Our compassion has to start with the victims of sex crimes

by Michael Nugent on March 19, 2013

Some of the reaction to the Steubenville Ohio rape case has highlighted the plight of the perpetrators – two teenage high school football players who penetrated a drunk teenage girl with their fingers and circulated photographs of the crime online – while downplaying or ignoring the plight of the victim of the crime.

Initial television coverage focused on how the guilty verdict had ruined the lives of the perpetrators, who cried in court when found guilty. Then posters on Twitter and Facebook threatened the victim of the crime with homicide and bodily harm. Two teenage girls have been arrested on suspicion of making these threats.

These back-to-front ethical priorities are similar to some of the reaction to a sex crime in another small town in Ireland three years ago, where a Catholic parish priest led a public display of solidarity with the perpetrator while ignoring the plight of the victim.

In December 2009, a nightclub doorman, from the town of Listowel in County Kerry, was found guilty of sexually assaulting a local woman. A police patrol had found the victim semi-conscious, bruised, scratched, and naked from the waist down, with the man crouching over her, beside a skip in a car park.

The doorman had claimed that he had found the woman there and was trying to revive her, but CCTV footage showed him carrying her to the car park from a party at the nightclub. He was jailed for five years.

Just before his sentence was announced, up to fifty local men queued inside the courthouse to shake hands with or hug him and sympathize with him. This show of solidarity took place in front of the woman, who was waiting to give her victim impact statement.

One of the organizers of the show of solidarity was the local Catholic parish priest. He later said he shook hands with the guilty man to support him and let him know he wasn’t alone. When asked why he hadn’t shaken hands with the victim, he said that it didn’t even occur to him to do so.

As is the case in Steubenville in Ohio, the controversy split the town of Listowel in Kerry, where the perpetrator was as popular with many locals as the high school footballers are in Steubenville. The victim of the Listowel crime was devastated. She felt suicidal, but her toddler son kept her going.

Then the national Irish media picked up the story, and wider public opinion intervened. People flooded the Kerry Rape Crisis Centre with flowers and supportive messages. The woman was amazed and elated by this huge show of support. Within days, the parish priest had stood down.

The lesson: public opinion matters. And how we collectively respond to high profile sex crimes will have an impact on how individual people will respond in other cases, whether or not the media are covering them.

Why would some otherwise decent people in Listowel and Steubenville, two small towns separated by the width of the Atlantic Ocean, respond in this similar uncaring way to a member of their own community who has been the victim of serious crime?

They may see ‘one of their own’ who they love or like or admire or identify with, who is facing unpleasant consequences. They may not believe that forcing someone to have sex without consent is a serious crime. They may not know or care about the victim, so it easier to blame her than face up to his responsibility. They might not want their town to be mired in controversy.

But these responses are unjust on everybody involved. Sex crimes are serious matters. And however well we know or sincerely care about the perpetrators, our compassion has to start with the victims.

Be Sociable, Share!

{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Edward Gemmer March 19, 2013 at 7:57 pm

My view on this is different, at least for the Steubenville case (I don’t know anything about the Irish case). In the Steubenville case, the victim pleaded for national attention to die down through the prosecutors. This request was completely ignored by people claiming to have her interests at heart. They waged a public opinion war on the teenage boys. 140,000 people signed a petition wanting CNN to apologize for committing the apparent crime of saying something halfway decent about the boys involved.

Newsflash: They are going to prison. They are convicted rapists. They are going to register as sex offenders. This will have a dramatic impact on their lives that is not at all consensual. While one can say this is what should happen, the euphoria over these convictions was pretty disheartening to me. This wasn’t a society looking to move forward on sexual violence – it was bloodlust.

2 BirchSoda March 19, 2013 at 9:24 pm

Because lord forbid anyone wanting to see justice for once. Oh no, it is bloodlust to want to see rapists, who kidnapped their unconscious victim, and urinated on her, to get some kind of punishment for what they did.

Because no one could just be happy that, for once, a rapist will actually see the inside of a jail cell.

3 oolon March 19, 2013 at 9:28 pm

Bloodlust? You should have listened to the coverage of the Bulger murders in the UK… String up the perps, even though they were children. Same for almost any case of murder regardless of the ones committing the crime. Weird that if there was such an organised “Bloodlust” that the media were so sympathetic to the rapists? Child molestation is a more similar crime being sexual in nature, how many paedophiles are given any sympathy?

But when its rape… Oh they were silly boys taking a game too far, why was she drunk anyway? Excuses, excuses, anything but address the crime as what it was –> *their* responsibility. I have sympathy for the victim and hope the perpetrators get swift, fair justice, never sympathy.

4 Andrew Devine-Rattigan March 19, 2013 at 10:48 pm

Rape is a heinous crime and should be dealt with by giving very harsh sentences in prison and I would advocate chemical castration for a second rape offence.

