You may think that those demanding the death penalty for rape are fighting for a woman's dignity. I do not believe that is the case. In fact, quite the opposite.<br></br>creative commons licensed (BY-NC) flickr photo by ramesh_lalwani: http://flickr.com/photos/ramesh_lalwani/8342437118

You may think that those demanding the death penalty for rape are fighting for a woman's dignity. I do not believe that is the case. In fact, quite the opposite.

creative commons licensed (BY-NC) flickr photo by ramesh_lalwani: http://flickr.com/photos/ramesh_lalwani/8342437118

The Death Penalty for Rape Actually Degrades Women

I’d just finished writing about the practical problems of instituting the death penalty for rape. Enough people these days demand the death sentence for rapists. We’re not talking about “rarest of the rare” cases like the Nirbhaya episode, where the actual act of rape was the LEAST heinous thing done to her – she was tortured, and then murdered. The death penalty in that case surprised absolutely no one.

But what about people who insist on the death penalty for EVERY crime of rape? What does it say about how they view the life of a woman? You might think it implies a respect for a woman’s dignity, but I believe it’s the opposite.

When the actual taking of a life – murder – does not get the death penalty, and we demand the same for rape, does it not mean that we view rape as a crime worse than murder? It implies that the rapist has “taken” something from the woman that is worth more than her life.

What is this “something”? And is it truly worth more than the life of a woman? Here’s a hint. The newspapers and the media always go to great pains to point out that a rape victim is “married”. I can guarantee you that you will find that word in the headline of the article, no less! The resulting outrage is far more in the case of an unmarried woman. Till very recently, it was a standard practice for the defense to bring up a woman’s “sexual activities” and pass judgment on her character.

Add to this the common refrain that a rape victim’s life is “ruined” and she’s now a “living corpse”, and you can see where that urge to hand down the death penalty comes from.

But I say this is wrong. A woman’s life is worth more that the fact that she was raped. I say that the overwhelming bulk of a woman’s suffering after the rape itself comes from how society views her, treats her, and makes her view herself even.

Do I also believe that rape “takes” something from a woman? Yes, I do. I believe it’s an assault not just on her body, but her dignity, her privacy, her sense of security in general. It’s an assault on civilization itself. Rape isn’t and never has been about “losing control”. It’s a carefully considered and planned crime.

For these reasons, I feel that the punishment for rape should be far in excess of a regular “assault”. But is it worth more than the victim’s life itself? No. Not for a moment.

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Comments

  1. Interesting view.

    Reply

  2. Oh definitely agree! I think the whole issue is people (and specifically, women) having pent-up frustration with the system that refuses to acknowledge the continuous harassment of women on a daily basis. Rape is the ultimate assault on them in every sense. But the death penalty is really excessive.
    What is needed is a proper judicial process of trying these criminals and giving them their due sentence.

    Reply

  3. Wow Bhagwad… You seem to have brought a very interesting view here. I feel quite convinced about what you said. It is actually this mentality also that’s adding up to the problem.
    I feel that the punishments for crimes like Nirbhaya case should be something which makes the person live but suffer. He should realize what someone goes through in extreme pain and misery.
    What according to you should be the punishment?

    Reply

    • In reply to Surbhi

      Jail time (especially in Indian jails) is quite terrible. The problem is not that the amount of punishment is insufficient. The problem is that rapists are convinced that they will never be put in jail in the first place!

      To start with, they don’t believe the woman will register a complaint. Then the police don’t register FIRs. Then the justice system takes 5 years to deliver a verdict. Even after all this, the conviction rate for rape is absolutely terrible.

      What is needed is certainty of punishment. The actual quantum of punishment is enough of a deterrent if the rapists actually thought they were going to get caught and put in jail!

      Reply

  4. that is a very interesting and intriguing view, I actually never thought of it like that before. Thank you for sharing this opinion.
    After the BBC documentary and seeing how the rapists did not feel any remorse, I was thinking to myself that they should be hanged. How could they feel no remorse after being sentenced to death and such a huge public outcry? I usually do believe in rehabilitation, but in those cases, what good would it do if they STILL do not feel remorse? They could be a danger to society and other inmates at the prison.
    I really don’t know…

    Reply

    • In reply to A.madhavan

      Well, you’re right. If we’re going to have the death penalty in the first place, then this is a perfect situation in which to make use of it.

      As for remorse…I don’t know. Do criminals in general tend to feel remorse? I doubt if this is unique to India, in the sense that if you were to take a poll of criminals everywhere in the world, how many of them would show remorse for their actions?

