No Death for Molesters

When I was in college, one of my sociology professors shared a shocking statistic with my class. She stated that one in four girls in this country is sexually abused as a child.

I often thought about that statistic in the days following that particular class, especially as I engaged in the typical conversations and interactions with the various women I knew. Indeed, a few days after that class, I went out with the group of young women and men that I spent most of my time with. I looked around at all the women and reflected on the fact that as much time as we spent with each other, we really didn't know each other well enough to talk about such things. Yet I wondered, if, within our group of friends, that statistic was true.

The guys we were hanging out with were being really juvenile (we were all around 18 or 19) and trying to get all the girls to say whether we were virgins or not. If a girl did not want to say, the guys were being all, "So you must not be a virgin if you don't wanna say anything."

I began to think about how such a question is so complicated for the victim of sexual assault. How does a girl say, "No, I'm not a virgin because I was raped as a child?"

And really, how does one begin to share that they have been raped as a child? Or as a teen? Or whenever?

When I became a teacher, I learned about some common signs that a child is being sexually abused. And in my first year teaching, my heart broke when I found out about the abuse one of my young, eight year-old students was enduring. My heart broke again a few months later when one of my male students confessed to me that his mom had had it out with her boyfriend because his two young sisters said they'd been molested by him.

Then it came out that the boyfriend was touching my student too, but he didn't want to say anything because this guy sometimes took him to the Bank of America on Long Beach Boulevard. No big deal to you and I, but a big deal to an eight year old in Compton. He claimed that his sisters were just jealous because they didn't get to go to the bank and said, "They just don't want me to have a daddy."

Now that I've had my own children, one of my biggest fears is that they'll whisper in my ear that they have something to tell me and they'll say that someone has been molesting them. Quite frankly, I worry less about strangers trying to get at them. Instead, I worry about the relative, the friend of the family, the next door neighbor, a coach or someone at their school.

I worry about both the physical effects and the psychological effects such abuse could have on my boys, and I also worry about what I might do to any potential abuser. As in, I worry that I might be that parent who loses it and hires a hit man to take the abuser out.

I've said for many years that I think the death penalty should be a possible punishment for rape, and that's whether someone's been a victim of rape as a child or as an adult. I know there are so many who don't believe in the death penalty and feel that as corrupt as our justice system is, how can we sentence someone to death?

To me it's simple: you rape a child, you die. The jail thing doesn't work for me as adequate punishment because we live in a society where Michael Vick got more jail time than the average child molester or rapist -- because being nice to dogs is more important than honoring and protecting children.

Of course, our Supreme Court disagrees with me. I read today that the Court has rejected the death penalty as a possible punishment for raping a child. Sex offenders don't get rehabilitated in jail and we all know it, that's why we don't want them living next door when they get out. We know the chances of them repeating are pretty high.

I'm sure to millions of victims of childhood rape, this decision feels like it's saying the life of the rapist is more important than the horrors inflicted on the life of the child. I think we culturally have an attitude where we believe it's awful, but we also believe that the child will eventually get over it.

One thing's for sure, the child victims of sexual abuse do not just "get over it". Look at the drug abusers, alcoholics, compulsive eaters, compulsive exercisers, sex addicts and child molesters in your midst. How many of those drug abusers, alcoholics and all the rest are trying to get rid of the pain, the trauma they experienced? How many adult victims have been in therapy for years, trying to get rid of the feelings of shame and worthlessness that plague every single thing they do?

Yeah, I am sure many folks will disagree, but I don't see how raping a child deserves anything less than death.


Liz I left a comment on Field's blog about this same issue. I am against the death penalty esp. how it's handled here in america.