5 Eu March 19, 2013 at 11:51 pm

Do we lack compassion for victims of sex crimes? Also, why should it /start/ with sex crimes? Seems like everyone’s making a post on this. Someone made a site. Where are the sites for all rape victims?

What I’m focused on at this moment in time is equal compassion for sex crimes for both sexes. Some people do not care about gang rape committed by women to men but care deeply about the opposite.. which is so wrong.. It doesn’t even get reported if it’s the former. choose a position, people.

Sorry, bringing up Steubenville just reminded me of that.

6 Eu March 19, 2013 at 11:53 pm

Oh my god Gemmer, really? I figured perhaps the victim herself brought more attention to it and that’s what the death threateners were whining about.

If they pleaded for them to stop talking about… if it was distressing her, it’s absolutely awful that people are STILL making pages and starting discussions on it. I didn’t know that. Victims of anything should have their wishes for people to stop talking about it respected. Wow.

7 Eu March 19, 2013 at 11:53 pm

Nugent maybe in compassion for her we should close this page or something? I know I’m taking down any posts I made related to the case on Facebook.

8 Eu March 19, 2013 at 11:59 pm

BirchSoda I can understand someone seeing it as out of control lust in THIS CASE because people are crying for everyone there to be abused in a jail cell (they didn’t call 911, Dunno what happened – assumed someone else did, did not see the actual acts, afraid of being put in for underaged drinking, etc) and don’t even care about the victim’s wishes herself. It’s not justice when you run over the victim just to make sure you morally condemn someone over and over in public who has already been sentenced.

9 J. J. Ramsey March 20, 2013 at 1:17 am

I think that one can be relieved that these rapists are now facing a jail cell while lamenting that there was a need for jailing rapists in the first place. If those boys hadn’t raped, they would still have had promising futures — and obviously the person who ended up their victim wouldn’t have been raped and thus been better off, too. Instead, we get a situation where the boys wasted their potential because they chose to do evil, and that is something to be sad about.

10 Saurs March 20, 2013 at 5:03 am

Newsflash: They are going to prison. They are convicted rapists. They are going to register as sex offenders.

Wrong on most counts. They don’t be going to any prison, as they were charged in a juvenile court and found to be delinquent, not guilty of rape. They will have to register as sex offenders, perhaps, for a year or two following their release (again, in about a year for one young man and two years for the other). Because they were juveniles at the time of the crime, their lawyers will likely petition for their records to be expunged, this petition will surely be successful, and they will no longer have to register.

Meanwhile, Jane Doe is being threatened with murder.

But they’re the victims, here.

11 Edward Gemmer March 20, 2013 at 11:18 am

They don’t be going to any prison, as they were charged in a juvenile court and found to be delinquent, not guilty of rape.

It’s not prison? Really? I mean, maybe I was fooled by the fact that they are locked in a cell and told when they can eat, sleep, and use the bathroom. But they are juveniles, so I guess the fact that they will sit in a room and talk to a counselor from time to time means they are really free. Hey, send them a message and tell them they are free to go – it’s not prison, after all. Right?

They will have to register as sex offenders, perhaps, for a year or two following their release (again, in about a year for one young man and two years for the other).

Nope. The Adam Walsh Act requires they register as sex offenders for at least ten years and at most the rest of their lives. They will be put in one of three tiers upon their release.

Because they were juveniles at the time of the crime, their lawyers will likely petition for their records to be expunged, this petition will surely be successful, and they will no longer have to register.

In Ohio, rape can never be expunged. Absent a change in the law it will be on their record for the rest of their lives (and even after that).

12 Skepsheik March 20, 2013 at 11:40 am

Nice piece Michael. I agree with everything you have written here.
I think the tribal nature of the blind support given, despite clear evidence of wrongdoing, is the telling factor. The support for Danny Foley was not simply ‘fifty local men’. Those who publicly supported him and shook his hand included many local women – including his girlfriend, who began her relationship with him after his arrest and indictment.
In the Steubenville case too there seems to have been a gross dereliction of common decency by far more individuals, both males and females, than the two eventually convicted. Why did nobody step in and try to take care of the girl, phone a taxi or even her parents?
Instead they all just looked aside and walked away.
Not my business.
Not my problem.
But if we believe in a caring society then perhaps it is our problem.
We may never be able to remove predators like Foley, Mays and Richmond, but we can teach our children to not look away if they see someone who is incapacitated and in danger.

13 Hunt March 20, 2013 at 12:15 pm

I think Edward Gemmer has a point. It was not the lack of discussion of the victim that pissed everyone off at CNN, it was that at the moment of reporting their conviction and punishment, CNN broke with depiction of the teens as dehumanized monsters and painted them as terribly misguided and criminally clueless minors, which they are. Nobody seems all that interested in reporting on the well-being of the victim, particularly at the expense of covering the depravity of the boys. That’s what kind of gives the petition drives to force CNN to apologize for their sin of compassion that whiff of lynch mob.

