Why Are Judges So Concerned About The Future Potential of Rapists?

The article that brought me to tears in nothing flat

Photo by Yuris Alhumaydy on Unsplash

Last night James forwarded me an article that he’d come across in Rolling Stone that he thought would interest me. He was right. It was something that I wanted to read, but what neither of us anticipated was that this article would make me burst into tears of frustration and despair. The title of the article was “Why Are Judges So Concerned About The Future Potential of Rapists?”

It’s not the first time that I’ve been exposed to the notion that the futures of “promising young men” count for more than the trauma and the lives of the girls and women that they rape, but when I read this piece I just felt smacked in the face with how truly pervasive this dynamic still is.

In 1989, members of the Glen Ridge, New Jersey football team raped a 17-year-old girl in the basement of one of the boys’ houses. The girl had an intellectual disability, and was later reported to have an IQ of about 64. The boys took turns orally and vaginally penetrating her, and then penetrated her with a broom and a baseball bat, both of which were covered in baggies coated with Vaseline. One of them said they should stop, a suggestion that was ignored. The boys then told the girl not to tell anyone, then told her to leave. The incident was only reported to the police when a teacher overheard one of the boys bragging to another student that they were planning to coax a repeat performance out of the girl, which they planned to videotape.

But rather than being outraged that these young men were so heartless and depraved and that they took advantage of someone who was vulnerable, the community rallied around the boys. Overwhelmingly, they believed that the boys shouldn’t even be charged with a crime. After all, these White, upper-middle class boys had their whole lives ahead of them. The unspoken subtext was that they shouldn’t have their futures ruined for something as trivial as brutally raping a girl who had no way to defend herself. And then bragging about it. And then planning to do it again. And then planning to film it…….

As horrendous as this was to read about, the fact that this attitude is not exactly rare is what made me cry. From Brock Turner to Brett Kavanaugh, to a spate of more recent cases of young White adult men being convicted of raping 14-year-olds who none-the-less were not sentenced to time in jail, there is still a pernicious idea that this is some kind of boys-will-be-boys antics that ought to be excused. He only raped one girl. That shouldn’t have to ruin his entire life. He doesn’t need to go on the sex-offender list. It makes me want to go on a crime spree of my own!

Meanwhile, young men of color are not afforded the same leniency. Their futures are not seen to be as inherently promising.

“Alec Cook, a 22-year-old former University of Wisconsin-Madison student was handed a light-weight three year prison sentence by Judge Stephen Ehlke for raping three female students.

Cook pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting three women, as well as stalking and choking two others, WGN 9 reported.

However, when it came to the case of a 16-year-old black teen, Adore Thomas, the same judge issued a heavy-handed sentence of 20 years for sexually assaulting one woman.”

One wonders what sort of potential one would see in a young man who films himself having sex with an intoxicated girl and brags about raping her to his friends, other than the potential to harm other young women. One wonders what sort of potential one would see in a young man who has the presence of mind to cover a baseball bat with a plastic baggie and Vaseline before using it to penetrate an intellectually impaired girl, other than the potential to commit more violent sexual crimes. One wonders what sort of potential is so great, so fragile, so worthy of protection, that it would be prioritized over that of the young woman who has survived a violent sexual assault. One wonders what that young woman could have accomplished, had she not been told at an early age that her welfare and her future prospects were secondary to those of her assailant. One wonders just how much a good boy’s potential is really worth, when it so clearly comes at the expense of that of the young woman he has harmed.

The fact that we still have to ask this question is just devastatingly upsetting! This is what rape culture is. This is what it means to be a second-class citizen. I know that this is the society that we live in and that in many cases women hold these same views. After all, it wasn’t just the men of Glen Ridge who were concerned about the future potential of “our boys” as they were called. I also know that the judge who gave Brock Turner a light sentence because he thought that “a prison sentence would have a severe impact” was recalled by outraged California voters. But it’s not enough. This kind of things is still happening way too often in the here and now.

I’d say WTF is wrong with people, but I already know. It’s the dominance hierarchy of patriarchy in action. Upwardly mobile young White boys and men have been groomed to ascend the pyramid of power, and one of the ways to do that is by reminding those ostensibly lower down the rungs of their proper place. It’s social Darwinism in action. At the time of the Kavanaugh hearing many, many articles came out talking about how elite prep schools actually foster this kind of attitude, many of them first-hand accounts from men who had attended such schools.

Only the strong survive — and the weak should rightly perish. The world is only as great as my desires and appetites — and as long as I have fulfilled them, even if it harms people — that doesn’t matter, because it proves they are weak, and they couldn’t maximize their self-interest — I have done everyone a great service, morally and ethically.

But this is also tribal logic. I’m competing for status in a little hierarchy this way — and it’s OK if the price is anything from a lie to an assault. In other words, American institutions teach Americans that democracy is being a dominant member of the tribe. Call it the patriarchy, call it the elite, it’s all these things, and more.

A lot of the discussion and commentary around Brett Kavanaugh at the time of his Supreme Court confirmation hearings was not about whether or not we could determine so many years later if he had done what he was accused of. It was to take for granted that he probably had, but that this shouldn’t be something that ought to come with serious consequences, particularly so many years later. “Why should his chance to advance his career be impeded by the fact that he held a girl down and tried to rip her clothes off while covering her mouth with his hand?

Attempted rape is ostensibly a serious crime and it theoretically comes with severe penalties. It’s also a crime that has no statute of limitations in Maryland. The fact that there probably wasn’t enough evidence to convict Kavanaugh in a court of law is beside the point if what you are asserting is that he very well may have done it, but that’s just what boys do. It’s hijinks and the kind of behavior that should be expected from upwardly mobile young men. After all, dominance jousting is a game where the most ruthless are the ones who are often most rewarded. When you take what you want without giving a fuck for anyone else, that’s how you show that you are leadership material. And that’s why I cried -because the weight of living in that kind of a world is sometimes almost more than I can bear!

Dispelling cultural myths with research-driven stories. My favorite word is “specious.” Not fragile like a flower; fragile like a bomb! Twitter @ElleBeau

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