Throw the book at certain rapists in this #meToo era.

 

Amber Rose Carlson wrote a piece about her rapist and his sentence for the New York Times recently. Besides dealing with rapists and sentencing, she covers many other timely topics in this #meToo era.

Life without parole for rapists.

These topics include  injustice, male privilege, life without parole, and several others. I’ve blogged and written about many of them  (for instance, in my forthcoming book,  Four Murders and a Funeral).

I include Ms. Carlson’s piece here in its entirety. . .  without comment.  

“Imagine your rapist had been found guilty and sentenced in court. What would you want his sentence to be?” This was the question asked to me in January 2016 by my therapist during a session of eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy (E.M.D.R.) — a treatment that researchers tout as one of the best remedies for severe trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder.

I was raped repeatedly during a three-year span from age 13 to 16. I was also subject to physical and emotional abuse during that time. I’ve since undergone years of traditional talk and group therapy with trauma specialists, and I am more healed today than I ever thought possible. Still, recovering from trauma is a serious endeavor, and I hoped for more healing….

I’m not a proponent of the death penalty primarily because the flaws in our criminal justice system are egregious and increasingly well-documented. The thought experiment’s framing, however, circumvented my usual concerns about unjust sanctions. I know what my rapist did to me, so I know he is guilty. Worries about the inhumanity of capital punishment were also blunted in part because this was purely hypothetical and in part because of the inhumanity he exhibited those long years with his penchant for violence.

Although the death sentence seemed wholly appropriate, I still considered how I would feel if a judge gave my rapist a less severe punishment: a natural life sentence — a life sentence with no chance for parole without a successful appeal. In this scenario, my feelings were just as clear: I would be slightly disappointed, but I would still feel mostly satisfied. Anything less than a death or natural life sentence, I knew, would seem inadequate….

In February 2016 — only weeks after the thought experiments with my therapist — the philosopher Jennifer Lackey published an opinion piece in The Stone. In the article, she uses her experience teaching philosophy to inmates to argue for the irrationality of natural life sentences. Lackey bases her argument against natural life sentences on two reasonable claims: (1) people (criminals, specifically) can and do change in profoundly transformative ways, and (2) we cannot know the future.

Headshot of brunette Amber Rose Carlson in glasses, who addresses her rapist and the sentence he deserves.

Amber Rose Carlson addresses rapists and life w/o parole.

For Lackey, the fact that we have good statistical evidence that criminals can and do change is especially problematic given our vast epistemic limitations regarding the future. “Natural life sentences,” she wrote, “say to all involved that there is no possible piece of information that could be learned between sentencing and death that could bear in any way on the punishment the convicted is said to deserve, short of what might ground an appeal.” Citing the possibility of prisoner transformation, Lackey then puts her question about rationality directly: “How is it rational,” she asks, “to screen off the relevance of this information? How, that is, is it rational to say today that there can be no possible evidence in the future that could bear on the punishment that a decades-from-now prisoner deserves?”…

I read Lackey’s article very soon after the thought experiments with my therapist. I noticed that Lackey’s argument easily applied to the death penalty, and I realized that the sentences I desired for my rapist were precisely the ones Lackey condemns as irrational. Since nothing in her argument prevented me from applying her logic to my own desires, I had to wonder if her argument also concluded that I was irrational for desiring permanent punishments. If it is irrational for the state to prescribe a permanent punishment given our epistemic limitations and prisoners’ likelihood for change, wouldn’t it be similarly irrational for victims to ignore these considerations?

There are, of course, crucial differences between victim’s desires and punishments carried out by the state. While sometimes the criminal justice system considers the wishes of victims and their families, the criminal justice system’s central aim is to protect the interests of the state and the community. This aim does not always coincide with the interests or wishes of the victim. Admittedly, there are often very good reasons for the state to ignore the wishes of victims. But my concern is less about what the state should do in practice and more about what arguments that prioritize transformation say about victims who desire permanent punishments.

Here I will be blunt: it matters very little to me whether my rapist is transformed at some point in his life. It matters to me only to the extent that I will readily agree that it would be better if he became the sort of person who did not inflict violence upon others. I would be very happy hearing that no other women would be harmed by him. But in terms of the punishment that he deserves? Transformation does not matter to me. And this is not irrational: There are many carefully considered reasons one might want a natural life sentence for perpetrators of egregious and irrevocable harm.

Desiring death or a natural life sentence for those who inflict traumatic violence is a rational response because whether or not my particular rapist transforms is irrelevant to whether or not I will ever have the chance to be the sort of person I might have been. His transformation is irrelevant to whether or not I will be able to live the sort of life I could have were it not for the injustice done to me. I desire a death or natural life sentence for my rapist because that is what seems appropriate given the amount of damage he wrought in my life….

Although my attitude is in no way representative of all victims, epistemic arguments that prioritize criminal transformation must contend with the implication that they can be used to paint trauma victims irrational when they desire retribution. It’s certainly important to advocate for prisoners who are wrongly incarcerated and for those who were victims of the overzealous war on crime era. The injustices in our criminal justice system are too numerous and too serious to ignore. But criminal justice reform should not be so myopic that it compounds trauma survivors’ victimization. Those who manage to survive traumatic crimes have enough to battle without arguments that undermine their rational considerations. Advocates for criminal justice reform can, and should, do better.”

Rapists & Natural Life Sentences.

Be sure to comment below. This writer and current philosophy grad student has written a piece getting a lot of attention.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
To learn about CLEFT HEART: Chasing Normal, click the Amazon or Barnes & Noble buttons in the margins. Or click the image of the book cover. My coming-of-age memoir has intertwining love stories, mystery, tragedy, and triumph.

Speak Your Mind

*

CommentLuv badge