Tuesday, August 19, 2008

.

Sex offenders and “date rape”

Last Friday, NPR aired an item about a former state legislator in Pennsylvania who has chosen to house three released sex offenders at his home:

All Things Considered, August 15, 2008 — Tom Armstrong, a former Pennsylvania state lawmaker, has taken three sex offenders into his home in Marietta. His actions have sparked anger in his community. Armstrong says his own thinking on the issue evolved after his brother’s incarceration and the word of God.

I’ve always found the sex-offender registry to be a dicey thing. On the one hand, I understand the statistics regarding the rate of recidivism among sex offenders, the fear that if they’re around you they’ll attack you or your children, and the desire to protect your family and friends regardless of the effect it has on these convicted criminals. On the other hand, I worry that we’ve released people who’ve served their assigned penalties for their crimes, and yet we tie around their necks a lifetime penalty of disdain from their neighbours, of being driven out of anywhere they try to live, of not being able to put their lives back together and put the horrible things they did behind them, if that is, indeed, what they want to do.

So I’m really pleased that Mr Armstrong is willing to take that bull by the horns and say that we have to give them a chance. Here’s an excerpt, the last minute and a half of Robert Siegel’s interview with him:

Armstrong: We have 400 sex offenders [who] already live in Lancaster County. Only four of them are actual sexual violent predators. None of my guys are sexual violent predators. And then I will also state, you still teach your children the things we were always taught: don’t get into cars with strangers.... But we’re saying, you watch these guys with a healthy skepticism, but give them a chance, and if they can prove themselves, then allow your own thinking and your own hearts to be open at that point.

Siegel: Something I want to ask you: I looked up on the Pennsylvania state registry of sex offenders, your town, and I found the names of the three men who now live at your house. You say they’re non-violent sex offenders.

Armstrong: That is correct.

Siegel: The names of the offenses that are listed on the registry are “sexual abuse of children”, “rape”, and “aggravated indecent assault”. The names of the offenses that are listed in the registry sound more menacing than if these were all non-violent offenders.

Armstrong: That’s very unfortunate; the labels themselves carry a picture, but if you actually dig into the truth of what the specifics are... when you say “rape”, it was actually a date-rape type of a situation. When you delve into the specifics, you understand that there were some stupid, stupid, stupid mistakes that some of these guys made, and if they want to build a new life, then there needs to be people out there that are ready to stand with them, walk with them, and see that new person come forth.

Absolutely: be skeptical, be watchful, but give them a chance, allow them to prove themselves, and help them rebuild their lives if they do. I like it, and I applaud Mr Armstrong for going out on a limb. I hope it works out for everyone.

 

But I want to take issue with one thing, here (you knew I would, yes?). I’ll re-quote it, to highlight it. In defending his contention that these are not violent offenders, Mr Armstrong says this:

[...] if you actually dig into the truth of what the specifics are... when you say “rape”, it was actually a date-rape type of a situation.

We’re brought back, here, to a refrain we hear over and over: that date rape isn’t “real” rape... moreover, now, that date rape is “non-violent”. No, let’s be clear about this, let’s put it in a paragraph by itself, and let’s be bold:

“Date rape” is rape, and it can be as violent as any other form of rape.

Date rape is rape. Spouse rape is rape. Platonic-friend-next-door rape is rape. The fact that you know your rapist does not make it all better. Rape isn’t only when someone with a knife jumps out of the shadows or follows you to your apartment.

Apart from that, many date rapes involve beatings and worse — do not make the assumption that they’re not violent. They can also be violent without weapons or beatings: what do you think it would be like to have someone hold you down and do things to you while you desperately wanted to get away?

In some ways, I think (and here I’m speculating, as an outsider) that date rape can be insidious, more damaging than the jump-from-the-shadows stranger: the rapist has violated not only the victim’s body, but the victim’s trust, as well. One has been attacked not by a stranger, but by someone one knows, a friend, a loved one. In addition, while rape is one of the most underreported, underprosecuted, underconvicted of all crimes, rape by dates, friends, spouses, and other family members is even more so. More, even, than with rape by strangers, these rapists have a very good chance of getting away with it.

Don’t downplay “date rape” as a lesser violation, or as a non-violent act that shouldn’t be taken too seriously. Work, instead, on convincing every man you can that men have to stop raping women.

2 comments:

Dr. Momentum said...

Glad you added that bit about date rape; it's exactly what I was thinking when I read the excerpt.

W.M. Irwin said...

I believe that we are growing an underclass in our society of people who, on the surface, seem to be living around us as free Americans. But they have varying sorts of restrictions placed on their freedoms due to past convictions. Some, who are under probation and parole, would prefer this to being incarcerated somewhere. Others, such as felons who have served their sentences and cannot vote in certain states (like my Florida) or those who completed sentences for certain sex-related crimes and must indefinitely undergo public humiliation for their past misdeed, belong to a different group. I believe that, at least from the perspective of the judicial system, once a criminal has successfully completed the imposed sentence for a crime, than that person should be allowed full integration back into society without having to bear barbarous "scarlet letter"-type stigmas. If society deems certain crimes to be heinous, then the sentences should reflect that and be tougher. But post-sentence punishments seem to run counter to the whole idea of justice and fairness.

Regarding your point about "date rape", Barry, I couldn't agree with you more.