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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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Obama's "logic"?? - that's easy...
Obama says the death penalty "does little to deter crime" but he supports it for cases in which "the community is justified in expressing the full measure of its outrage."

More outrage over child rape justifies death.

Man, I really hate general election season sometimes. Of course, I know why he did this. Just imagine the commercials. "XXXXX brutally raped a small child. A jury of his peers sentenced him to death. But not Barack Obama. In fact, Barack Obama wants to appoint more justices like the ones who refuse to execute this heinous monster. Call Barack Obama today, and tell him to stop going easy on child rapists."

Just typing that out makes me sick, so maybe him choosing this path is the lesser of two evils. It really sucks though.

"More outrage over child rape justifies death."

Moral outrage over the rape of a child justifies death, in your view. But moral outrage over the rape of a woman doesn't? If not, why not?

Elevation of child rape to special moral outrage because it seems to imply that the community is justified in being less outraged when a woman or a man is raped.

Murder is murder. Shouldn't rape be rape? If it's the same level of brutality, shouldn't the penalty be the same, regardless of the age of the victim?

I'm just now starting to think about this, so my reaction isn't fully formed, but ...

I feel -- this is my subjective reaction -- that crimes against children are worse than crimes against adults. I'm not sure why I feel that way. But I do. It's not a thought-out position, just where my gut is.

But it also doesn't seem unreasonable. Upon reflection, we do more to protect children than adults, because children need it more. Having more severe penalties for crimes against children is in line with that. (Whether those penalties actually have the intended effect is another question.)

I guess I could put it this way: It doesn't seem true that the rape of a child is not any worse than the rape of an adult, other factors being equal.

As I said, this isn't a firm, developed stance. Just tossing it in for discussion.

I don't think anyone is arguing that rape isn't morally outrageous in all cases.

Any question of equivalence is distinct from the question of whether age differences between the victims of such acts can be sufficient to justify the death penalty in one case and not in the other.

Perhaps child rape is considered to be more heinous and more morally outrageous than rapes of adults because in a very testable, tangible, and physical sense, children are in a much more malleable and plastic phase of their lives than fully grown men and women are. In short, they are more vulnerable. Do you wish to take the position that this is not the case?

Lee, has this claim been tested? The equally testable alternative hypothesis is that children are in a more resilient phase of their development.

I wouldn't stake too much on the answer to this question. If you knew that children bounce back better from sexual assault than adults do, would child rape seem any less wrong? It wouldn't make any difference to me. Rape is rape, period. It's a crime against humanity. I think it's very troubling that the rape of an adult is somehow categorically less outrageous than the violation of a child.

If we're extra concerned with the defenseless, then we need a special legal category for children, prisoners, the disabled, the unconscious, the frail elderly, and anyone else who can't physically fend for themselves. But that misses the moral point, too. Rape is rape.

If I supported the death penalty, I'd support the death penalty for anyone, I'd support death for all violent rapists. I wouldn't pick and choose.

How about the death penalty for leaders who lie to get their countries into war causing thousands of american deaths, hundreds of thousands of other deaths and countless amputations and cases of PTSD?

If I supported the death penalty at all, I'd support it for treason in a time of war, or treason causing a time of war.

Regarding rigorous testability, I would submit that neuroplasticity, the capacity for a brain to change as a correlate of experience, would be a reasonable metric for measuring the capacity for psychological resiliency, which can be considered as the development, growth, and constancy of an individual's personality. There are many techniques with which to measure neuroplasticity, such as via measurements of Nerve Growth Factor or other neurotransmitters.

Granted, I haven't searched the literature, but to my knowledge the claim that children are more "resilient" than adults against direct traumatic acts, specifically rape, has not been tested in this manner. And though they may indeed be more capable in adapting to prior traumatic experiences, that does not necessarily mean their development isn't still more profoundly affected. A very crude analogy might be a sapling strapped to a small flexed pole -- in time, the sapling will grow to accommodate the bend in the pole, and will for the most part remain in that configuration even if the pole is removed. A more mature tree wouldn't budge in the first place due to the pole's influence.

This question is certainly interesting and valid, but my knee-jerk reaction would be that the testing I mentioned above would be largely unnecessary considering the wealth of circumstantial evidence at hand. Children, particularly when they are very young, unquestionably have much higher neuroplasticity than adults. Their brains are in a much greater state of flux than the average adult brain, even though it's now acknowledged that adult brains also exhibit substantial plasticity via neurogenesis and the subsequent creation of new synaptic connections. This greater degree of neuroplasticity is probably why, on balance, children are more adept than adults at learning new skills, such as language for instance.

I just realized an obvious critique of the tree analogy I used -- it talked about influence over substantial periods of time, instead of what could easily be a single, violent, rapid event. At some point, an event can be so traumatic that it simply breaks the tree in a fraction of a second, regardless of its maturity.

