"There Was No Violence": Our Numbness to Horror

[Content note: this blog post describes instances of sexual assault on minors in detail. Survivors of such should be well aware before reading. I wish there was a way I could write this post without these descriptions, but I can’t.]

My mom once told me in a quiet, shaking voice, of an attack that had happened when she was nine years old. Friends of her older brother had grabbed her and assaulted her on her way home from school. Her mother, an abusive, chain smoking alcoholic, told her that she had lost something precious to her that day and no man would want her now.

My mom grew up as the child of a broken home, and worried constantly about becoming like her mother. She made conscious, active choices to be a better parent, to protect her children from any and all violence. She made it clear to me that I could tell her if someone tried to touch me or anything of the sort.

At the time, I found it weird. I was mercifully ignorant of the world of people who prey on children, and my mom wanted to preserve that rightful childish innocence for as long as she could.

By the time I hit high school, I was aware that there were people who abused children. But it wasn’t until my senior year, when a junior at the school was arrested for digital rape of a minor (that’s penetration with fingers, not over the internet). The minor? A two year old at the in-home daycare of his mother. I don’t remember whether or not the student went to jail, but I do remember seeing him walking around school in between classes shortly after his arrest. Apparently, the court system had decided he was still able to attend his high school for a time until the trial.

Working in the areas I do now, speaking on a daily basis about consent, sexual ethics, and crime, I am amazed that this man was allowed back in the schools. Even though I know so much about rape culture and the lack of justice in our court system when it comes to adequately prosecuting and punishing rapists of all kinds, I’m still shocked when the true callousness of the system is revealed.

But there are some statements so callous, so appalling, so utterly horrifying that I cannot help but be taken aback and made speechless. This week was one of those times.

[secondary warning: this next paragraph contains a graphic description of a child rape]

In Orange County, California, this week, a judge decided to forgo mandatory sentencing for a child rapist and gave him a sentence of 10 years as opposed to the mandatory 25. The twenty-year-old man was convicted of sodomizing a three-year-old child who was a family member. The man molested the toddler when she “wandered” into the garage where he was playing video games. He became aroused, got up and locked the door, took the child’s pants down, and assaulted her. When the child’s mother knocked on the door looking for her child, the man covered her mouth so she wouldn’t cry out, and waited until the coast was clear to continue.

The crime itself is horrifying, but the sentencing judge in the case made it all the more horrifying with his explanation of why he cut the rapist’s sentence. He said: “Although serious and despicable, this does not compare to a situation where a pedophiliac child predator preys on an innocent child. … There was no violence or callous disregard for (the victim’s) well-being.”

Setting aside the complete and utter absurdity that is that first sentence (what is this besides a man who sought to prey on a child known to him?), I’d like to concentrate on four words in the judge’s explanation.

“There was no violence.”

How any reasonable person – let alone a judge – can look at such an act and declare that it is void of violence is beyond me. The word has truly lost all meaning if a man who deliberately assaults a child who just learned how to talk can be deemed as being “without violence.”

Rape is, in itself, a violent act. It is utterly meaningless to make any kind of distinction between a “violent” rape performed with the threat of a weapon or a rape that uses power and control and coercion to achieve its ends. Rape is violence, full stop.

The continued diminishment and denial of rape as a violent act, whether it be through categorizing it as “regret sex” or through prioritizing the somehow magical intent of the rapist, is violence in itself. It re-traumatizes victims, makes it harder for new victims to come forward, and contributes to a world that is hostile to survivors of assault.

It pains me that I have to say it: there is no rape that occurs without violence. Intent of the rapist does not matter in case, particularly in case where young children are victimized. How we talk about rape and violence and crime matters because it has real world consequences. This man, whatever his home life, has a statistical likelihood of reoffending, and the commutation of his sentence along with the sympathy of the court does nothing but convince him that manipulation and crocodile tears will aid him, not his victims.

If we cannot be horrified by the harm done to the least of these, if we can look at such an act and declare that “there was no violence,” we are truly in trouble, as a people, as a country, as a world. It is not marriage equality, premarital sex, or swearing on TV that are the symptoms of a broken society that needs a deeper understanding of justice, no matter what the narrative from the right is. It is people who can look violence in the eye and not see horror.