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June 25, 2008

The first thing we do, let's kill all the rapists

As far as I know, Barack Obama doesn't generally support the death penalty for rape. So, why does he support capital punishment for child rapists, specifically?

Democrat Barack Obama says he disagrees with the Supreme Court's decision outlawing executions of people convicted of raping a child.

Obama told reporters Wednesday that he thinks the rape of a child, ages six or eight, is a heinous crime. He said if a state makes a decision, then the death penalty is potentially applicable. [AP News]

Rape is a heinous crime. The United Nations recently acknowledged rape as a weapon of war.

If we're going to have a death penalty, and if the death penalty is reserved for the most heinous crimes, then rape should be punishable by death.

Does Obama think that the rapists who sodomized prisoners at Abu Ghraib with chemical lights should be put to death? Given his views on child rape, I should hope so. Consistency requires him to call for the executions of the American soldiers who committed these crimes. If he's not serious about putting all rapists to death, he is trivializing rape by calling for the death penalty only for those who rape children.

If you're going to support the death penalty for child rape alone, you need to explain why child rapes are so morally special compared to the rapes of adult human beings.

The only morally consistent "law and order" position for Obama would be to assert that rape should be punishable by death, across the  board.

Wouldn't that make the wingnuts' heads explode? If violent rape were punishable by death, then date rape without lethal force should be at least comparable to bank robbery.

Why is child rape morally special compared to woman rape, or man rape?

If he thinks its the rape of the defenseless that deserves special punishment, Obama should call for the death penalty for the American soldiers and contractors who participated in the rapes of Abu Ghraib detainees, because those men were as helpless as free seven-year-old children.

Let's have Democrats ask John McCain whether he favors the death penalty for all violent rapists. You can bet the Republicans will choke before the Democrats on this one.

Now, I'm a death penalty abolitionist across the board, but I figure if we're going to have the death penalty at all, violent rapists are as deserving as murderers. Why let Republicans off the hook on this one?

[HT: Digby.]


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and the elderly. Many elderly rape victims.
I was appalled when I read what he (barry) had to say.
I'll say no more. It would be very undemocratic and non-party loyal of me.

i apologize. I also agree that the death penalty is a hate crime.
It should be abolished across the board as the journalist advocates.

If New York's law is as you describe, parse, then no, I probably don't support it as written.

In Louisiana, the death penalty was set out as an option for the worst child rapes--i.e., the for the most violent an abhorrent sexual violence against children. If there's going to be a death penalty for rape, I don't see why it should only be an option for those who rape children, as opposed to the most violent and predatory rapists in society at large. There are all kinds of aggravating factors that make a rape particularly reprehensible--preying on the defenseless, physical brutality, custodial rape, etc, etc.

My point is that society finds it easy to get worked up about the rape of children, and much more difficult to summon the same level of outrage when the victims are women or men. I believe that there's widespread cultural ambivalence towards adult victims of sexual assault that stems from misogyny and habitual victim blaming. Whenever an adult comes forward with accusations of victimization, there's a lingering question about what they might have done to deserve it. Everyone intuitively recognizes that there's nothing a child could do to deserve rape. Good! Let's extrapolate that compassionate, open-minded thinking to all victims.

A lot of posters on this thread have explicitly argued that child rape is uniquely awful because children are innocent in a way that adults aren't, or that children can be assumed to be innocent whereas adult rape victims must be suspected of complicity in their own misfortune. It's not that we shouldn't be outraged about child rape, it's that we should generalize our horror to all similar assaults instead of construing child rape as a qualitatively different crime, as opposed to just one tragic manifestation of the larger problem of rape in our society.

Let me put it another way: Why shouldn't the perpetrators of the worst non-lethal sexual violence against adults should also be eligible for the same maximum punishment?

How is it slimy to say that society should take sexual predation equally seriously whether the victim is an adult or a child? I would think this would be the compassionate point of view.

In Louisiana, the death penalty was set out as an option for the worst child rapes--i.e., the for the most violent an abhorrent sexual violence against children.

Lindsay, do you have a reference for this? The only descriptions of the law I can find simply report that the law allows capital punishment in the case of rape when the victim is younger than 12. There is no reported stipulation that only the "most violent" crimes are covered.