I disagree with your statement that rape can't fluctuate in

If we're going to speak of these things through the lens of neurological correlates for psychology and behavior, and assume that some proportional vengeance rather than rehabilitation is a proper response to certain crimes, then really it seems in deciding proper punishment for an instance of rape we should ideally find a physical test that can indicate how much mental damage the victim has consequently suffered. Such a test may well be infeasible, or even impossible, but I believe it would support my disagreement with your statement that "rape is rape." Rape is always evil, always an outrage. But to say that rape cannot meaningfully fluctuate in the damage it does (which is what you are saying) to an individual is patently false.

A jury should consider the amount of harm an individual has suffered, or is likely to suffer, when assessing damages in a civil suit.

I'm just not prepared to say that the criminal law should presuppose that child rape is categorically worse that adult rape. Sure, the younger you afflict someone with any affront to human dignity, the longer they are going to have to live with the consequences of of the crime (on average). But do you really want to say that adult rape should be punished less severely when it happens to a 50-year-old than when it befalls a 22-year-old? That's ridiculous.

Rape is rape. Why are you making excuses for people who rape adults?

Morally, rape is rape, yes. But LEGALLY, rape is not always rape. Their are more stringent sentencing guidlines for pedophiles than sexual predators of adults. Sexual abuse (the P.C. term people) of a child under the laws of my state enhance the punishment and bring with it more stringent sex offender conditions than sexual abuse of an adult.

Children are viewed as helpless and innocent. I know that I am always more outraged and upset at work when I here about abuse of a child on any level versus an adult. Can't explain, just how I feel.


During the times that I have followed your blog, this is the most difficult and charged topic I've read. It's a lot more complicated than most people would surmise. I have a little experience working with social workers and guidance counselors who have to deal with the child victims of abuse. However, I have never had to think about the consequences of making child rape a capital offense. I going to lay out my thoughts on this issue, but, since it's my first pen-to-paper on the matter I may change my views later; and I might cause some distress for some people. So I ask for forgiveness in advance as I try to develop my thoughts.

I do not have any philosophical objections to capital punishment. As a practical matter, though, I am against the death penalty because it cannot be administered fairly. Recent experience makes it clear that our society cannot even come close to the kind of certainty we need when sending a fellow citizen to the gallows.

Rape of an adult is not the same as rape of a young child. Because they are not the same they cannot be compared directly to each other. If we compare them directly we risk getting into false arguments about differences in gravity, moral outrage, the effects on the victims, and the relative worth of an adult victim vis-a-vis a young child. Only a couple of months ago did we, as a society, conclude that abuse of crack cocaine and the abuse of powder cocaine were morally, legally, and socially equivalent. The direct comparison of different forms of cocaine abuse was clear on its face.

Rape of an adult and rape of a young child are not so easy to equate. They are different in several respects. A young child who experiences rape is usually a hostage in a protracted experience of terror and sexual humiliation. They are victims of pedophiles who repeat their offense over and over again. It is not uncommon for a young child to be a victim of multiples rapes, multiple rapists, and the complicity of others who refuse to say anything let alone act to protect the child. This can go on for many years – through an entire childhood and even into young adulthood. Judith Herman, in her book “Trauma and Recovery”, argues for a diagnostic classification of trauma from child sexual abuse that denotes a more profound and complex consequence than seen in other devastating traumas associated with military combat, hostage situations, and episodes of rape that are not sustained over time.

Rape of an adult is a horror that most people cannot fathom. Child sexual abuse is a horror that most people cannot fathom. They are very different crimes. Comparing or equating them in any fashion does an injustice to both victims.

So what should we do with pedophiles who, by definition, live each day to victimize again and again? The answer is easy. Kill them all and make them suffer! Or is it really that easy? If we were to execute child rapists, guess whom we would kill. We would be killing the rapist parent, rapist older sibling, rapist uncle or aunt, and the abetting conspiring spouse. Now look at this from the point of view of the child victim. Child rape victims have a difficult time as it is with feeling guilty and responsible for the crime visited upon them. It is not hyperbole to say that a child rape victim could be 'responsible' for sending two or more family members to a state execution. Do you think the child victim would get over that as easily as the jury and the courtroom observers?

The same would hold true for former child victims who are older and gained some perspective with the distance of time and circumstance. They should confront their tormentors and charge them for the criminals they are. But, do you think they would do so if it meant the certain execution of people they know and are likely to be family? That's a lot to ask of a victim who is already dealing with undeserved guilt.

As for Barak Obama's position and his rationale, assuming there is one other than this being an election year, I don't know what to say. Of course, we want to take the animals who prey on our children and rip them apart with our own hands. But, this matter is not about us. It's about the child victim.

I think we have a more visceral reaction to cases of child rape than to cases of adult rape because of our natural instinct to protect children from harm. On the other hand, I doubt that jurists' position on this issue would be given much weight when an Obama administration picks its Supreme Court nominees.

No one is making excuses for people who rape adults.

However, child rapes ARE morally special compared to the rapes of adult human beings. Children are more vulnerable- it's just that simple.

An adult is better able to defend themselves, better able to fight off, or abate the harm that an attacker intends to do.

If I was outside your door, intent on brutalizing someone weaker than myself, tearing their flesh, and ejaculating my hate over them, do you mean to tell me, Lindsay, that you would just as soon have me do that to your child? Do you believe that your eight-year-old self could have defended yourself as capably as you can today?

