Sunday, June 27, 2004

Non-violent Punishment

There is a fascinating discussion at "Ruthless Precision" suggesting a "Society for the Non-Violent Punishment of Rapists". The name is a bit misleading, since the society would not be concerned with what sort of punishment the state should dole out in response to rape, but would instead be "a grass-roots association that will include all people who care about the horror of rape and are willing to live like it is truly evil." The goal of the society would be to make rape unthinkable.

I like the idea, although I have a few quibbles with the way it is set up here. What seems to be covered by "non-violent punishment" is shaming and spurning as a response to (alleged) rape. I don't see how this would do much towards the goal of the society. We already do, to some extent, shame and spurn rapists and alleged rapists; we could definitely use shaming and spurning to a greater extent, but I'm not convinced that this would do all that much to deter rape, which should be the great priority. For one thing, how many people actually have much warrant for thinking anyone they know to be a possible rapist? Some, perhaps, but in general rape is a clandestine wrong; most of us are only put in a situation of this sort by accident. There needs to be something more systematic and more preemptive than just appeals to people in this sort of situation to use social punishment ('social punishment' is, I think, a better label than 'non-violent punishment'). The most obvious point, I think, is to come up with a way to deal, systematically, with cases where the media (music, movies, and the like) are ambiguous about rape. There needs to be a stronger anti-rape message in our culture generally. But there are probably other possibilities, less obvious, that could be part of the approach.

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