I actually don't agree with the assumption, which seems to run across the political spectrum, that rape, putting aside the distinction between adult and child rape, should be treated as the ultimate crime on par with murder. And I say this as someone who considers myself a radical feminist. Such an assertion seems to me inextricable from the idea that a woman who has been raped is damaged goods and would be better off dead. As horrific as the experience is, I don't think this is something we want to get behind. Rape victims are still widely mistreated and unbelieved by the judicial system and by social supports - our focus should be on improving their treatment under existing laws rather than creating new penalties.

Hey, I've read Emmanual Kant's Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals, so let an expert at moral logic work this one out for you:

Children are pre-adolescent, pre-pubescent, pre-sexual. They have a developing sense of self and undeveloped sex organs: they have not undergone the physiological transformation that will allow their more mature, developed individual character to better withstand and — more importantly—heal from all forms of trauma. Thus rape can be generally said to be a more predictively destructive crime when the victim is a child than when the victim is an adult. But a cantaloupe is also not an acceptable sexual match for a reproductively mature human adult. Why is Obama celebrating perverts who hump melons and other produce? What about grown women that put cucumbers to dildonic usage? Shouldn't they be put to death just like a child rapist? What's the difference? The only morally consistent "law and order" position for Obama would be to assert that all sex with non-sexual organisms should be punishable by death, across the board.


Regarding neuroplasticity: I am not an expert in the area, but that has never stopped me from rendering an opinion. So here goes.

The term refers to the brain's ability to 'rewire' itself as a function of learning and experience. When a part of the neural structure is damaged, it's function could be transferred to another part of the brain. This is one example but the term has broader meanings. The concept could very well help us to explain and understand how cognitive therapy works. Perhaps it could help improve cognitive therapy's effectiveness. There is a fair amount of research on the biochemical substrates of neuroplasticity at the molecular level. It is my understanding that there isn't a literature base, yet, on psychological trauma and neuroplasticity. (I could be wrong.) But there is research on neural trauma and neuroplasticity. Beyond that I would have to defer to others with more competence in field.

In this discussion the term seems to be used, incorrectly, to mean that neural structures in young children are more malleable and adaptable than adults - or possibly to mean that the neural structures of children are more 'vulnerable'. This is also an incorrect use of the term.

I have to agree with Lindsay that it's impossible to differentiate between rape of an adult and rape of a child on 'vulnerability'. It may be that more children are vulnerable than adults, but this does not mean that a child victim of rape was any more or less vulnerable than an adult victim of rape.

I also agree with Lindsay that we, as a society, can't seem to shake the attitude that adult victims of rape are not completely blameless for the crime perpetrated upon them. Another way of expressing this blame-the-victim mentality is to say that adult rape victims are not as vulnerable as young children. There may be fewer vulnerable adults, compared to children, but the victims of rape were equally vulnerable. Another example of this attitude is our response to an adult rape victim. Some will ask "What did you do?". The question should be "What happened to you?".

My argument with Lindsay is that comparing adult rape and child rape, even in the service of building more compassion and understanding for adult victims, is really a false comparison. They are two very different crimes in terms of the perpetrators, the frequency and time duration for a particular victim, the relationship of perpetrator and victim, the complicity of family members in the predation, and the complexity, depth, and extent of the psychological and emotional damage for the victim. I am saying they are different - not that one is worse or more reprehensible.

Obama's position in this instance can only be shocking to those followers who heavily imbibed the kook-aid during the primary season, and consequently paid no attention whatever to his political positions. His articulated position is not news to people paying attention all along. Now that the supply of kook-aid is drying up, a lot of camp followers seem to be discovering a serious hangover. "Buyer's remorse" -- too late now. You know the rule: "You buy it, you own it."



Sadly, I can answer your question. To these people, rape of a child is worse than rape of an adult woman because an adult woman is likely to have already had sex prior to the rape, so it shouldn't be weird or anything for her. She's already been used. In fact, she might just enjoy it.

I hate these people more than words could ever convey.


Say what?!

Lindsay, it seems to me that your objection to this law has more to do with equal protection (14th amendment) than with cruel and unusual punishment. Your argument seems to be "the difference between a child and an adult in the horrendousness of rape is as relevant as the difference between a blue-eyed and brown-eyed person. Since young age as an aggravating factor in setencing has no bona fide rationale, it violates the 14th amendment's mandate for equal protection under the law." I admit you've never actually said that, but that's the sense I'm getting from your argument.

The Supreme Court's ruling, going to the precedent of Coker v. Georgia, is not based on equal protection, but death penalty from crimes other than murder actually does violate the eighth amendment. Do you agree? If so, do you also believe that the death penalty in general violates the 8th amendment, even for murder? The Supreme Court does not view the death penalty as violating the 8th amendment when used as a sentence for murder convicts.

