By David T. Pisarra, Esq.
Courts Don’t Treat Male Rape Victims Equally– But They Should!
In the United States of America we don’t want to believe that women can be aggressors in rape or in domestic violence cases, but the truth is they are. The belief that women are “not as bad” or “not as harmful” is an insult to their victims, to the respect of the judicial system and to our society which tolerates their abusive behavior by minimizing the damage done, and we cannot tolerate it any longer. We have to recognize that boys are affected when an adult, of either gender, abuses them, and that an abuser should be punished in a gender neutral manner.
This past week has been a banner week for the news about pedophiles. Jared Fogle, the former Subway spokesperson, pled guilty to multiple charges of child molesting and production of child pornography. Under Federal mandatory minimums he will be in prison at least 5 years, and faces up to 50 years. Fogle will pay restitution of $100,000 per victim. His crimes involved multiple victims over an extended period of time.
Former Baltimore Ravens Cheerleader and socialite Molly Shattuck was sentenced this week for her repeated sexual molesting of a 15 year old boy. She will serve her time, every other weekend, in a work-release detention facility. Her restitution was just over $10,000 to the victim. Her crimes occurred with one victim over a short period of time.
Is this disparate treatment? Was she treated less harshly than Fogle because of gender? Did she get a lighter sentence because she only had one victim? Maybe, maybe not. Fogle was charged under Federal statutes and Shattuck was sentenced under Delaware state guidelines.
A more apt comparison is a state to state, male perpetrator to female perpetrator comparison. In California a man who had an ongoing sexual liaison with one minor female, analogous to Molly Shattuck’s criminal behavior, was sent to prison for five years. In Texas a Baylor student was found guilty of raping a fellow student and will serve six months in jail.
Does the difference in penalties indicate the court is going easy on the female perpetrator or undervaluing the victim? I argue both. By not holding female perpetrators as responsible as male perpetrators we are sending a message that we tacitly approve of the behavior. That approval, then plays in to the “lucky guy” storyline and the “hot for teacher” mythos that all teenage boys are looking for, and are ready to handle—an older woman. I call it the Mrs. Robinson Myth. But as we all know, boys develop emotionally and mentally at a different rate than girls. A young man (like many a young woman) may be physically ready to perform sexually, but not be capable of handling the emotional complexities that accompany sex. If a female abuser is given a light sentence aren’t we saying that we recognize the harm done to a boy is not as great as the harm done to a girl?
These cases are tragedies all around, and they are coming to our collective consciousness with greater regularity, which is why we need to send a message to all abusers, that we will not tolerate their behavior. We also need to send a message to all survivors that they are valued, that their pain is real, and that we will not ignore it, with lighter sentences that allow a woman to pay her debt to society in a work-detention facility at her convenience, while a man has to do hard time in prison.
Same crimes should get the same time. It is how we tell abusers we will not tolerate your behavior, and how we show victims we value them.