rape-rapists-not-okay

As I have mentioned more than once on The Gloss, I am a rape survivor. I talk about it frequently not because I want pity or sympathy, but because hearing from other survivors back before I told anybody what happened to me was what saved me from feeling painfully alone. When I’ve publicly spoken at events about being sexually assault or in articles, I typically receive some emails of people sharing their own stories, as well as people simply curious and interested in discussing sexual assault issues. I also get a few nutjobs that tell me to shut up, but those are few and far between, and pretty easy to ignore. My least favorite reaction, however, is when people tell me how much they wish rapists knew what it felt like to be raped. This is the only response I have trouble processing and replying to.

In particular, people often wish rapists be raped in prison. But sexual assault among inmates, no matter the crimes either party committed, is still sexual assault. It is still horrifying, despicable, cruel, demeaning, and violent. It is still the violation of another human being. It is still rape.

With Steubenville and the “rape crew” in the news, as well as the case of the New Delhi gang rape victim who died, people are more vocally angry about rape than, well, most of the time. The thought of a young woman being raped literally to death has caused the world to recoil, completely disgusted by the existence of such violent evil. The fact that a man could literally sit and giggle with his friends about a teenage girl being raped by multiple people has led to protests, threats and calls for action. The protests and calls for action are wonderful; without genuine desire and push for change, there will be none. But there have been so many comments on the Internet, including by people I know in person, stating this fucked-up yearning for somebody to rape the perpetrators. Comments like these:

rape comment

And there are dozens, if not hundreds more on every website that reported the story, all wishing for the same thing: for those who assault people to be assaulted themselves.

I do not want people to rape rapists any more than I want them to kill killers. In fact, I understand the logic of the death penalty more than the flow of commenters willing sexual assault on other human beings. Are rapists terrible human beings? Yes. But that does not mean I want them to be forced into having sexual contact. Any form of nonconsensual sex is not okay, even when committed on those who have perpetrated such crimes.

I will not lie to you, I’m not without guilt of this wish: in the past, when I was quite young, I briefly hoped that the person who assaulted me would someday know exactly how it felt. I wanted to know he had been punched in the face like I had, I wanted him to learn how to use coverup, I wanted him to feel sick and alone and desperate, too. But as I got older, I realized that hoping these things for another human being was causing me to drown in thoughts of retribution rather than recovery. Revenge will eat you alive from the inside out, and letting go of that sort of anger is the only way to believe–and behave–in goodness again.

In a way, I somewhat understand the motivation. People believe in crime and punishment. They want to see justice, but are frustrated at the knowledge that many of the world’s shittiest people — rapists included — will never see the inside of a jail cell nor experience any real consequences for their actions and the pain they’ve inflicted on others.

The problem with wanting rape for rapists is that it implies there can be some justification for raping somebody, that if a person has done bad enough things in his or her life, rape can be a deserved punishment. This is a very, very dangerous realm of thought to move towards. Yes, people can commit deeply disturbing, violent acts, but saying they deserve to be assaulted means that if somebody does something another human being considers disturbing and violent, he or she can be justifiably sexually assaulted.

For example, if a woman has an abortion and an anti-choicer decides that this means she has murdered a child, that person may justify assaulting the woman because he feels she deserves it. Because he is disgusted by her actions and finds them deplorable, he finds her guilty enough to be harmed. She has earned being harmed due to her harm of what that person views as a human being. Of course, this is clearly morally wrong, but for some people, physically hurting others for their actions is the only way they see fit to punish people.

Rape for revenge or consequence purposes is still rape, regardless of intent. “Teaching him a lesson” should not mean “purposefully, violently inserting something into his body.” Perhaps if there were better programs for actually helping rapists understand the effects their actions have had on their victims, including teaching them about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and other burdens survivors often carry, they might have a better rate of rehabilitation and there wouldn’t be so many repeat offenders in the world. On occasion, I wonder about the people who have done things to me; would they have still committed those actions had they understood what it’s like to have violent nightmares every night? To feel unsafe for years straight, even on your their own street?

I realize that there are some people who are simply sociopaths and don’t care about whether or not their actions destroy lives, but making an effort is necessary. If we resign ourselves to the idea that the only means by which we can “help” rapists understand why rape is wrong is by actually raping them, then we are giving up hope that people can change, grow and make better decisions without the use of violence.

There’s this idea that rapists will feel empathetic towards their victims if they know how it feels to be raped, but this is a complete and utter miscalculation.

First of all, this assumes that all victims feel the same emotions and think the same thoughts while being assaulted, which is ridiculous. Everyone is a different human being with different brains and different reactions to things; trauma, in particular, can affect people in innumerable ways both during and after. I chose to pretend it wasn’t happening, then curl up into an angry ball for several years and drop some of my memories; other people instantly go to the police; others find themselves depressed; some never process it.

Second, rape doesn’t make people suddenly feel compassion towards other human beings. If anything, it leads to feeling disconnected and indifferent, not to mention resentful, towards the world around. I didn’t feel at all like I could relate to others simply because I had been raped and so had millions of other people. It’s not a club that you gain membership to and suddenly feel the feelings of everybody else in it; it’s an experience that can separate you from humanity. How can you feel empathetic when it feels, even if it’s just briefly, like the world is full of nothing but deafening, deliberate violence and terrible people?

Third, there are plenty of studies on how abuse is often repeated, so encouraging more sexual assault could essentially incur the exact opposite effect. Obviously, most people who are survivors do not wind up committing rape, but it is a behavior that can be repeated when done to a person. At the very least, it doesn’t set you up for a whole lot of positive experiences and relationships in life.

There is no excuse for wanting another human being to be sexually assaulted. Even if it did lead to empathy, I would still never desire it to become a punishment, even a little. What will increase an understanding is preventative measures: instructing kids on the importance of consent and respect, teaching men (and women) not to rape, giving tougher penalties to those convicted, actually arresting and convicting rapists…things that do not involve inflicting violence towards other human beings. Violence breeds violence; compassion, education and understanding breed empathy.

So, yes. I want punishment. I want justice for all survivors. I want rapists to feel empathy and for courts to take sexual violence seriously and for sexual assault to become a thing of the past. I want all of these things, but not one of them will come about because yet another rape happened in a jail cell somewhere.

Photos: Flickr & Oz/HBO.