I don't know about Obama's specific reasoning here, but it's not obvious to me from the fact that he views the SCOTUS decision as incorrect that he supports the Louisiana law. "Potentially applicable" is different from "ought to be applied."

I'm inclined to agree with Beyerstein; this has a lot to do with sentimentality regarding children. Picture assault instead of rape. Beating the remaining teeth out of a ninety year old man with a tire iron is pretty much equivalent to beating the few new teeth out of an eighteen month old with the same tire iron. What difference does it really make though? Child rapists are like rattlesnakes. They exist, they affect a certain small percentage of the population every year, they've always been with us, and we'll never be rid of them no matter whether you kill them or not. You might as well get angry and pass legislation to slay tornados or acne for all the good killing or even getting upset about child rapists will do.

The conservative justices that control the supreme court docket know that as well. Capital punishment has no practical effect on crime, but the public, particularly that segment that votes Republican, believes it does. Capital punishment hullabaloo gets the right-wing vote out, just as today's second amendment decision will. (It would have been better for Republicans had the court ruled for the Dist. of Columbia today, but they control the docket, not Justice Kennedy's vote. In any case, second amendment controversy of any kind always gets the NRA members off their couches and into the polling booths.) The plutocrat's pals on the supreme court would probably prefer the plebes in the barrios and trailer parks not screw each other's children or shoot each other, but that's not particularly important. What is important is that the hoi polloi remain terrified of unemployment enough to show up for their shitty McJobs on time and not complain, and that they continue to vote Republican.

Meanwhile we progressives are arguing the finer details of the morality of rape as if that were actually going to have any effect on the frequency of rape.

See you on January 20 next year when we can all cry in our beer together over McCain's victory.

Reading through everything again I'm sort of amazed that such a belligerent and provocatively stupid post yielded so many thoughtful, thorough and patient responses. I mean, with the usual notable exceptions, of course. Mine own contributions, obviously. But still, a good turnout on the whole.

LB you have beat the horse past death and now YOU are bordering on cruel and usual punishment for prolonging this topic. ;) We get it, you feel how you do. No one can say you are wrong on a moral level. It is time to agree to disagree on that.

However, the laws of many states DO differentiate betweem crimes against adults and children, as well as the elderly. In my state, there are enhanced sentences for crimes against children and the elderly. In fact, elder abuse law is a rapidly growing niche here. Also, as has been pointed out here, murder is NOT always murder under the law, as rape is NOT always rape under the law. (In fact, rape is now criminal sexual abuse in my state, so it is NEVER rape! Technically speaking.)

So, the bottom line is that children and the elderly are protected classes under criminal law in some states. Crimes against them are considered more eggregious than crimes against adults (age 18-65). Taking the tact you have, it appears you are showing a very significant lack of compassion for these groups, which is shocking, based on your beliefs that you express here daily.

Kill 'em all and let "God" sort 'em out, huh? You need to remove the "journalist" word from your title and replace it with Medievalist. Pathetic.

michael powe,
for the record I was appalled NOT shocked. I'm extremely anti-obama and due to the hue and cry for party unity I try to keep it down. I've BEEN paying attention. Long about the time a fellow progressive tried to call folks racists if they supported hillary rather than obama I tilted farther away from him. Not so much pro-hillary but anti-obama.
If molly ivins were here I wonder what she would say. I imagine even she would have a hard time 'dancin with them what brung ya'. I was giving that some thought last night.
I'm more anti-mccain than I am anti o.

Hyperbole and the interests of the child rape victim:

I am no longer debating the adult v. child issue of rape. Instead I would like to direct your attention to a news item (video) from CNN:

The CNN title is provocative and does not capture the substance of the video report. Nonetheless, the import of the video report is germane to some of the issues discussed here - but not the adult v. child debate.

The important question is the paradox of raising the severity of the punishment for the rape of a child while simultaneously increasing the distress for the child victim and the pain of an ordeal in the justice system. I brought this up early in our discussion. In the CNN video report James Fagan in the Massachusetts State House is objecting to mandatory minimum sentences for child rape.

On it's face a minimum sentence seems eminently just for the scum of the earth. But Fagan understands that this raises the stakes for the well being of the child. Faced with minimum sentencing a defense attorney will do everything possible to save the client and DESTROY the testimony from the child victim. It won't be just the testimony that will be DESTROYED.

