The tone of comments on news articles about rape can seem pretty arbitrary. Far too often they tear into the victim, detailing what she (for simplicity I’m going to refer to non-prisoner victims as female and offenders as male, as that’s not only the most common pattern, but even moreso the most common reported pattern) should have done differently or accusing her of lying. Occasionally, however, the tide turns against the rapist. I suspect part of the difference (as this definitely isn’t universal) stems from the slant of the article itself – when it focuses on the victim/s, commenters blame the victim/s, and when it discusses the rapist/s, commenters blame the rapist/s. Which, really, leads into a long discussion about media responsibility… or perhaps it’s a very short one, namely that they should have more of it.
However this doesn’t mean that the comments blaming rapist/s aren’t pretty ugly themselves. A very common trend is to focus on the assumption that when he goes to jail he, in turn, will be the victim of rape himself.
Even putting aside the radical notion that no one deserves to be the victim of rape there’s a problem here. Rape necessarily requires at least two people – for every person who gets raped, there is at least one person who raped them. So the idea that rape is just part of the punishment for sexual offenders who go to prison requires that you consider who, exactly, is going to be meting out this punishment. The only two viable options are prison wardens and other prisoners, and both are incredibly disturbing when you consider the implications. Because the sort of person willing to rape is someone who gets off on power and control, someone who is able to dehumanise the victim, to treat them with contempt and a complete lack of basic respect. That is not a person you want in a position of authority. You do not want to give that person access to weapons and a job where they are elevated above those around them. Even if you think prisoners deserve it, very few people are able to compartmentalise so effectively that that attitude won’t leak out in other places – and suddenly you have groomed a sociopath who is walking around freely in society, having been told that he’s allowed to use rape as a weapon.
The second option is no less horrifying. It means not only that not all “deserving” prisoners are not being punished in the way these commenters seem to think is appropriate, but that some of them are continuing their crimes in prison, and being told that this is okay. Because we must all know that it is the violent offenders who will be committing this crime. You don’t go to jail for insurance fraud and start acting that way. And let’s be clear – there are many, many, non-violent offenders and innocent people in prisons in Western countries. In the world of the commenters where prison rape is endemic and taken for granted, it’s unlikely that all of them escape being either a victim or an offender, and if they’re unlikely to rape, then that only leaves being raped. Are we saying that someone sentenced for growing marijuana deserves to be raped? Are we really comfortable with the idea that anyone who goes to prison could be victimised? And on the flipside, are we actually okay with some prisoners going to jail not to be punished or rehabilitated, but so they can continue to be violent and abusive until they’re released back into society, with the full implied support of anyone who repeats the prison rape meme?
This is not a world I’m okay with. Personally, I don’t think anyone deserves to be raped, so the whole point is moot, but the implications still add an extra layer of horror for the simple fact that if it’s okay for certain people to be raped, then it must also be okay for people to rape, and this is already a crime where the victims are all too often judged and found wanting. If you make the case that one person deserves to be raped, you open the door to justifying it anywhere, for anyone, whether it’s collateral damage in the form of the wrongly accused and non-violent offenders in prisons or women who dare to step outside the place society has made for them.