Last Wednesday the Supreme Court ruled, 5 to 4, that sentencing someone to death for raping a child is unconstitutional. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy stated, "The death penalty is not a proportional punishment for the rape of a child."
What does proportional punishment mean? The Supreme Court decision allows death sentences to be imposed for crimes such as treason, espionage, and terrorism. Obviously protecting our children is not as important as crimes committed against the state.
I am a survivor of child sexual abuse. Throughout my life, I listened to people minimize what happened to me by saying, "At least you can get on with your life, you lived." As if being able to breathe is a better alternative to death. As I worked through my own abuse issues, there were many times that I wished to die.
There is no crime more heinous than child rape. Child rape is a form of murder; the body can physically recover, but the mind and soul are forever affected. I am not debating the constitutionality of the death penalty in this article, but rather the need to take child rape more seriously.
Child rape and the broader issue of violence against children can cause incredible psychological damage and sets up enormous economic and social burdens for our country. Early studies found that "one-third of juvenile delinquents, 40 percent of sexual offenders and 76 percent of serial rapist's report they were sexually abused as youngsters." Child sexual abuse perpetuates a cycle of violence. When will we really get this concept and create significant change to break this cycle of violence?
How do you feel about child victims of violence? Do you know a child that has experienced violence? If so, have they led a normal childhood? Did they get the kind of support they needed to create a healthy life? Or were they blamed or discarded for what happened to them?
At no time should a child be blamed for the circumstance of their violence. Yet, not only do we force the child into addressing issues way beyond their emotional capacity but we place them into a government system that fails to adequately protect them. The children walk though the process more vulnerable and leave with a heavy burden for the rest of their lives; a burden that we inherit too.
Sexual assaults begin at an early age. A male child is most likely to be a victim of sexual assault when he is 4 years old. Take a moment to think about the unthinkable, and tell me what you think should happen to the perpetrator? How many times was a child raped or violated before the perpetrator got caught for the first time?
If a perpetrator gets caught and IF they go to trial, they may get life in prison. How many years is the average sentence of life in prison today? For the victim the life sentence is until death. The victim never is free from the fear, from the smell and sounds of the assault. We are confined and relegated to a tainted cage not of our own making; an enclosure that can never truly be removed or discarded.
Violence against children is not only caused by human poverty but spiritual poverty as well. For who with an open heart can actually force a despicable and violent act on a four year old child? We need to examine and understand the root causes of violence and find a better way to deal with rapists and molesters. If we can find a way to create a system of prevention, then we will not be forced to testify against our fathers, our mothers, or our cousins.
Unfortunately, my childhood included sexual abuse. I was victimized by three people. I knew every one of them personally. My earliest recollection of abuse occurred when I was 7 years old.
It took me years to get through the process of grieving for what happened to me as a child. How did I get through it? I came from good stock and was very determined. I refused to have my life be defined by what happened to me. I wanted my life to be about how I handled the cards that were dealt to me.
Those cards represent me as a part of a disease so widespread as to be almost incomprehensible. I am referring to sexual violence against children. This epidemic of violence represents one of the most pervasive, yet silenced problems facing the United States and international community.
In February, I spoke at the United Nations regarding global violence against women and children. http://www.unmultimedia.org/photo/detail/170/0170474.html
The U.N. is a leader in establishing the human rights of children. In 1990, the U.N. inaugurated the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). The CRC acknowledges the basic human rights of children, which includes the right to life and survival, protection from abuse and exploitation, and forbids capital punishment of children. The United States has never ratified the CRC. We are in good company though. The only other country that has failed to ratify the CRC is Somalia.
As a country, we are not legally bound to protect human rights for children. Our country's refusal to ratify the CRC is not only an international embarrassment but it weakens our effectiveness in U.S. foreign policy and sends the message that we are not serious about protecting the human rights of children at home or abroad. The Supreme Courts ruling just adds another example of how out of touch we are on the issues that affect our children. All of our children.
The numbers that represent the amount of violence against children in the United States are staggering. The solution to these crimes is very complex. So many cases of violence against children go unreported. Too much burden is placed on a child in these cases and ultimately we place the decision in their laps. Do I tell someone, or not? The biggest issue that we need to confront is why the violence comes from people we know?
Think about some of these statistics:
• Every two minutes in the US, a child is sexually assaulted.
• It is estimated that there are 60 million survivors of childhood sexual abuse in the United States.
• Most disturbing is that 14% of all sexual assault victims reported to law enforcement agencies were under the age of 6 years old.
• Females are more likely than males to be victims of sexual assault: 86% of all sexual assault victims are females.
Statistics are used to define important social problems, shape debates about them, and decide public policies. Clearly, violence against children in the United States is a huge problem. The percentage of our population that is affected by this kind of violence is astronomical.
Although statistics are helpful and important, they do not capture the consequence and impact that violence has on a child. This affects everything from self-esteem to depression. The results can cause eating disorders, substance abuse, suicide, promiscuity and prostitution, and many other behavioral disorders.
You may recall Elliot Spitzer; the X-Governor of New York who got caught when he hired high priced prostitutes. His behavior forced him to resign from public office. Harvard Law Professor, Alan Dershowitz, a man who taught Spitzer, was quoted as saying that "Prostitution is a victimless crime." His exact wording can be found at: http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/652043/spitzer_report_dershowitz_says_prostitution.html
As a Harvard Law Professor, you would think he would be more responsible and know the facts. I wonder if he knows that 95% of child prostitutes are victims of child abuse. If I was a student at Harvard University, I would be a little nervous about being taught by someone who reflects on issues with such careless disregard for the facts. A "victimless" crime indeed! Perhaps Dershowitz might want to have a conversation with Spitzer's wife and daughters, perhaps they can shed light on a different perspective.
I would like the Supreme Court to explain what proportional punishment entails. To be clear, I am not advocating the death penalty; this article does not discuss the merits of capital punishment. However, if we agree that capital punishment exists and it is used as a deterrent, then why would child rape not be high on that list of offences?
As I see it, violence against children is a human rights plague; a plague that as a society, a country, a continent, and a globe we have show blatant ignorance. We need do more to protect children's rights, and not simply rely on the justice system. We MUST understand and address the root causes of violence in order to create a brighter future for our children.