Melissa's post reminded me of a topic that I've been meaning to post about. Until about a week ago, the rape of a child in Louisiana was a offense punishable by the death penalty. Last Wednesday, the Supreme Court
struck down a Louisiana law that allows capital punishment for people convicted of raping children under 12. It spares the only people in the U.S. under sentence of death for that crime — two Louisiana men convicted of raping girls 5 and 8.The Supreme Court offered the ruling "despite the 'years of long anguish' for victims." And while I don't dispute the reasoning or evidence behind that phrase, I do find it and similar sentiments problematic.
The ruling also invalidates laws on the books in five other states that allowed executions for child rape that does not result in the death of the victim.
Since the case originated in Louisiana, it was big news here. The local paper that I read most often carried the news on the front page. It quoted District Attorney Jerry Jones as saying,
The rape of a child is the most heinous crime I can think of. In first-degree murder, it's over. The victim does not continue to suffer. The victims of child rape are destined to a life of misery and suffering.And immediately, I was piqued by that.
Rape, no matter who the victim is, is a heinous crime. The most terrifying feeling that I have ever had in my life, EVER, is being held down and unable to stop or control what was happening to my own body. I cannot even adequately describe that feeling. And I would be lying if I said I didn't have particular contempt for people who rape children.
But I think the notion that victims of child rape are "destined" to be miserable relies not solely on the survivors' own experiences, but our own biases. Like our obsessions with "purity" and "innocence." Like the idea that rape somehow stigmatizes the victim. Like the belief that virginity is a "gift" to be bestowed upon someone, the mark of a "moral" woman.
I am not at all saying that being the victim of a rape doesn't cause anguish, misery and suffering. I am agreeing with what Melissa said in comments, that
rape is something with which a survivor has to live for the rest of her or his life, which is a true thing, but a lot of people are incapable of saying that without implying the rape is a stain on the soul or the survivor is somehow irreparably broken, damaged goods.(Emphasis mine)
Because it's something we carry doesn't necessarily mean it's a burden; that it has changed us shouldn't mean it marks us differently than the other things that change a person in a lifetime.