Death Sentence for Rape?

I came across a poll on whether or not rapists should get the death sentence. Seventeen people said that yes, rape should be punishable by death, and only eight disagreed.

My personal opinion is that though it seems very tempting to award capital punishment for rapists, it’s just not practical. Here’s are my reasons:

Death Sentence for rape?

Death Sentence for rape?

1. The death sentence is for the rarest of the rare cases

While there’s no doubt that rape is a heinous crime, it is unfortunately quite common. If we award the death sentence for rape, there’s a danger we’ll become comfortable with the idea of killing people through sheer habit. We’ll get used to the idea that the state can legally kill people and in my judgment, that isn’t healthy.

Already people like Baba Ramdev are advocating the death sentence for corruption. How far do we go before we become okay with the state killing people off?

2. More women will be murdered

The death sentence for rape will end up being a death sentence for the rape victims. What’s to stop the rapist from making sure she never talks? As of now, killing someone is a greater crime than raping them. The punishment for most murders isn’t death, and to my mind this will give rapists a license to kill off their victims to make sure they don’t talk.

3. What’s the sentence for even greater crimes?

The idea of differing sentences is to make graver crimes have stiffer punishments. While there’s no doubt that rape is a grave crime, there are other crimes that are even worse. The Nithari killings come to mind where Koli raped and murdered six children. To my mind that is a more serious crime than a single act of rape and the sentence must reflect that. Kohli got the death sentence since it was an unspeakably brutal act and was also extremely rare. If every rape gets a death sentence, what sentence do we give people like Kohli? Torture?

4. Do we want justice or revenge?

In a civilized society, we gradually move from the concept of “punishment” to one of reform. Only when the court senses that a person is too far gone for reform does it even begin to consider a death sentence. This is sure to provoke strong responses, but do we really feel that no rapist can ever change? That they’re a foregone conclusion?

5. No space for mistakes

As it stands, there are many elements that go into proving a rape. With rape cases getting the death sentence, the burden of proof will be raised much higher – once you kill someone you can never bring them back. All the protections that women have begun to obtain from the law such as getting the benefit of the doubt, not having to be questioned too much etc, will be thrown out the window. When a person’s life is at stake, the prosecution will have the right to use the maximum and strongest defense possible. This will surely lead to an even lower conviction of rape cases than we have at present. Moreover, courts themselves will be forced to take longer to decide – taking someone’s life isn’t a thing one does in a few months.

I can imagine why this is an emotional topic for a lot of people and even after reading the above, many might feel that death is an appropriate punishment. What do you think?

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  1. To Bhagwad,

    Let me begin by saying thank you for putting this topic on your blog. Having reviewed the comments, this is a highly emotional topic and the most critical topic regarding crime and punishment for all humanity.

    To your first point, that the death penalty is rare, I say, that in fact, the death penalty is rare. However, the reasons for this are many. We refer to the system of courts as the Justice system, not because the primary goal is to reform the criminal, but to determine whether or not a crime has been committed, the liability of the party or parties involved and subsequently to dispense justice. It is my belief that if the commission of a crime could be proven without any doubt (forget a reasonable doubt) that the innocent would be freed and the guilty punished. The rarity of the use of the death penalty should not preclude it’s use to dispense justice. The reason I know that death penalty must be a possibility for the crime of rape is because it is the duty of the Justice system to provide safety and prevent retaliation. While yourself and many others may feel that death is the worst outcome for a person, I present some undeniable facts. When a human is born into this world, the parents of the child know that one day, that child will in fact die. However, the circumstances of our death are unknown to all. What is not known, is the degree of torture and suffering that child will be forced to endure. While the death of a person marks the end of their time here on Earth, it is going to happen and usually doesn’t require a human to force this to happen. However, Rape requires violence against another in a sexual manner to occur.

    To your second point, that more women would be murdered, this cannot be proven until the death penalty is actually enforced for rape. To my knowledge, criminals don’t consider the punishment when they consider the punishment when the crime is committed.

    To your third point, that where is the limit of punishment, I say that we cannot gauge all crimes. There must be a boundary between what one looses their life for and the crime or nature thereof cannot determine this standard. What we are saying by having a death penalty is that “this is the imaginary line that a human must not cross.” Without such a boundary, we are in essence, permitting all behavior to one degree or another. The limitation of which being that a human will be banished from society, but yet fed, clothed housed and treated medically by society for a period of time. In that we do not care for the needs of all people on Earth or a particular country, banishment to a prison is only an exclusion from normal means of survival and the presence of those not also judged accordingly. While many do not feel that the death penalty is acceptable, rape is a life and boundary, which when confronted in the moment, few of us would be able to refrain from enforcing.

    To your your fourth point, of whether or not we want justice or revenge, I say that this is irrelevant. The Justice system is in place to provide justice. It is not called the revenge system. I believe you are implying that by instituting the death penalty for rape that we would be allowing for revenge or allowing people to be killed who were wrongfully accused of rape. Undoubtedly, measures would have to be taken to increase the accuracy of conviction, which should be a primary goal in any case.

    To your fifth point, that we would leave little room for mistakes, I say that there is currently little room for error, though errors are made. By default, by virtue of the fact the humans are imperfect, anything we design will also be flawed. I believe that this point refers to your belief in the sanctity of life. I will argue the same. Not that life ending is the worst possible outcome, death is inevitable, but living a life filled with suffering and torture is.

    In closing, I ask you to consider this. It is known that there are reasonable justifications for homicide, can you think of any for rape?


