the hope for what happens after people are let out of prison. They’ve learned to not commit crimes, and they won’t do them again. If we thought they were going to do them again, why let them out? Sadly, this doesn’t exactly work. Some people we give up on rehabilitation, and merely try to monitor them to make sure they won’t do it again; for instance sex offender registration. Some nations have managed to get the rehabilitation rates fairly high, but they have done so by giving up on the third item on this list.
3) Revenge. We want the bad people to suffer. Lock them in bare cells. Give them bad food. No exercise, or access to fun media. In extreme cases, execute them. This and rehabilitation work against each other. It’s hard to get revenge if you’re working to rehabilitate, and it’s hard to rehabilitate if you’re trying to get revenge. The one saving grace for revenge is that many claim that fear of revenge prevents people from committing crimes in the first place.
It’s classical liberal thought that revenge is abhorred except in cases where we know it will prevent people from committing the crime in the first place*. To what extent it prevents people, I do not know, and in fact I doubt anyone does. So, in this scenario, I will ignore it. I will pretend, for the purposes of this hypothetical question, that no amount of revenge, not even the death penalty, will cause potential rapists to pause before the act is committed.
Rehabilitation is something that can be done to varying degrees, and presumably we can figure out how to make it more effective. But I also want to ignore the complexity in this hypothetical question. Let’s say we can rehabilitate rapists 100%. That is, we can prevent people from ever raping again. There’s some cost, obviously, otherwise we’d do it to the entire human population, but that cost doesn’t matter. Maybe it’s two years of intensive programs. Maybe it results in sterilization. It doesn’t matter—let’s just say that the rate is 100%. No one who goes through this program ever commits rape again.
My question is set up this way so that people can’t retreat. They can’t say, we have to put rapists in jail because we can’t be sure they won’t rape again. They can’t say, we have to make sure people know that being a rapist will put them in jail forever.
My question is, given this scenario, what would a rape victim want in reparations? Obviously, payment for therapy, counseling, and any other medical help makes sense. Would you stop there? Would you demand that the rapist spend every hour of their waking life working at the highest paying job they can get, and giving all the money to you?
Maybe I should phrase this a different way. Let’s say, a year after being raped, a you receive an email from their rapist. Your rapist was never convicted, but they say, I’ve realized the error of my ways. I want to apologize for what I did, and I want to do anything to make it up to you. I could go turn myself in. I could give you all of my money. I could be your literal slave for the rest of my life. I could kill myself, right now. Just give the word. What would you ask them to do?
I’ve seen some rather broad definitions of rape. Some people seem rather keen on the idea that if it’s anything less than “enthusiastic, sober, consent” it’s a form of rape. If that’s the definition of rape, I have been raped. I certainly don’t consider myself to be a rape victim. I have definitely done sexual acts with my parter when they have been incredibly horny and I have been less than horny. I engaged in the sex act because my partner got pleasure out of doing it. It was sober, and it was consensual. But I wouldn’t describe my participation as enthusiastic; that would be giving me far too much credit. I don’t feel like I was forced to do it; I had reasons for doing it. But do the people who consider anything less than “enthusiastic, sober, consent” rape disagree with me?
I once spoke with someone who had sex while they were drunk. They didn’t consider it rape, although I’m sure many people would consider it rape. Please don’t tell me that this person is misinformed, or they are suffering some sort of Stockholm syndrome connection with their partner. They are one of the best informed feminists, one of the best informed people, I have ever talked to. Should I still override their opinion and classify this as rape?
And of course there’s always the mutual drunkenness question. What happens when two drunk people have sex? Do both participants become rapists and rape victims with one sex act? Are neither of them guilty of any crime? What if both of them suffer decreased mental conditions because of this sex act?
Another hypothetical scenario. Let’s say person A threatens person B at gunpoint to go and force themselves to have sex with person C. Is person B a rapist? If person B is a rapist, why is this scenario any different than if person A forced person C to have sex with them at gunpoint?
The answer that seems apparent to me, at least, is that in both scenarios, person A is the rapist, and person B and C are rape victims. Even though person A never had sex with anybody in our first scenario. Is this agreed upon?**
There’s another article I read that I wish I could find again, and I’m sorry I can’t find it, but it also talked about the weird different levels of consent, and how it’s not black and white. The exact same sex act can be rape when some people are involved, and not rape when other people are involved. Or should we override people’s decisions? If someone says, This happened to me, I wasn’t able to consent, I was raped, my rapist should be punished, and someone else says, The exact same thing happened to me, but I don’t think it counts as rape, should we accept that, despite both of their sexual partners did the exact same thing, one of them committed a crime and the other didn’t? Or should we overrule one of their opinions; should we say, you don’t know what you’re talking about, you were actually raped and we’re going to put your partner in jail? Should we say, you don’t know what you’re talking about, you weren’t raped, we’re going to ignore this? All three of those options seem terrible to me.
I want to apologize if I’ve offended anyone. But I think that these questions are important for us to answer, because pretending that things are simple and uncomplicated will only come back to bite us later on. We need to spend time figuring out what the best courses of action are, so that we can actually do the best courses of action. A lot of what happens in activist communities is that activists spend a lot of time showing off how activist they are to each other, by doing things that look nice but are actually frivolous wastes of money.
Take, for example, anti-rape campaigns targeted towards rapists (men). They don’t work. They don’t end up decreasing rape incidences at all. What does work? Bystander intervention campaigns seem to have the best bet currently—and while the first link comes from a somewhat obscure blog, the second link is from Vox, a pretty large liberal news site.
It’s a tragedy that we know, at least to a small extent, what works and what doesn’t work—and yet, mainstream feminism keeps ignoring it and congratulating those who run the conventional “don’t be a rapist” campaigns, which, again, haven’t ever worked. I’m only asking for us to try our best instead of trying to look good. And if we want to try our best, we have to ask tough questions. I felt really disgusting while asking these, and I’m sure anyone who answers them will also feel disgusting. But I don’t think my, or their, discomfort is anywhere near the discomfort of being raped, and so if answering these questions will better understand rape—will help us prevent rape—we need to ask them.
*I’m not going to address why this is in this essay. Maybe another time.
**I know it’s not, because this exact situation (two people are forced to have sex with each other by a third party) happens in the backstory of one of the characters in Game of Thrones—this character takes the place of person B—and most fans who think about this condemn the character as a rapist, not as a rape victim, despite the fact that the character basically has PTSD stemming from that event.