On the morning of Friday the 8th of February 2013, my department was in an uproar over the brutal rape of Anene Booysen. Of course this was only the spark that ignited a day long discussion about the moral state of this country among other things. Being the only male in the room, I needed to tread very carefully with any input concerning the matter. And tread carefully I did or at least tried. Nonetheless, I think I did step on a few toes, though for the most part we all seemed to be in agreement. Our agreements were generally centred on rape being horrible and unjustifiable in every case. Our disagreements came mostly from the solutions to the problem.
The key points:
My colleagues and I agreed that a harsher punishment was definitely needed for rapists. The idea of capital punishment even crossed the table and perhaps the emotion of the moment added fuel to the flames; resulting in a unanimous vote in favour of the death penalty. However, death penalty or not, at least the message was clear – the punishment needed to fit the crime. And at the moment we didn’t feel it did.
Where we disagreed? My colleagues felt this was the solution to the problem.
Their perspective: the harsher the punishment, the more afraid the prospective perpetrator. Scare the crime out of them. Make the fear of punishment become more significant and compelling than whatever pleasure is derived from committing the crime.
I cannot easily dismiss this reasoning as it is logical and quite convincing. In fact, it is closely related to our agreement that a harsher punishment is needed. And perhaps it would help to reduce the number of rapes. But according to prison.org, opinion polls conducted in various countries showed that harsher punishments only deter a dismal 5% of people from committing crime. 20% at most. Hardly a percentage we’re looking for. Criminals focus more on not getting caught than on the punishment. For most people, even the 15 years or 25 years maximum sentence is one they would love avoid anyway.
Harsher punishment is more of a responsive measure than a preventative measure. We respond with punishment after the crime is committed. We want to prevent the crime from being committed in the first place.
Society and more especially the victims and their loved ones need to find solace in the sentences given. Nevertheless, while this helps in a responsive manner, it is important to emphasise that it is not a preventative measure. Harsher penalties are necessary to met out justice, but are not the solution.
Behavioral Reform for Prisoners?
Those opposing harsher sentences for criminals often promote behavioural reform and rehabilitation. However, for prisoners, this is also a responsive rather than a preventative measure. Teaching people how to change in prison is a response to them having committed a crime in the first place. Do we need behavioural reform? Of course we do. Unfortunately many prisoners, whether rapists or not are going to be released back into society. Bear in mind those petty thieves who may only be in prison for a few years are still exposed to rapists and their behavioural patterns in prison. Essentially one could end up creating more monsters by failing to establish a program for behavioural reform. Nevertheless, it is important to emphasize that in my opinion this is still a responsive measure rather than a preventative measure.
Behavioural reform is necessary - but not the solution.
The solution to preventing rape?
Unfortunately it is my opinion that preventing rape is almost impossible. In order to do that we would all have to agree on a set of values or morals which need to be enforced in society. These values would be taught by every parent and school so that each child understands what is right and what is wrong. But hey, can we really agree on what is right and what is wrong? Can we really agree on the consequences that our choices have on the minds of our youth as they grow and develop into adulthood? Every time someone fights against pornography, another person shouts – It’s my right! When some fight for the banning of alcohol and other legal but destructive substances like tobacco – others shout – it’s my body, let me do what I want with it. Others fight for the right to dress as they please, and others shout - Dress modestly please!!! Some fight for freedom of expression so they can use vulgar or profane language, create explicit artwork – others also fight for freedom of expression but believe some expressions are more harmful than others and should be regulated. And then again, some people just don’t care about anything that’s going on at all. Every man for himself and let the rest of the World go to hell.
So – if a study shows that some rapists are influenced by fantasies that develop from watching aggressive porn – who is going to stop the 18 year old from buying it? It is their right! We’ve fought well for that. If a study shows that some rapists acted under the influence of alcohol? Who is going to stop them from buying it? It is their right. And we’ve fought well for that too.
Yeah, if they rape someone, we’ll slap a harsher punishment on them. And yeah, maybe we’ll even try to rehabilitate them. But who is watching the young boy who is being exposed to all the wrong things and developing into the man who will follow you, your daughter, you sister, or your wife home. His parents? But their teaching him all the right things... well, at least according to them. And you nor I have any right to tell them otherwise.
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