Rape and punishment

Punishment of assailants

Most societies consider rape to be a grave offense, and punish it accordingly. Punishment for rape in most countries today is imprisonment, but until the late twentieth century, some states of the U.S., for instance, could apply the death penalty in cases of aggravated rape, (Louisiana for example) indicating the severity with which the crime was viewed (the death penalty is still in use in countries with a significant social divide between the freedoms and status afforded to men and women). Castration is sometimes a punishment for rape and, controversially, some U.S. jurisdictions allow shorter sentences for sex criminals who agree to voluntary "chemical castration."

In the Southern states of the U.S., the charge of rape was often used to justify vigilante groups ("lynch mobs") that would seize and kill men accused of rape, without due process or trial. Victims of lynching were typically, though not always, African American. (One historic exception was the lynching of Leo Frank, a Jewish American.) Members of the lynch mobs were rarely prosecuted or punished for these mob killings.

In some such communities, any sexual interaction between an African-American male and a White (Caucasian) female was viewed as rape, which resulted in a large number of (presumably) innocent men, being murdered. This resulted from the fact that it was commonly believed that no White female would ever consent to sexual relations with a Black man. Rape of Black women by White men was a practice largely ignored or simply tolerated for many years, and local governments rarely punished such rapists in these cases.

Prison sentences for rape are not uniform. A study made by the U.S. Department of Justice of prison releases in 1992, involving about 80 percent of the prison population, found that the average sentence for convicted rapists was 11.8 years, while the actual time served was 5.4 years. This follows the typical pattern for violent crimes in the US, where those convicted typically serve no more than half of their sentence [http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/pub/ascii/psatsfv.txt] . Between 2002 and 2003, more than one in ten convicted rapists in Australia served a wholly suspended sentence, and the average total effective sentence for rape was seven years [http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2004/10/15/1097784044926.html?from=storylhs] .

Punishment of victims

:"See also: Honor killing"While the practice is condemned as barbaric by many present-day societies, some societies punish the victims of rape as well as the perpetrators. According to such cultures, being raped dishonors the victim and, in many cases, the victim's family. In some cultures rape victims are sometimes killed to restore honor to the family's name.

In the Shakespeare drama "Titus Andronicus", Titus Andronicus kills his raped, maimed daughter in what he believes to be a mercy killing.

Rape and cultural views

Certain cultures, often patriarchal, have historically promoted a system of honor, dishonor and shame, which was applied with particular strictness to females. A victim of rape would be considered to have lost her honorable reputation and place in society, a loss of honor which entailed shame on the woman's family group as well. In early ancient Rome, ancient China, and other cultures, a pressure has existed which has led women to commit suicide after becoming victims of rape. The iconic Roman instance is that of Lucretia. Likewise, suicide of female rape victims for reasons of shame is also historically documented in Chinese and Japanese culture [http://www.theophoretos.hostmatrix.org/chinesepatriarchy.htm] . The "logic" of the loss of honor was largely an extension of the ingrained view of women as commodities for men to consume: once the packaging was forcefully opened by another man, the goods had been tainted for the next. The implication belying the practice is also that women did not biologically lust and thus would not/could not choose to have a sexual experience of her own accord, thus providing a justification for women as bartered products.

Rape as punishment

Though modern societies claim to recognize the practice as barbaric, rape itself is sometimes used as a form of punishment. The victim of the rape is commonly a female relative of the person targeted for retaliation. In June 2002, a Pakistani woman named Mukhtaran Bibi was gang-raped by a vigilante mob after her brother was (falsely) accused of rape himself. The Pakistani government, along with local religious officials, condemned this action and sentenced the rapists to death. In another case ten years prior, Bhanwari Devi, an activist against child marriage in her Rajasthani village, was gang-raped by five upper-caste village men in retaliation for her interference with local child marriages.

In some dictatorships, rape is, or was, used as a method to retaliate against, or to intimidate their political enemies. There are numerous allegations that this took place under the former regime of Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein. In the Abu Ghraib prison, US soldiers were using similar sexual intimidation and the threat of rape as a means of psychological torture to frighten their mostly male and Muslim prisoners. After the media exposed this in its coverage of the Abu Gharib Scandal, the US government tried several junior personnel involved.

There is suspicion that some rape incidents in prisons are permitted through timely guard absences (at showers, for instance). Motivations for this range from punishing troublesome prisoners to providing a deterrent to those considering a criminal act, particularly among those who have little to lose from incarceration (e.g. homeless persons in winter).


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