Few readers of this magazine will dispute the editorial opinion on July 5 noting the Supreme Court’s extension of Roper v. Simmons (1995). The current ruling stipulates that sentencing a juvenile to life without parole for a non-homicide offense violates the 8th Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Psychologists have written opinions to the court about the impulsivity characteristic of younger ages, effects of previous abuse on youthful offenders, and the lack of maturity in brain development. In certain venues there may be overly zealous prosecution of non-violent and property crimes (although the American Civil Liberties Union continues to be watchful on this front), leading far too many potentially good citizens of the future to be schooled and encouraged to commit future crimes while in prison.
All will agree that there is a compelling need for more treatment-based programs for children under 18, increased therapy and behavioral goals, and a structured and supportive system of after-care. The editorial this week mentions youth who murder and youth who commit property or nonviolent crime. There needs to be detailed examination of youthful offenses falling in between these extremes, and I hope in future online writings or even a detailed article in the print magazine to examine this subject in more detail.
Let’s consider youthful offenders who rape and the need to balance justice with compassion. The concept of justice must include not only what is proper and equitable for an individual but considerations for the protection of society, especially vulnerable individuals who might become future victims of those who have broken society’s laws. In the case of youthful offenders who rape, adolescent rapists are more likely to assault females; some rape children, others target older females. Because of this, we are dealing with an issue that includes a woman’s right to personal safety.
When youthful rapists are sent to rehabilitation programs rather than adult prisons, there is much lesser recidivism. However, not all youthful offenders are amenable to treatment--they lack empathy, engage in cruelty, and have deep-seated needs for control and dominance. Sadly, intractable youthful psychopathy exists.
How many women are raped each year by youthful offenders? How many of these youthful offenders will rape again after incarceration or treatment? One can find many different statistics, all alarming, with none approaching the precision of the hard sciences. One researcher wrote: “Regarding risk of sexual recidivism there continues to be a great need for research.” Many statistics on this topic suggest different numbers, so I think the best answer here is the one Rudy Giuliani gave to reporters on the evening of September 11, when asked of the number of casualties in New York. Giuliani said this was “More than we can bear,” and I think this accurately answers the topic we are discussing today, particularly when it concerns women who will be re-victimized.
Dr. Norman Reed is a clinical psychologist who consults with youth offender programs in Oregon. “One major problem is the manner in which the system diagnoses or labels youthful sex offenders,” Reed told me in a phone conversation. “The label rape is defined as unwanted sexual penetration or murder as the premeditated killing of another person. These labels do not take into account the etiology of a behavior. Common sense tells us that a behavior can have many etiologies. A rape may have occurred due to voices telling the person to do this, a gang leader commanding the perpetrator do perform this act or his family will be killed, or because the person has been raised in a culture (America) where they have been exposed to multiple rape scenarios on television, movies, at home, or on the web and are desensitized, think it is normal, or have their thinking impaired with drugs and alcohol.
“Again, there are multiple reasons why the behavior occurred which require different types of reformation planning, with some outcomes better than others. The victim, however, regardless of how the offender got there, is suffering from the behavior--the rape, and there are different levels of victimization and injury.
“In general,” Reed said, “the issue calls for assessment--what kind of youthful rapist are we dealing with and what kind of damage have they inflicted. With that kind of information, one can develop a sentence or reformation plan that is just to both the victim and offender.”
William Van Ornum