However, we have a real problem with abuse in this country. Many people who are abusive were abused themselves. I think abusers should be set away for a long time and that includes famous ones like R. Kelly (WTF!). We need to send a clear message it's not okay for you to put your hands on a child.
Malik Akbar said…
Do they deserve to die? Perhaps. Will killing them do anything to end the epidemic of sexual assault? Probably not. The deeper roots of the problem is illustrated by the reaction of the guys that you were hanging out with. Asking "Are you a virgin?" shows not only grotesque callousness, it betrays a mentality that associates assault with sexuality. And that right there is the root in my mind: the dissociation of sexuality from loving and stable adult partnerships. In our society, sex is a commercial product, a political statement, a badge of conquest, any and everything but an affirmation of a married couple's commitment to one another and the children that result from sex. And our children are the one's paying the price for our society's selfishness.
Jameil said…
i am against the death penalty. but the fact that "Michael Vick got more jail time than the average child molester or rapist -- because being nice to dogs is more important than honoring and protecting children." makes me ill. how many children and WHOSE children have to become victims before a real stand is taken against the offenders?

the thing that killed me abt the ct.'s comments is that they said, "it's cruel and unusual punishment." WHAT?!?! You have got to do better than that. tell that to the 8yo whose body has been repeatedly abused by men who are supposed to be father figures in her life. our society is failing our children.

the number of my friends who have admitted being sexually assaulted as children is relatively low but still enough to make me shake with rage at the thought that we are more likely to shame the victims "what did you do to bring it on?" than the offenders, "he was just being a man."
Toni Campbell said…
...but at least the Supreme Court saved Exxon a bunch of money!!!
thailandchani said…
Sometimes when I read these things, I'm reminded of the scene in "The Color Purple" where Sophia says "a girl child just ain't safe in a house full of men."

Truthfully, I believe that's true more often than I'd like to admit.

The death penalty though? No. I just can't support it under any circumstances... not in a social system that is still 1) highly racist and 2) values profit above human beings.

I'm not sure I'd support it in any other social system either.. but definitely not this one.
thailandchani said…
Wanted to add a hearty "YES!" to Malik's comment as well. :)
Ian Lidster said…
Sexual abuse is a hideous thing and its repercussions go on forever if help isn't attained. My first wife was sexually abused by her grandfather and it took, and continues to take a toll on her wellbeing. It took a huge toll on our marriage. Really good piece, Liz.
Anonymous said…
Excellent post- and great discussion. I'm torn on this one because for me personally? If anyone ever abused any of my children they would be dead. Mentally i can't accept any other consequence regardless of what the law says. This is why I pray to never receive that whisper in my ear.

I do think our system has tragically failed our children. We know the statistics, we know the problems, but unfortunately our culture seems to value the lives of animals above those of children. Could you imagine if the protests and PR about protecting children were as upfront and revered as those about animals? It could be life changing for so many of our little ones.

I heard a discussion of this on NPR yesterday and someone stated that one of the biggest fears with placing the death penalty for child rape is that even fewer people would turn in family members and friends responsible for such tragic acts. Its a difficult discussion but one that definitely needs to be resolved and acted upon.
Anonymous said…
Rape, especially rape of a child, is totally disgusting, Liz, but the problem I have with the death penalty is that you can execute someone for a crime and then find they didn't commit the crime after all, someone else did. That risk would be higher for rape since it's a crime that's notoriously hard to prove - it's usually one person's word against another's. And unfortunately some women and girls make false accusations.

I think jail is the only realistic course of action, though even that is subject to the same possibility of wrongful conviction. It's a very tricky issue.
Anonymous said…
I am not American l am Canadian and we have no death penalty here.To me it is state murder nothing more nothing less.

That being said l am woman that was sexually abused as child by my stepfather and a neighbour from the age of two it ended just before l turned eleven.

Would these two being put to death make me feel better?Give me my childhood back?


But l agree send them away for life and keep all the children safe.
Anonymous said…
I'm not going to share my history here or on my blog, but trust me - it's bad, worse than any client I ever worked with. And I was a severe trauma therapist.

So I feel a tiny bit entitled to soap box. Do you mind? If so just delete the comment.

The difference between a victim and a perpetrator is really only one simple fact:

Victims heal.
Perpetrators do not.

I don't give one crap about what someone else did to me - regardless of what it was. What matters to me is what I make of my own precious life.

Perpetrators make choices to piss away their soul and life.

I won't make them so important that I spend my life in pain or suffering or agony because of something someone else chose to do.


That said.

