Recently, I have found myself hesitating to comment on prominent new stories, political events, etc… You may have noticed that I haven’t written anything about the sequester or the GOP’s ‘rebranding.’ The reason for this is because I’ve noticed that internet commentary across the board is becoming more and more shallow. There are legions of bloggers out there posting emotionally charged poorly thought out opinions. These opinions fuel e-shouting (new term I just coined) matches generally characterized by many capital letters. I do my best to avoid adding fuel to the fire because I try to actually take a reasoned look at issues and events. The trouble I find is that this is much easier to do in an in person discussion. Over the internet, people read all kinds of emotional content into what you’re writing when that content isn’t actually there.
Then, I remembered the mission of Shattering The Lens. The whole purpose of this place is to provide a mechanism to get people to stop emotionally translating things so they can develop an understanding of reality. Recognizing that mission, I have decided to write a post commenting on the Steubenville trial and verdict.
I think the people that are up in arms about this particular case are channeling their larger frustrations about the U.S. justice system’s completely inadequate handling of abuse and sexual assault cases in general. The system we have in this country makes things very difficult for victims. It often does not allow for non-victims to file charges, has very odd evidence burdens, and does not provide adequate safety or stabilization measures for victims. That being said, it doesn’t mean that the students in this case should receive a harsher punishment. People need to think about what the purpose of punishment really is. What are we trying to accomplish when we punish criminals?
If the purpose is truly just proportional retribution, then the rapists should probably be raped as well and have video of it spread across the internet. When I put it like that, your reaction may change slightly. The reality is that, when it comes to juvenile crime, severe punishment in adult facilities does not have a rehabilitating effect on juvenile offenders. Quite the opposite, adult incarceration facilities breed repeat juvenile offenders. The adage “violence only breeds more violence” is particularly applicable in this case. Because juveniles are going through some of their most formative years, it’s more likely that they will head down a worse path if put in an environment where they are in closer proximity to more serious and capable offenders.
That being said, it’s important to note that these individuals shouldn’t be without reproach. What they did was blatantly wrong, and they need to be punished for it, but that punishment needs to occur in a way which will encourage these two to actually learn from their actions and work toward becoming better people. We must realize that these two will eventually be released back into society, and it would be a grave error to transform them into guaranteed criminals. The punishment is inappropriate not because it is too light but because it does not include a rehabilitative component. It would have been a fascinating precedent to sentence these two to 300 hours of volunteer service at an abused women’s shelter. It would have given them a stark look at the possible results of their actions.
It is further important to actually address the victim in this case. Why isn’t anybody talking about her in a real way? All we hear are dark quips like, “She’s the one who really got a life sentence.” All irony aside, I suspect that the girl is probably being subjected to some bootleg counseling from a hack that is relying on a model of human psychology that’s at least three decades out of date. She is part of a community where behavior like this probably occurs regularly. In fact, I’d wager that this is not an isolated incident. Similar occurrences have probably occurred to other girls in that community, and we are just not aware of it. The tragedy is that the girl will remain an assault victim for the rest of her life. The greater tragedy is that she is probably in a community which will make it difficult for her to seek the help she needs to rid herself of that life sentence.
In short, the discourse surrounding the Steubenville case is very typical of high profile news stories like this. On the one side, all the raging feminists come out of the woodwork because they see an opportunity to talk about how sexist the U.S. justice system is. On the other side, you have people still saying that it’s the victim’s fault, and she never should’ve let herself get that drunk. Neither side is actually addressing the real issues. They are just talking about completely irrelevant things which don’t really matter in the grand scheme of the situation. The dilemma that the court was faced with was to issue a sentence which not only provided adequate retribution for the crime but also had a rehabilitative component which would send a message of moral education to the criminals, victim, and community. It failed on both accounts, but it did not fail for any of the reasons people are spewing on about. A year after a tragic event, the parties involved are essentially in the same positions where they began.