It is not true that "rape is rape, period." Rape is a despicable crime and deserves the harshest sentence you feel just in administering. And the rape of a child deserves a harsher sentence still.

You don't need to equate two crimes to find them both heinous. But there IS a difference between bad and worse. We're not condoning the 'lesser' of two crimes by acknowledging this.

I heard of this case today when I made the mistake of turning on the TV to witness the ever scary Laura Ingraham of Faux News in a purple rage, snarling and spitting over it.

It's election season folks and the vengeful masses love nothing better than public hangings. Remember Clinton in his capacity as Ark. Governor had to rush back from the hustings to Little Rock to snuff a functionally mentally retarded guy on death row. (The guy had killed a cop, an offense that probably ninety percent of those who disagree with today's court opinion would heartily endorse capitol punishment for.) Anyone running for president in America must endorse capital punishment, just as they must prove that they believe in god. Period. Combine that with American's very broad streak of sentimentality, particularly when it comes to children, and we should at least be grateful the candidates are not calling for child rapists to be drawn and quartered or broken on the wheel.

Call me cynical, but I'd like to know how this case was picked and scheduled so that it would float to the top of the news during an election year. It's not as though we had thousands of child rapists on death row waiting for a decision.

If I supported the death penalty at all, I'd support it for treason in a time of war, or treason causing a time of war.

Myself, I'm basically against capital punishment except in cases where someone has killed so many people (A number, necessarily arbitrary, must be set here: let's make it one hundred thousand.) that they have become, simply, a menace to public health. As such, just like anopheles mosquitoes or rabid dogs, they must be gassed in the swamps or shot in the streets where they are found. You can draw your own conclusions as to whether anyone today meets that criterion.


The last paragraph of your last comment is grossly irresponsible.

Yeah, it probably is.

Murder is murder. Shouldn't rape be rape?

Lindsay, the logical result of such a statement is that all age-of-consent laws should be abolished. Is that the position you wish to argue?

Murder is murder. Shouldn't rape be rape?

It's true that murder is murder, and rape is rape, but it doesn't follow that all murders should be treated the same, or that all rapes should be treated the same. In fact, under the law, we don't treat all murders the same. We make a wide variety of distinctions between different types of murders. I don't see any ethical problem with the law deciding to afford children a greater degree of protection than adults, and I see a number of practical reasons for such a distinction. I'm fine with, for example, a law that treats the assault of an adult on a child differently than the assault of an adult on an adult. Lindsay, do you have a problem with the NY law that I just linked to?

Whether child rape should be treated identically to adult rape is of course a distinct question from whether capital punishment is appropriate for either case, or for any crime.

Well, "do I believe law P is constitutional?" is a somewhat different question than "do I support law P?" of course.

A naïve reading of Obama's statement is simply that he believes that the Louisiana statute does not violate constitutional prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment. One might still oppose the law -- and, indeed, oppose the death penalty generally -- without regarding it as unconstitutional.

Now, to get slightly less naïve, we might say that Obama was really expressing support for the law, not simply disagreeing with the SCOTUS ruling on its constitutionality, and that he was doing so for reasons of positioning and electoral politics.

The naïve reading of his statement as literal and sincere may have some disturbing implications of its own, perhaps. Obama was a constitutional scholar, and if he regards this case as wrongly decided, his opinions of constitutional law -- at least in this case -- seem to be more in line with those of Scalia, Roberts, Alito and Thomas than with Kennedy, Souter, Ginsberg, Breyer, or Stevens.

So far, I haven't heard any argument about why child rape should be a special category that's singled out for a dramatically harsher punishment than adult rape.

The general consensus is that the death penalty should only be applied to first degree murder, not to second degree murder or manslaughter. If you start dolling out the death penalty for child rape, you're saying that raping a child is not only categorically worse even than adult rape, you're saying child rape is worse than killing a child (or an adult) without premeditation. That doesn't make sense to me.

I've heard some people arguing that child rape is worse because children are more vulnerable--but that argument doesn't work. If we're talking about a determined rapist with a gun, we're all about equally vulnerable, it's just a matter of what kind of prey the rapist chooses. If a person becomes a rape victim, then ipso facto, they must have been sufficiently vulnerable to be successfully preyed upon.

If it's really vulnerability that's the critical moral dimension, we should expand the category to protect all vulnerable people as such--not just children. So, we should have the death penalty for raping prisoners and the disabled, too.

how about fourth amendment rape? isn't that something deserving ultimate penalty?

p.s. bobby jindal, on the short list of mcCain vp's just signed legislation requiring castration, chemical or physical, for child molesters in louisiana.

this immediately brings to mind the question of why doesn't he, of demonstrated and documented faith healing and exorcism skills, just use his considerable jesus magic to abracadabra the offenders into the light of holy love?

p.s. bobby jindal, on the short list of mcCain vp's just signed legislation requiring castration, chemical or physical, for child molesters in louisiana.

this immediately brings to mind the question of why doesn't he, of demonstrated and documented faith healing and exorcism skills, just use his considerable jesus magic to abracadabra the offenders into the light of holy love?

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