14 BirchSoda March 20, 2013 at 12:53 pm

Indeed, why would we have compassion on the victim, here?
Clearly the rapists had no choice but to rape the person they drugged into unconsciousness!

Oh wait, the sentence was because they chose to do what they did! I am not impressed with the crying after they finally got some consequences for their actions.

I’m also not really troubled about these two being on an offender list, considering that they documented the rape, in detail, and it is clear that, at the time, they thought it was an awesome thing to do.

These two are examples of the kind of person that absolutely belongs on an offender list.

15 Edward Gemmer March 20, 2013 at 1:15 pm

Indeed, why would we have compassion on the victim, here?

Most people do. I do. CNN did. Nearly everyone who hears of the case does. The issue is that many treat this as a zero-sum issue. If you say something nice about the offenders, you must be saying something bad about the victim. If you say anything critical of the victim, you must be blaming her and absolving the defendants. If you say something nice about the defendants, you must be promoting rape.

This is all crap. This is a sad story that triggers a lot of various emotions and responses. A person can simultaneously feel very bad for the victim for what she has gone and will go through and also for the defendants. There isn’t a “correct” emotional response that is somehow superior to all others.

16 A Hermit March 20, 2013 at 1:28 pm

Hunt March 20, 2013 at 12:15 pm

It was not the lack of discussion of the victim that pissed everyone off at CNN, it was that at the moment of reporting their conviction and punishment, CNN broke with depiction of the teens as dehumanized monsters and painted them as terribly misguided and criminally clueless minors, which they are.

Well I was watching CNN when they came on with the “BREAKING NES!!1!!” and what pissed me off was absolutely the portrayal of the perpetrators as victims. There was almost no mention of the girl they had raped an pissed on but much gnashing of teeth about how their lives had been ruined..as if this was something that had been done to them as opposed to something they had brought on themselves when they chose to rape someone.

I think the sentences in this case are appropriate actually; they are still young enough that there’s hope for rehabilitation, but let’s not minimize or dismiss what they did or ignore the larger context of a culture where that kind of criminal behaviour can be seen as acceptable not only by the perpetrators but by those who were watching, cheering them on and covering up for them afterward.

Contrary to Gemmer’s interpretation what I’m seeing is not “bloodlust” it’s relief that a serious, vicious crime was taken seriously and not swept under the rug as is so often the case.

17 BirchSoda March 20, 2013 at 3:17 pm

Exactly, A Hermit!
These guys chose to rape a person, and then document it so extensively it could not be denied, or swept under the rug for long, although many people tried to do just that.
Being punished for committing a crime is not a tragedy.
I’m not willing to go along with that framing of putting these guys in juvenile detention.
I am happy in one sense, that there was some punishment for a crime for once.
I was sure they would be allowed to plead out to something lesser and just waltz away like nothing happened, because that is how it usually goes.

18 A Hermit March 20, 2013 at 3:43 pm

There is a legitimate debate to be had about the value of prison for first time offenders, punishment vs rehabilitation, second chances for those who show genuine remorse etc.

But that’s not the issue here…the issue here is rape culture. This case is a perfect example of what it is and how it works. And how hard it is to overcome.

I actually do feel bad for those young men; they have been taught that what they did was acceptable behaviour. That’s what really has to change.

But they are still responsible for their actions and any compassion we might extend to them (and I’m all for compassion) can’t be allowed to turn into excusing their crimes, minimizing the terrible sentence THEY imposed on their victim or ignoring the larger context of a culture that teaches such young men that this kind of cruelty towards another human being is ever acceptable. If they are deserving of any compassion at all how much more does that young woman deserve? As Michael says, let’s start there.

19 BirchSoda March 20, 2013 at 3:57 pm

I’m just tired of the only people receiving any kind of compassion being the people who rape.
It was just more blatant in this instance.
I get sick of the framing of rape as some kind of weather pattern, that just happens out of the blue.
It is not a freak weather pattern! Other people, even young ones, who get drunk or party do not go forth and drug and rape and urinate on people.
They chose to do that. They thought it was a wonderful idea. They bragged about doing it and documented it, which is how we know about it.
It was not even spur of the moment. You do not lure someone and drug them on the spur of the moment.
That takes planning.
They could have stopped at any time!
They could have not drugged her.
They could have not disrobed her.
They could have not dragged her unconscious body from party to party.
They could have not raped her.
They could have not urinated on her.
They chose to do all of those things.
No one was forcing them to do them.
Treating their conviction like it is some kind of over the top punishment is really grating to a lot of people.

