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I’m as peeved as anyone about the reaction to the Steubenville rape trial focusing on the rapists rather than the raped woman, but I know some people probably do feel sorry for them. Hopefully not to the exclusion of the raped young woman, but maybe on top of that. I feel sorry for prisoners years after their conviction and my internship with Prison Fellowship years ago really did impress on my how isolating and psychologically gruelling prison terms can be.

I believe in this case the sentence was fair, but even so, I do feel badly for the young men. I feel worse for their victim, much worse, but my heart is big enough to bear both regrets. And I suspect I’ll feel worse for them, if I think of them at all, when they have done their time and are still suffering all the ways a prison record stays with a person. Particularly Ma’lik, who will be a black man in his twenties with a prison record and no college degree – his life really will be different. So will Trent’s, the other rapist’s, and the girl they raped will of course be profoundly affected as well. Probably more than them. So while I really don’t want to make this all about Trent and Ma’lik, I also do understand the impulse to feel sorry for them.

If you’re one of those people who feels like the rapists were unfairly punished, let me suggest two questions to mull over:


1) What are you teaching your sons and daughters to make sure they’re not in this situation. Because even if they don’t think sleeping with a girl passed out from too much to drink is rape, the court apparently does. Maybe we need some sort of a public awareness campaign: friends don’t let friends rape drunks.

(I jest, but there’s a point to this. If you honestly think what the boys did wasn’t so bad, perhaps the fact that the folks with an authority to punish people you have an influence over do take it seriously will do the trick. Enlightened self-interest is a good starting point.)


2) If you think the penalty is excessive here, how would you feel if he wasn’t the local football star? What if, instead of this being a high school all-stars, the boys had simply been classmates who were barely passing their courses and spent their time hanging out outside the local bodega? Would you still think the punishment was unjust? Or what if this had happened at a club and the boys were high-school drop outs who flipped burgers at the local McDonalds and were just out for a fun night on the town? Or if they were drug dealers? If your answer changes, that’s worth taking stock of and thinking about, because justice doesn’t just apply to everybody’s all-American, but to everyone.

And if your answer stayed the same: what are you waiting for? The prison system is full of injustices that need fighting back against. You just may have found yourself a cause.



( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Mar. 19th, 2013 10:07 am (UTC)
I think the focus was on the rapists rather than their victim because she has (rightfully so) been kept anonymous--so the media lack a public face to grab the attention. Also from what I've seen, they appear to be genuinely remorseful, which makes a difference.

I think they got off lightly, comparatively speaking. Again this is not a bad thing; they are young and hopefully they will have learned from this experience. They were drunk too, and drinking and teenagers does not equal good judgement or even reasonable inhibitions.

There seems to be a lot of outcry about "Where were the adults?", and again I think this is a good use of public outrage, because these kids should not have been able to get away with their drunken party if they had been properly supervised.

Foolish and dangerous behavior is not limited to any particular class but the problem with acting foolishly is that the consequences are often far beyond the initial folly. Getting drunk is folly--what it led to was three ruined lives and a lot of agony for the friends and families involved.

I just today heard on PRN about a certain shooting--they were doing a piece on gun-violence; a young black man who grew up in a bad neighborhood was doing everything right. He used his faith to sustain him in avoiding drugs and gangs and had managed to get through school and begin college, where he worked and studied hard. On New Year's Eve he wanted to take his girlfriend to a church party, but she wanted to go to a club instead (one in a crime-ridden area). Against his better judgement he allowed her to persuade him--and that night he was killed in a random shooting there that had nothing to do with him. A tiny lapse, a little small instant of folly in doing what he did not want to do cost him his life and now his girlfriend will blame herself forever. The story did not say much about the shooters or what consequences they suffered--the focus was on the victim in that case. But it shows how their folly went far beyond their own actions as well and impacted others. I can hope that they did have consequences adequate to their actions, but I don't know that.

Sometimes I think that's the whole point of the story of the Fall in Genesis: the foolish act may seem trivial, but the results are often out of all proportion to what happened.

To get back to the original subject of discussion: I think this is one case in which human justice was right. These young men were wrong, and will be punished, but their youth has been taken into account rightfully in this case.

( 1 comment — Leave a comment )



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