The antidote to sexual abuse is loving parents. Love your sons Liz. Care for them. Trust them. Teach them to be proud and happy. Show them how much they matter to you every single day. And they will thrive.

It's the lack of love that sends people to therapy, not horrific events.

Oh, since I'm on the box, you should know that a very small proportion of those molested actually "suffer". Just like war, sexual abuse only damages 20-25%. Regardless of the severity of the abuse or the war experience. Of those 25%, most people get better with treatment, time, love and relationships. Only a tiny group never gets better. We think that might be genetic or cultural (there are huge props for being a 'survivor' now). This is from long range (50yrs now) studies of abused kids.

This side of the veil, a child molesters never heals.

Off the box.

I'm happy to discuss what happened to me - I feel no shame. I just won't do it in a public forum for reason I can explain privately. Shoot me an email if you want to 'talk' more.

I think you're a virgin until you choose to give yourself to someone else.
brotherkomrade said…
I am against the current capitalist-supported system of "justice". I do not believe rapist become rehabilitated in a prison where they will most likely be raped anyway; furthering their neurosis. However, being the son of an incest rape survivor and father of two girls, I cannot fathom the alternative of letting them function freely in a community where they can and most likely will victimize again and I hate the situation where we have to wait until they get caught in order for them to be dealt with. Let's remember, that we only know about those who get caught.
This is not a simple issue, and I'm not letting macho or bravado speak, but quite frankly, community justice to me is the immediate way to go if everyone in the hood knows there is an abuser and rapist. As for those who get caught by the "authorities", then they need to be removed from society for the rest of their lives, but given counsel and separated from those in the prison system who will just rape them anyway.
Jessalyn said…
I can't help but agree with you. If someone did something that heinous to one of my kids, I can totally see my husband or myself going "A Time To Kill" on the perpetrator.

It's so sad that worrying about your child being sexually abused is yet another thing parents have to worry about today.
Anonymous said…
It's a vicious cycle. Children who are raped can grow up to be adults who rape. What would happen is that despite a 'law' being available only some people would be punished. Perhaps one of the SOCTUS is a perpetrator or know of one in their family? Is this why they also interpreted the 2nd amendment to mean everyone can have a gun?
Felicity said…
It is such an evil crime, words fail me. Good piece Los Angelista.
Liz Dwyer said…
Yes, so much abuse is perpetrated by those who have been abused in some way, mentally, emotionally, physically, sexually. It's insane how much of this stuff happens but it doesn't get talked about, gets hidden under the table, and so many perpetrators who are relatives are never punished at all. They just go on and abuse other folks for years. The abuser is truly sick to the depths of their soul. A part of me believes some sort of social and spiritual education and nurturing has to be able to cure folks of this inclination, but a part of me really doubts that.

The guys were definitely callus. They were asking that question as a some sort of sick way of flirting (so gross) and to them, trying to get the girls present to talk about their sex lives was flirting. I don't think it ever crossed their minds to wonder if any of the young ladies present had ever been assaulted. And you're so right that sex is seen merely as a product, and not as a commitment. So true and amen for you saying that.

Yeah, that cruel and unusual punishment comment really made my blood boil! Sadly, our society increasingly has such a lack of boundaries that I've heard folks say that it's okay to molest an 11 or 12 year old because they're almost grown anyway and back in the day girls that age got married. It's like, wtf, do you hear yourself???

The decisions this court has made in the past couple of days have made my head spin. That Exxon mess, the gun stuff for DC... they're making a joke of themselves and there's real consequences for us all.

I do think there are some serious issues with the way the death penalty is currently used and the way justice is not being served in our culture, precisely because of the racism and profit issues you mention. But I've never been full-on opposed to the death penalty. Not for petty crimes, but stuff like rape and murder. I think in a society where justice is truly being served, the death penalty has to be an option. And extreme option, yes, but I think one nonetheless. Is our society fully there to implement it across the board, nope, not by a long shot, but in cases where all the evidence lines up... and if not, life in prison sounds good to me. None of this five years with an option for parole crap.