Calling for the harshest of sentences for child rapists gives voice to our fear of pedophiles, our outrage, and our disgust. It may even give voice to political ambitions. Remember, it's not about us. It's about the child victim of rape. It's a paradox and an unfair choice, but the child comes first.

The only morally consistent "law and order" position for Obama would be to assert that rape should be punishable by death, across the board....

Murder is murder. Shouldn't rape be rape?

As other commentators have noted, "murder" isn't always "murder" -- and not all murderers are subject to the same penalties. First, the law created the general category of "homicide" to describe deaths with a human cause. In some cases, "homicide" is not even a crime -- for example, in a case of pure accident (not involving negligence or impairment) or in a case of justifiable self-defense. There are various categories of manslaughter and murder that are dependent on the situation and the mindset of the murderer. Most criminal codes examine whether there was "malice aforethought" involved. Was the crime "premeditated?" Did it involve special circumstances -- for example, the commission of other crimes, or especially vicious and heinous means, including torture or methods designed to protract the anguish of the victim? Special circumstances can involve the identity and nature of the victims. Many criminal codes reserve more severe penalties for the murders of police officers, judges, witnesses to crimes... and children. There are many laws on the books that recognize that the State has a particular obligation to protect children. Part of that obligation involves protecting the child from sexual exploitation or interference by adults. For example, the law creates special penalties and holds a special abhorrence for child pornography; likewise, statutory rape codes hold that legal consent cannot occur between an adult and a child under any circumstances. Clearly the law can and does makes distinctions regarding murder, including the proscription of punishment -- some murders are "capital" offenses, and some are not. Likewise, the law clearly makes distinctions between victims that are adults and victims that are children. That's only the legal perspective.

I agree that rape is a deeply reprehensible crime; its long-term psychological effects on its victims has still not been widely understood by society at large. Yet it's also clear to me why sexual violence inflicted upon children needs to be a special category, with special scrutiny and punishment. Rape is deeply damaging to the psyches of all victims; but for children who have not yet formulated a complete sense of identity and sexuality, it often precludes any possibility of fully healing or any possibility of complete recovery. For an adult, rape is a traumatic intrusion on a sense of self, safety and sexuality; for a child, it is often the source of a permanent malformation in the development of identity. Society regards this crime with a special horror, even at its basest level: we've all heard the stories of how even hardened criminals reserve a special vicious and violent contempt for child molesters. Even the worst thugs and murderers instinctively understand a distinction that must be explained in detail to intellectuals who should know better.

None of this is to say that Obama's comments were properly motivated or correct; but I found your initial piece and your follow-up comments to be deeply troubling.

I think what complicates this (among other things) is the fact that child sexual abuse usually occurs when the adult has some kind of a custodial relationship with the kid.

Unfortunately, kids who have custodians who rape them tend not to have any other custodians who care enough to stop it. I remember one horrific "I need advice letter" to the editor about a girl who had been abused who then discovered that the only one of her relatives who was willing to pay anything for her college education was her abuser, a man with whom she wanted no further contact ... but she had no other way to pay for college.

In that sense this is a bit like the debate over parental consent to a minor's abortion. If the parents were there for the kid, that would never even be an issue. however, sometimes they're not, and that's when it gets tricky.

In Maryland, at least, there are laws against child abuse that provide for greater penalties than does mere statutory assault against an adult. These laws do not trouble me. Similarly, I am not troubled by the idea that a rape of a child is a more heinous crime than the rape of an adult, ceteris paribus, because the child has fewer psychological defenses to facilitate healing from and coping with such a trauma. In addition, as a society we take on the protection of minors generally in ways that we don't for adults.

The child-adult differences in both coping skills and in their status as specially protected persons are to me sufficient on which to make a death penalty distinction. Such differences are never perfect, but are good enough in my view. However, I am not a death penalty abolitionist, and would have no problem executing rapists across the board, including the uniform-wearing war crime rapists of Abu Ghraib (assuming that such a law had been passed before the acts, not ex post facto.)

Rapists should be put to death but not by the slime ball DP/GOP government, but by angry dangerous sociopaths who will conduct enough proper vengeance to teach all rapists what will happen to them.

The rapists at Abu Ghraid deserve death as all rapists do.

Not simply death, but brutal torture. The sort of torture that would make Gengis Khan sick to his stomach.

The truth is that there is only power. You either have power or you do not. Everything else is a rotten lie of the rich and powerful.

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