Sympathy for Offenders

by Joe

So I was sitting in court listening to the proceedings and I found myself thinking of the sentence lengths for sexual assault in Canada. The worst cases of sexual assault, according to Canadian Law, are assigned a term of 5 years (ps. 5 years is the minimum sentence for armed robbery). Part of me feels this might be a little low; in my mind, the “worst” case of sexual assault is any case of sexual assault; the scale should start at “worst.” But what makes this whole situation worse is how it’s determined how “bad” the sexual assault was and whether or not the offender is a “bad” person. Attend a sentencing for a case of sexual assault, listen to the description of the assault and then watch as the offender is treated like a victim.

Listen to the ridiculous sob story about how this individual was dealt a bad hand in life and they were a victim of extenuating circumstances. Look, I’m not so cold and heartless that I feel we should just give up on anyone who has had one too many bad breaks. People deserve a chance to redeem themselves and they deserve a helping hand when they have fallen. However, there is a big difference between someone who turns to drugs or alcohol and someone who chooses to sexually assault another individual.

If it’s not a sob story, you’ll get this long tale of how this individual has been an upstanding member of society for many years. The person is liked by friends and family, has achieved many things, has “gained society’s respect.” You’ll hear that this is a really good person who just slipped up and made a mistake, like stubbing a toe. Last time I checked, upstanding members of the community don’t sexually assault others. Following this logic, if someone commits sexual assault they are not an upstanding member of the community.

It seems that Canadian Law is afraid of appropriately sentencing individuals who commit sexual assault due to some misguided sense of fairness. I will not feel sympathy for individuals who commit sexual assault, and I find it ridiculous that there is even an issue surrounding sympathy for sexual assault offenders. They have decided to ignore the rights and autonomy of another individual and impose a life sentence on their victims (words a Judge used in a trial we attended recently) and the victims families.

I’m not saying that we, in turn, ignore the rights and autonomy of these offenders and treat them like second class citizens. What I am saying, however, is that 5 years is not appropriate for the worst cases of sexual assault. You’ll never get a “fair” system for determining sentences for this particular crime; at least not in a patriarchal society. But what might come close to “fair” might be letting the victim and/or victim’s family determine the length of the sentence; they’re the ones that have to live with the pain of the sexual assault after all.

Am I out of line here? What are your thoughts?

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