  2. I totally understand your point that the death sentence could mean a death sentence for the victim. However, did it ever occur to you that many times a victim had rather been murdered after such harsh act? Not to mention that many victims take their own lives because they can’t bare to live with what has happened to them. Maybe they should be given a life sentence and sentence to be raped. Maybe they will have a change o fheart once they are forced to live with it. It’s only fair. Sometime knowing that the rapist has to experience what the victim experiences can help the victim overcome what happened, The victim will then know that the rapist understands what they put them through. Punish rape with rape


    • In reply to Vanessa

      this would than become an example of the famous saying, ‘An eye for an eye, makes the whole world blind.’
      And also… who will rape the rapist? i mean won’t it stupid to do so! :|


  3. MIKUTARD says

    “The death sentence for rape will end up being a death sentence for the rape victims.”

    ^ this sums up the problem of giving rapists the death sentence.


  4. I agree on not giving death sentence to rapists. But it sure is necessary that there must be more strict punishment for them, as people must be afraid of the consequences.
    What is your Opinion on chemical Castration ?
    Though it sounds a radical measure, but justifiable and also grave enough for a heinous crime like rape….


    • In reply to Vaishnavi

      I think the problem is not the amount of punishment, but the certainty of it. I think a minimum of 7 years in prison is enough of a deterrence if the rapist is sure that they will be caught and sentenced.

      When the police in India refuse to even file FIRs on rape complaints, what is the use of increasing the punishment when that punishment will never even happen!

      As for chemical castration…I have an issue with any punishment that is not scalable or applicable to everyone? If you’re going to chemically castrate every rapist, how do you distinguish between various degrees of rape? A 20 year old having consensual sex with a 17 year old is guilty of statutory rape. Does that person deserve to be castrated similar to the Nirbhaya perpetrators? And what if a woman is charged with rape? Can she be castrated?

      Punishments have to be scalable and equally applicable to everyone. That’s why the twin punishments of financial penalties and jail time have been the gold standard for punishments in civilized countries for so long.


  5. It may be true that a death penalty would drive rapists to kill their victims more regularly (not that this doesn’t already happen) and that it would make the courts even more hesitant than they already are to convict a rapist. But being afraid to punish a criminal harshly because you’re afraid they’ll retaliate … that right there is WHY you need to remove that type of criminal from society permanently. If not by death penalty, then by life-sentence to prison or high-security psychiatric facilities.

    And, while I understand the argument about death being for the worst, most heinous and uncommon crimes, the idea that rape is a “common” merely physical assault and therefore, on a scale, does not rate as harsh a punishment overlooks several factors. Many women develop PTSD after rape. That is a lifelong psychological burden. It’s not just about losing something (dignity, virginity, social standing), it’s about permanent mental damage. A condition that will linger for years … or life. It also risks life threatening diseases. Pregnancy. A new life brought into the world that is a constant reminder of a brutal assault. Many victims commit suicide. Rape has life long consequences, it’s not just an assault, therefore the punishment should not be comparable to a mere assault. When a crime compromises an individuals’ quality of life for the REST of their lives it needs to be viewed in a much harsher light, and punished comparably.

    But what I’d really like to comment on is this compound idea that rape is a single, common act, existing in a void, commited by people who’ve only “made a mistake” once and can be reformed. That in the face of that hope for reformation, the death penalty would be too extreme. This takes the majority of rape cases out of context. This viewpoint is far too GENEROUS to the rapists. Statistics show (at least here in America) that most rapists are serial offenders. They do a good job of intimidating their victims into silence or of just not showing their face, but they will do it again and again. That, coupled with your question of whether we should try to reform rapists or not, made me want to speak up.

    Reform is an idealistic dream in this context. They will keep doing it. When we put them in jail, they go back to their old habits when released. Society is not safe from them and never will be. Reform is extremely rare. If you want to call it a mental disorder, then do so, but it’s one that requires these people to be locked up for life, and that just never happens. And because society is never adequately protected from even the CONVICTED rapists … we escalate our desired punishment against them. We know the courts and jails can’t protect us from rapists … so we want them dead. So they can’t hurt anyone ever again.

    IF the courts would stop PITYING the rapists, making EXCUSES for them, and letting them off the hook, IF they would actually remove them from society so women could be safe from reprisal IF they were punished to a degree that matched just how badly they’ve screwed up their victims lives … then the cry for death penalty wouldn’t be so strong.

    But women, whether it be in India or America, can’t trust their courts for justice in this matter. So many of us want them dead, because it’s the only option that feels safe.

    (For the record, I’d be fine with life-sentence to prison or high-security psychiatric facilities. Just so long as they can never hurt anyone again. But no one really seems to want to punish rapists. I think the anger, fear and betrayal behind that truth is what drives most cries for the death penalty.)


    • In reply to Lauren

      As far as India goes, the justice system has failed women miserably. Honestly, I think 10 years in jail is a strong enough deterrent, but only IF the rapist is sure that they will be caught and punished in a reasonable time frame. Over here cases are rarely filed in the first place and when they are, the courts drag it on for years. Victims are harassed as appeal after appeal forces them to attend hearings and repeat their harrowing experience multiple times. And even then, the conviction rate is horribly low.

      I don’t know whether or not reform can work, but a good deterrent surely has value. Indian jails are terrible places to be – overcrowded, unhygenic, and a complete mess. 10 years is a living hell in a place like that. If criminals were certain they would be sent there for a long time, I feel that itself would drive down rape by 90%. The problem is the fear simply doesn’t exist.

      Oh, and to make things worse, marital rape isn’t a crime in India!


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