Whenever a rape is reported in the media you can almost always be guaranteed that the majority of people commenting on the news will be calling for the death penalty as a punishment for such the crime. And fittingly so, some would say. Rape is one of the worst crimes one can commit upon a human being.
And as a feminist, myself, I will admit that at times my voice has been the loudest in the chorus of people demanding a sterner punishment for rapists.
But that was before I truly began to think about the possible repercussions of establishing the death penalty as the punishment for rape.
Before we jump to conclusions I think these are some questions we must ask ourselves as a community.
What are the possible negative psychological effects executing the rapist could have on a victim?
I began to ask myself a question when I read somewhere that a community had murdered a thirty-seven year-old man that had raped a six year old girl. I was taken aback by a very new thought: ‘what would the little girl think of this as she grew older?’
I began to wonder if what the community had essentially done was put blood on the hands of a six-year old girl, who I am very sure hadn’t been completely sure what happened to her.
Secondly, what feelings of self-blame and guilt had she dealt with before the community decided to avenge her? Had she managed to confront her attacker before they made the decision for her?
Would she be able to overcome what had happened to her, seeing as she would be unable to do what many victims of child-rape end up doing: finding closure in growing up and finally confronting the man after adulthood gave her the mental faculty to deal with her pain?
What effect will it have on this poor young girl to grow up with both the pain of rape and the resulting death of a man on her head?
What effect on the already low report-rate for rape, will introducing the heaviest punishment possible have?
This is another issue we should take into consideration. We already know how scarily few rapes are reported compared to the “actual” rape rate. Many women are afraid of the stigma of reporting a member of their community to the police for a crime many people have a hard enough time defining.
Now imagine what will happen when we throw execution into the mix. What will women–who are already socialized to be very compassionate–begin to feel when trying to convince themselves to send their rapist to the gallows?
Particularly, in a victim-blaming society: what do we expect a woman to feel when she is a) being blamed for putting herself in a “dangerous situation”, b) considering sending someone to their death for it? What new flavor of stigma are we introducing to the pot?
And what measures will we be taking to protect the victim from the possible revenge-crime that they may be exposing themselves to by sending a criminal to his death?
Who, exactly, will we be hoping to send to their death for rape?
We know that the majority of rapists are known to their victims. Now, how do we expect people to report their spouses, colleagues, neighbours, priests, uncles, parents, cousins for committing rape, knowing full-well their report will result in those people being executed?
How do we expect a person to deal with the inevitable guilt of knowing they ended the life of someone that may have otherwise made some sort of positive contribution to the community? Do we consider the stigma that will persecute a teenage girl for reporting that the village priest raped her? How will that work out for her?
How will we expect police investigations to go in countries where the police force is predominantly male and subscribes to a sexist hierarchy that puts rape victims at the very bottom? Will we expect investigators to be fully committed to a case that could be sending men to the noose for a crime many don’t think “is so serious”?
What of the “different definitions of rape”? What of the men that rape their wives in their sleep? What of the boys that rape girls when they’re drunk? What of the boyfriend who thinks his girlfriend’s silence is consent? What of the people that don’t think they are raping anyone and the victims that are having enough of a hard time allowing themselves to define these things as rape?
Will we be asking these women to send these people to the merciless claws of the law, too? And what effect psychologically will such an action have on them?
Are we hoping to prevent rape by toughening its punishment?
What is our point here? Are we trying to scare people out of committing rape? Or are we making sure rapists are sure to harm or threaten their rapists to avoid the death penalty? Is what we’re doing here simply going to make sure more rapists kill their victims?
Also, using punishment to prevent rape is a gross misunderstanding of the cause of it. It is not as if people rape other people because they can get away with it- there are deeper social and psychological causes for this crime.
If the point here is to make sure no-one is a victim to a rapist again, then other methods can be employed to either reform said criminal or keep them away from society. Murder is far too traumatic to the rape-victim.
Ultimately, I hope to open a more reasonable dialogue on this topic and remind everyone involved that sensitivity must employed when dealing with issues like this.
We must never forget that this isn’t about the revenge–it’s about the victim. As a society it is our responsibility not to lose focus of protecting victims of these heinous crimes.
It is very easy to demand blood be shed for the pain caused to a victim but we must consider the effect such a manner of doing things will have on the victim.