Thursday, February 18, 2010

Why All Rapists Don't Get Put to Death (Nor Should They)

Rape is among the most heinous crimes one person can commit against another. It violates the victim in the most personal and perverted way. It causes intense emotional and psychological damage that can remain for decades after the crime.

Yet we typically do not put rapists--even child rapists--to death, or give them lifetime prison sentences. And we shouldn't.

As uncomfortable as this may be to accept, showing leniency toward rapists can be in the victim's favor, as it increases her chances of survival.

First, imagine the counterfactual--that the penalty for rape is death, if the rapist is caught. Now, what incentive does the rapist have not to murder his victim? Because he is already facing a death sentence, killing the victim will not make his potential punishment any worse. In fact, he will have even more incentive to kill his victim, as the crime will be much more difficult to solve with a dead victim than it would be with a survivor.

We have to dole out harsher punishments for harsher crimes. By making the punishment for rape and murder worse than the one for just rape, we are giving the rapist an incentive to keep the victim alive. As sad and seemingly unfair as it is, many victims owe their lives to this policy.