Henry Rollins talks sense on Steubenville

Henry Rollins by Beezlebubba via Wikipedia

This is a sad thing to write about, and doesn’t really fall under “inspiration”, but I think Henry Rollins’ blog post about the Steubenville rape verdict certainly inspires food for thought. As usual, he was talking a lot of common sense, but there were two things that particularly troubled me:

Firstly, Henry asking which part of the offenders’ sentence was intended to teach them that violating and humiliating someone is not OK. Isn’t that the whole point of the law? It’s a pretty big way of saying “this is not OK” when the government says that what you did was so very not-OK that you’re going to be locked up for several years.

I do agree that there isn’t some magic part of the sentence where it sinks in – so to the offenders themselves, locking them up for two years is as effective as putting them away for ten years – but we as a society associate length of sentence with the severity of the crime. If the sentence isn’t lengthy, we assume that the crime isn’t particularly serious, and that’s pretty much the opposite message that we need to send in a situation like this.

But therein lies the problem – as much in this situation as in many others (such as drug dealing): needing to balance the effects of the sentence on individuals with that on society at large. “Making an example” of someone can, very positively, make an impact on the lives of the wider community, but only by sacrificing those caught in the middle. You could quite reasonably assert that they deserve it, and that they gave up their right to pity the minute they committed the crime, but it’s not pity I’m interested in, but justice. If a sentence is disproportionately harsh compared to others who’ve committed the same crime, then it is not fair, and if there is one thing that justice needs to be, it’s fair.

So these criminals get to learn that their actions are not-OK to the tune of up to five years each, after which they get to live a “normal adult life”, but with the stigma and shame of what they’ve done hanging over them. The alternative is either to incarcerate them so long they become institutionalised, or never to release them at all. Some would be happy with that, or even call for castration or execution.

That’s when “justice” becomes vengeance, and we turn into some braying mob demanding blood. I can wholly empathise with the anger – especially in light of the CNN “coverage” – but we need to take a step back and balance what-you’d-like-to-do-if-you-got-your-hands-on-them with what you must do if you’re ever going to call yourself civilized. And that applies to every law, on every crime, in every country.

The one thing I’d disagree with in Henry’s eloquent post is his suggestion that in order to wipe out the eye-wateringly backwards attitudes that led to this crime, women’s studies should be taught in high school to teach young people that “women are worthy of respect”.

Isn’t your whole problem the othering of 150 million of your population? If you’re not learning about high profile female “war heroes, politicians, writers, speakers, activists and revolutionaries” in the classroom, there is something seriously f***ing wrong with your curriculum! I didn’t need some special women’s class for that – I learned about Boudica and Emmeline Pankhurst in history, read Alice Walker  and Carol Ann Duffy in English, and encountered plenty of female activists while learning about the Resistance in French. You know, basic need-to-know stuff. Holding up Marie Curie as a clever woman rather than as a clever scientist suggests that her achievements don’t merit comparison with male scientists – a position on which the Nobel Prize-givers begged to differ. All you have to do is not magically, glaringly make 50% of your population disappear when talking about great achievements by humankind. It’s not rocket science.

Reading some of the comments on the internet about the much-idolized perpetrators puts me in mind of the equally ignorant comments made by some people in India. I don’t want to over-compare India to the US, but they definitely have some of the same problems. In either country, there are men who regard women as b*tches, as goddesses, as wh*res, as victims, as victors, as frail, as threatening, as incomprehensible aliens – but until they regard women as just human beings, the problem is not going to go away.

Taking his point about the upskirt shots in the media, there’s a debate to be had about the pornification of culture. Not this debate, but Henry’s flagged up about five really important discussions that could keep us busy for a long time.




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