Thursday, April 3, 2014

In defense of the judge who sentenced the man who raped his three year old daughter to probation

From one of the many, many articles and op/eds written about this case: "A Delaware man convicted of raping his three-year-old daughter only faced probation after a state Superior Court judge ruled he 'will not fare well' in prison."              
Those words, "will not fare well" in prison may go down as among the most, if not the most, infamous words ever attributed to a judge. What was the judge thinking, critics ask, and the cynical and even not-so-cynical find ready answers: he was rich, one of the DuPont family heirs; naturally he could afford the best of the best in legal representation; he was initially charged with two counts of second degree child rape, which carry mandatory minimum sentences of ten years each. He was allowed to plead down to a charge that requires no mandatory minimum and enabled the judge to pronounce the sentence of probation with required participation in a sex offender rehabilitation program.

In all criminal justice reforms movements, a common and very valid complaint is “cookie cutter” or "one size fits all" sentencing, usually driven by the aforementioned mandatory minimum sentences, and not enough judicial recognition of individual circumstances or judicial discretion to individualize as warranted. Although ill phrased and highly criticized, this judge's ruling may do exactly what was best for all concerned in this case.


Sexual assault of a child is an awful thing. The younger the child, the more horrible it seems; the fact that it is one’s own child is something that society cringes from and therefore shuts its eyes to. Incest is one of the most frequently charged categories of child sexual abuse. It is also the sub-category that responds the best to therapy and treatment. Therefore, it is the sub-category that, after confrontation, facing up to what one has done, and treatment, yields the very lowest of all low sexual re-offense rates, with some studies showing zero re-offense over lengthy periods of time for incest offenders.


Rather than vilification of a judge who may have just chosen the wrong words to define an otherwise appropriate decision, I would like to see this situation create instead an awareness of the prevalence of the crime and discussion, if not a public outcry, highlighting the need for a comprehensive program of education and prevention in communities and schools in all states. Our present practice of punishing the crime after it has occurred and doing next to nothing to prevent it before it occurs does not work. Some studies show as high as 96% of all new sexual crime is committed by first time–never before charged–offenders. And by far the greatest majority of that is committed by persons known, and not only known but often also trusted and loved, by the victims; and for children under the age of twelve, slightly over half are related to their victims.


This is something that flourishes, and has flourished for millennia, whether we want to admit it or not, in darkness and in secret. It is time to bring it into the light, and the best way to do that is to place the emphasis on treatment and prevention rather than excessive punishment and a lifetime of shaming that harms the victim as much as the offender.

3 comments:

  1. Another way to look at the controversy surrounding a judge's sentencing justification might be along the lines of "something's broken here, can we fix it?" head scratching. This is an unpopular way of viewing any crime with the classification of sexual offenses in the naming convention we have created. I agree that childhood sexual abuse is criminal, but there is something beyond the "take'm out back and shoot the offender" mentality that is the knee-jerk reaction from many people. Perhaps asking what is going on here, what the heck happened with this offender, (in this case a father) instead of the common misnomer of baby rapist could become a question asked more often.

    I want to also point out that we are not talking about a Jeffery Dahmer's type borderline personality disorder, psychopathic type people. Lucky for us, these broken individuals are rare.

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  2. From a very selfish perspective, I have to say it is especially hard to see rulings like this when my loved one got many years in federal prison for looking at pictures.

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  3. Yes we need to look at a way to head treat people who do this, but there also must be a punishment to along with the crime. My niece was raped at age three (that is why I choose to stay anonymous in this comment since she in now only 9). What happened wasn't a person just forcing sex on her. She couldn't begin to understand what happened to her and when she started to realize what that something was, well there is no words to describe how horrible it was. She was only able to verbalize it at age 5 and has been in intense therapy for 4 years. What I saw her go though is something that would bring the most stone cold heart to its knees. I'm all for getting the rapist help but there are consequences even if it is the first time they did it.
    It is sad that we live in a world where the victim is looked at they are the one at fault. That is the society we live in. That is why this pervert got off. That and money. Harsh words for a harsh CRIME.

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