So sad that your first wife had to go through that. It really does take a toll on people and those that love them. Thank goodness there's much more awareness that people need therapy than back in the day. Still though, so much is swept under the table and not dealt with and it comes out in odd ways in people.

So true that fewer folks would turn in family members. There's reluctance now to do so and folks just do this whole thing of thinking they're dealing with it by keeping it in the family and acting like it'll go away or making excuses for it. Our system has seriously failed our children. They are the most innocent and yet are more vulnerable, both physically and spiritually, than the animals everyone wants to protest over.
Liz Dwyer said…
The false accusations are a horrible, horrible thing and I agree that the fallibility of the systems we have now does make the issue something we have to explore in depth. It seems though that most children are not liars in this regard but I do think currently there's some sort of standard of needing to be physical evidence. Perhaps in the future there will be better techniques to determine guilt of innocence.

How horrible that you were a victim of such awful things for so many years. I am so sorry for that. I wish you did not have to experience the horrors you so surely did. I guess I think there has to be a justice that is beyond the individual. So many molesters are repeat offenders so even if it doesn't make you feel better, it keeps that person from harming another child. I would not be even thinking about the possibility of the death penalty if it wasn't for my belief that societies have the grave responsibility of protecting both the general population and the individuals that comprise that population. It's like you have to go to war sometimes to end war or tyranny, even though no one in their right mind wants to go to war or thinks it's a great thing.

I don't mind the soap box at all. I'm so glad you shared what you did. You are one of those souls that I admire so deeply, someone who has kept going and thrived despite the evil of others. I SO agree that the antidote is loving parents. Absolutely. I also have a thing where we don't keep secrets, secrets in the negative, shameful sense. It's been hard to learn how to teach my boys that privacy is a different thing from secret-keeping. I do think folks who have endured abuse from folks can go on to have normal lives and heal if they do get that love and spiritual and emotional nurturing. I think the cycle of abuse continues when someone doesn't have that.

I don't think prison rehabilitates at all and GOOD POINT about us only knowing about those who get caught. So many folks just abuse for years and nothing is done about it. Community justice is an interesting concept. I'm all for letting your cousins having a go at someone and then turning them in to the authorities. Sounds terrible, I know. But I'm no saint, just keeping it real.

I worry about it because of having seen its prevalence and having relatives that work in law enforcement. My eldest wants to go play at his friend's house across the street, but I have to come too! Sometimes I feel paranoid, but really, other times, I know it's justified!

I never thought about it like that. It's an interesting idea. It could be possible and that could influence the decision. Wow.

It truly is evil. The violation of children is one of the most horrible things I think there is.
Lola Gets said…
This isnt my blog, but...I was molested as a child. When I look back on my life, I can see how those events changed me, changed my life, for the worse. And even with all that knowledge...Im still going to say that I see the reasoning behind the Supreme Courts decision (and the Field Negro's too). I think that it would be cruel and unusual punishment.

But I also think that punishments for molestation and rape should be harsher. Studies have shown that persons who commit those crimes are rarely rehabilitated (with the current systems we have). New, different, and drastic techniques need to be implemented (much longer prison terms, longer and more detailed therapies, quarantines? Iont know) so we can break the cycle of abuse.

Liz Dwyer said…
Sorry it's taken me a couple of days to reply to your comment. I'm so sorry to hear about the abuse you experienced. It's so widespread but it's not really discussed in our society like it should be. Why is this?

I definitely think the sentences, etc., should be harsher. I don't know if the death penalty should be ruled out entirely though. Maybe not for every instance, but I do think for some instances it should be an option.
Alicia said…
Unfortunately, that statistic you heard in college is pretty accurate. And the majority of sexually abused children were abused by someone they knew. It's awful and terrifying, especially now that I am a mother.

Pedophiles CANNOT be rehabilitated. Period. If they can't get the death penalty, they should be incarcerated for the rest of their lives. The fact that some of these people only serve 5 or 10 years is ludicrous.
Liz Dwyer said…
Yes, 5-10 years in jail is a joke. To me, that's not justice being served, especially when they get paroled for "good" behavior in a couple of years.

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