Like many, I'd been troubled of late by the coverage of the results of the Steubenville rape trial, and how so much is being said about how terrible it is that these boys lives will be ruined, that their promising careers and futures will suffer, and so on and so on. The Poor Dears.
Yet at the same time, some kind of warning bell was going off in my head. There seemed to me something not quite right about the indignation I and so many others felt. Some nagging logical or moral inconsistency, a sense that we're missing something valuable here.
At last, after much thought, I think I have it. We're angry, obviously, that there seems to be so much sympathy for the Poor Dears after they did something so despicable. And naturally we would prefer to see that attention lavished on their victim instead. Why should we care at all that these thugs are going to suffer as a result of their actions?
Well, actually, that's kind of the point. Punishment for a crime doesn't make everything all right or restore the karmic balance. It's not supposed to. It's supposed to be society's statement of denunciation of the crime, and hopefully it will deter others from carrying out similar acts. For punishment to perform that function, it's got to be widely known among potential offenders that such punishment is a likely consequence of similar wrongdoing.
Yes, these boys are going to suffer. Their promising futures are now in jeopardy. Their careers will be affected, they'll be registered as sex offenders, they'll carry this for the rest of their lives. And yes, it's a terrible thing for anyone to have to face. None of us should view this waste of potential as anything other than tragic. It's something that should never have to happen to anyone, and if the correspondents reporting on the trial are dwelling on how terrible it is that this is happening, well, yeah. It is terrible. It's terrible in exactly the same way that it's terrible when someone drives drunk, goes off the road and suffers a life-changing injury. The fact that they brought it upon themselves doesn't make it any less tragic.
So I say to the press, by all means, talk about the wasted potential and what a shame it is that these poor dears have to go to jail. Let's all shed a tear for them. I'm absolutely serious about that. It really is sad. And I want people to know how sad it is and what a terrible thing it is for fine young men full of promise (or ignorant self-absorbed bullies, or anyone, even) to go to such waste.
Why? Well, naturally I'd prefer for everyone to be more concerned about the actual victim, and decent people are, of course, but here's the thing: it's not decent people who need to hear the message.
It's not decent people who rape girls (no matter how drunk), and boast about it. It's not decent people who stand by and laugh (or just remain uncomfortably but loyally silent) as it happens. These people clearly don't give a damn about ruining the lives of their victims, and so we're fighting an uphill battle trying to rely on their general sense of empathy. So let's grab ahold of where they do have some empathy: for the poor dears who tragically must live with the consequences of their own actions.
It is a tragedy that they're going to suffer as a result of their criminal conviction, and worst of all, it's a completely avoidable tragedy. Want to avoid the shame and misery of a conviction for rape? Don't rape someone. Want to spare your beloved athletes the shame and misery of a conviction for rape? Step in and stop them before they rape someone. Friends don't let friends rape.