20 Edward Gemmer March 20, 2013 at 4:53 pm

My theory on why rape and school shootings attract so, so much attention and the bulk of other crimes do not? Those particular crimes can still affect white, middle to upper class white people. Other crimes tend to be confined to poorer racial minorities, at least in the United States.

21 A Hermit March 20, 2013 at 8:43 pm

Edward Gemmer March 20, 2013 at 4:53 pm

My theory on why rape and school shootings attract so, so much attention and the bulk of other crimes do not? Those particular crimes can still affect white, middle to upper class white people. Other crimes tend to be confined to poorer racial minorities, at least in the United States.

Nonsense.

It’s because rape and school shootings are almost exclusively confined to women and children.

22 Hunt March 20, 2013 at 11:13 pm

I think the sentences in this case are appropriate actually; they are still young enough that there’s hope for rehabilitation, but let’s not minimize or dismiss what they did or ignore the larger context of a culture where that kind of criminal behaviour can be seen as acceptable not only by the perpetrators but by those who were watching, cheering them on and covering up for them afterward.

Yes, I agree. I’m not entirely versed in the story about the attempted cover-up. I think what happened with CNN was that since they were reporting the conviction, they got caught up in the perpetrator side of the story and neglected to put it in the proper context of the crime, which basically amounted to ignoring the victim’s side of the story. And this rightly infuriated people. It may have just been bad journalism and not a commentary on a culture that tolerates rape.

23 Annacole Don March 20, 2013 at 11:39 pm

@Edward Gemmer,

Can you please point to a source that verifies your initial comment about the disproportionate consequences the defendants face, having been found to have committed rape?

They are NOT going to prison (despite what you say, prison differs dramatically from a juvenile facility), they have NOT been convicted of rape, and, given that you’ve cited Adam Walsh, you are aware that they will NOT have to register as sex offenders for the rest of their lives. (The category of offense or tier has not even been ruled yet.)

Please, also, if you can, cite evidence of this mass “euphoria” and “bloodlust” you mention. Thank you.

24 Edward Gemmer March 21, 2013 at 2:23 pm

Can you please point to a source that verifies your initial comment about the disproportionate consequences the defendants face, having been found to have committed rape?

I don’t recall saying anything about disproportionate consequences.

They are NOT going to prison (despite what you say, prison differs dramatically from a juvenile facility),

How so? It’s a locked facility designed to imprison them. Because it warehouses juveniles, they give it a different name.

they have NOT been convicted of rape

Um, what?

you are aware that they will NOT have to register as sex offenders for the rest of their lives. (The category of offense or tier has not even been ruled yet.)

Like I said, they will have to register as sex offenders. Upon release, they will be placed in one of three tiers of sex offenders. That’s what the Adam Walsh Act requires. If they are placed in Tier 3, they have to register every 90 days for life.

Please, also, if you can, cite evidence of this mass “euphoria” and “bloodlust” you mention. Thank you.

260,000 people signed a petition lambasting CNN for having the audacity to report that essentially the situation was sad for the defendants (who are teenagers). That is evidence. Google Steubenville rape and watch the hundreds upon hundreds of articles piling on in self-congratulatory bullshit about how kids going to prison is still a “really light punishment” and they “deserve” so much more. This is the kind of piling on that is really sickening to watch.

There is no difference between this and any other lynch mob you may see. The victim wasn’t asking for international scrutiny on her case. She expressly pleaded against it. But places like CNN and FoxNews and Slate and all these “do-gooders” who can feel great about themselves because they hate, hate, hate criminals. Congratulations, everyone. You hate criminals. That’s so original and new that I can’t possibly think where society was when we celebrated criminals. It’s that conservative judgmental bullshit that I hate, I guess. We use the internet instead of pitchforks, so that is progress I suppose.

25 BirchSoda March 22, 2013 at 2:34 pm

As someone whose family has had to deal with actual lynch mobs, I really hate when it is used because people are angry that these guys basically got off rather lightly for a crime they documented.

A lot of people have dealt with the system in trying to get some kind of justice for crimes committed against them.

Here are two people who not only committed the crime, but documented it, in real time.

Bragged about it later.

Had the adults in their lives support them in covering up after they finally realized that not everyone would see the pictures and the tweets and facebook statuses as just good fun.

They got one year, and two years, max for this.

Again, these guys chose to sexually offend.

I am ok with sexual offenders on the sexual offenders list, since sexual offenders have a high rate of recidivism.

Particularly those offenders who brag and laugh about their crimes, which these guys documented themselves doing.

People getting sick of rapists like these being given super light sentences and getting tons of sympathy in the press are not a lynch mob.

People who want at least some time spent on the impact to the victim are not lynch mob.

Leave a Comment

{ 1 trackback }

Previous post:

Next post: