March 19th, 2013

for those people feeling bad about the Steubenville defendants

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.