      That leads to other stuff – is the justice system efficient? What is the purpose of justice? What’s the difference between justice and revenge? Way too much thought there :P

      Reply

  5. Excellent points! What you said is so true. It is ridiculous how anyone’s “honor”, which is essentially more of an emotional concept, can be placed at a higher pedestal than their actual life.

    Reply

  6. A very interesting and different view.

    As a woman my first instinct is to shout ‘Hang Them’ whenever I hear of a rape case. But then, it’s just another crime, not a murder. When we put so much importance on the punishment for this particular crime, we are actually making the crime something unusual. In reality the focus should be on the counselling of the victim so that he/she can regard is as just an accident and move on with life. The role of the police should be to instill the fear on the people’s mind, that this crime will not go unpunished.

    Reply

    • In reply to Tanny

      My point exactly. Though I wouldn’t call rape “just another crime”. I can only imagine the shock, horror, and the lasting effects it would have on the psyche of a woman. For all that, I think the punishment for rape has to be far higher than simple “assault”. But I will always regard a woman’s life as much more important…

      Reply

  7. As a Christian, I look to Biblical standards as defining what is right and what is wrong. The Mosaic law of the Old Testament decreed death for rape just as for
    murder, blasphemy, even kidnapping, and such. Now this law applied to ancient
    Israel, which was initially constituted as a theocracy; and in theory at least it
    continued to apply through the monarchical and even the Roman periods.
    However it speaks of God’s standard of justice. All these crimes are such violations
    of human and divine dignity (for the Bible says that human beings as first
    created were made in God’s image) as are deserving of death. The Mosaic
    system of justice has not been applied in two millenia and I don’t personally
    know of any who thinks that it should be restored, however the principles remain
    unchanged. Therefore rape must be taken with the utmost seriousness, which
    it almost never is the case because by and large modern societies consider
    property more important than personal dignity, and because men do not have
    fear of God, nor hardly any respect for women apart from their own
    mothers! Also addiction to sensual pleasure is regarded as somehow the
    prerogative of men, and bad religion winks at immorality or even includes
    it among its practices. The important thing is that people should repent of
    their sinful wrong attitudes and practices; and only Jesus Christ, crucified,
    buried, and risen from the dead, can cleanse anyone of his or her guilt. This
    guilt is both personal and corporate and includes that incurred for injustice
    towards women.
    But in terms of legal practice, the important thing is to report, catch, shame,
    and punish rapists; and while I support having the death penalty on the books
    as a possible option its application is secondary to these other issues.

    Reply

  8. Some people might say the points you.make are the same that a serial rapist might make while arguing against the death penalty in an attempt to save he or shes ass in the event they are ever caught.
    Regardless of any supposed moral superiority women might gain , the fact remains that these evil beings who feel free to drag women and children off of the street and from their homes to rape them and leave them in the ditch (some in better condition than others) are after a fix that they are continually chasing, much like heroin addicts do.
    Many rapists who are sentenced to prison terms are eventually released. Many of them graduate to murdering their victims for the simple reason that they don’t want to go back to prison.
    Unless these rapists are sentenced to life, witch is very costly, taking the death penalty off the table would be very irresponsible and put other women and children in danger at some time in the future.

    Reply

  9. Bonnie Russell says:

    As a victim of several childhood molestations including rape and incest. The PTSD, depression and overwhelming panic I endure at times is disabling. I can’t even watch an innocent Shirley Temple movie without flipping out because a man keeps patting her on her bare thigh. My life has been often a living nightmare. Yes. I think death is the appropriate punishment for my perpetrators. They fucked up my life and likely went on to destroy the lives of other little girls too. Kill them so they can never destroy another innocent life.

    Reply

  10. Alaska Young says:

    The Philippines, my country, is in the process of reviving death penalty after letting it sleep for almost 30 years. But it only applies to drug-related crimes. Rape, treason, and plunder were removed from the initial list of death-deserving crimes.

    As a victim of rape, my first reaction is of course, disappointment. If ever my case pushes through, I’d want my perpetrator dead, not just for myself but for all unsuspecting women who might have the bad luck of crossing his path. I think every rape victim who are not saints would feel the same for their attackers.

    But since it’s no longer an option here, I wonder if you’re right. Should we now join hands and minds as we change the way we see how these men/womeb should be punished? I can try, but it certainly might take a long time to change my mind. Because the argument you made that rape is a crime that’s NOT worse than murder is simply something I cannot accept. I should have just died. I think I’d be better dead than suffer that for even just a few minutes. You might think I’m just saying this out of trauma, but that tragedy in my life happened almost 2 years ago.

    Any form of punishment other than death is never enough. The day I know he no longer exists in this world and can’t possibly victimize anybody else is the day I can finally say that justice has been served.

    Reply

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