Rape should never be seen as a 'punishment' for sex crimes

Date

Clementine Ford

Luke Lazarus leaves Downing Centre Court in Sydney after his sentencing hearing for raping a woman near his father's ...

Luke Lazarus leaves Downing Centre Court in Sydney after his sentencing hearing for raping a woman near his father's nightclub, was adjourned.

In late March, the son of a prominent Sydney businessman was sentenced to a maximum of five years in prison for charges relating to sexual assault. Luke Lazarus will serve a minimum of three years for anally raping an 18 year old woman outside the Soho nightclub, a venue owned by his father, Andrew Lazarus.

The assault was despicable, surely borne from the combination of a ferocious sense of self entitlement in Lazarus Jr. and an appalling lack of respect for women. It rightly resulted in anger from the wider community, as all incidents of sexual assault should do (although the Lazarus family appears to have learned very little from the experience). Although the machinations of rape culture and victim blaming can be exhausting, it was encouraging to see almost universal support for Lazarus' victim.

And yet, there is something else in that anger that must be questioned - a desire for a specific kind of retribution that contradicts everything that we should value in our society and that plays into the kind of culture that allows for crimes like this to be perpetrated in the first place. In condemning Lazarus, numerous members of the public have also took pleasure in the thought that he will 'get what's coming to him'. Prison, it is assumed, will not be kind to Lazarus. Many people seem pleased by the thought that the next three years might bring him his just reward, and teach him more than he ever wanted to know about the trauma of rape.

The desire for in-kind retribution (particularly for violent crimes) is an understandable human response. Helpless in the face of wilful violence, it makes sense that compassionate observers would cheer for what might be viewed as reasonable justice. But rallying for a rapist to receive a dose of his own medicine puts us in an untenable moral position, because it aligns us with the very thing we're claiming to despise - another rapist. It tacitly condones the idea of rape and sexual assault by creating a set of extenuating circumstances in which it is not only okay to rape somebody, but also justified. And here's an uncomfortable truth for opponents of sexual assault - if you take pleasure in the thought of prison rape used as punishment, you are essentially standing alongside someone choosing to perpetrate that rape and clapping them on the back in support.

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If we accept (as we absolutely must) that rape is not a corrective tool or a crime with a sliding scale of impact, then we cannot make exceptions according to our view of who is being subjected to it. A man like Luke Lazarus may have done nothing to warrant the protection of his community, but that same community cannot lower itself to his level. The moment that we do is the moment we lose all claim to a defence of bodily autonomy regardless of lifestyle, clothing choices, behavioural patterns or gender. Wishing rape on someone as a punitive measure may seem reasonable if that person has committed gross acts of violence against another human being, but it still emerges from the same school of thought that considers the rape of LGBT people to be a justifiable method for conversion therapy, or argues that women who dress or behave in a certain way have 'invited' assault, or holds that sex workers can't really be raped.

Ultimately, calling for an end to rape culture and fighting against its insidious reach has to include all executions of sexual assault. All humans are capable of tapping into an inner darkness, and there is nothing quite so dark as revelling in the thought of torture. It might scratch an indignant itch to think of rapists being subjected to their own methods, but the only way that can be successful is by creating another rapist. Replicating the cycle of violence might satisfy a desire for revenge and retribution, but it does little to challenge the ways and means by which violence is inflicted.

This isn't about coddling criminals, but rising above their behaviour. We cannot mete out punishment for criminal activity by employing the same tactics that were deemed criminal in the first place. It's why a moral society should oppose the death penalty and the use of torture. While it might burn to think of people who've committed extraordinary violations against others being merely locked away with no 'real' retribution, we have to strive to be better than a society that confuses its own rules by condemning and celebrating actions in equal measure depending on how and by whom they are employed.

Regardless of public enthusiasm, prison will bring its own punishments to those who find themselves confined to it. Let us not compromise our own moral integrity by requesting ringside seats so that we might be fully satisfied that justice has been properly served.

Do not clap for rape.