The Dawn Chorus

Fresh Australian Feminism

A Sentence Reflects Its Crime – But What Is “Less-Serious Rape”?

Posted by Clem Bastow on June 30, 2009

Initially I began reading this report on the sentencing of serial rapist John Xydias with a sense of justice being served, a feeling that at times can feel increasingly rare when it comes to the sentencing of sex criminals. Victorian Supreme Court Chief Justice Marilyn Warren sentenced Xydias to 28 years in prison after he pleaded guilty to charges stemming from a history of criminal sexual behaviour that almost beggars belief (particularly upsetting is the fact that many of the victims were not aware of the assaults until they had been shown the video tapes by police):

He pleaded guilty to 86 charges, comprising 25 of rape and 61 of sexual assault, in a series of sex attacks on 11 women between 1991 and 2006,

He rendered the women unconscious, probably with the date rape drug Rohypnol, before sexually assaulting them and filming the attacks.

Too often, rapists receive sentences that in no way reflect the seriousness of their crimes (particularly in light of the ongoing damage it wreaks on their victim’s life) – that is if they receive sentences at all.

However, I was shocked when I read this particular passage of Justice Warren’s sentencing (emphasis is mine):

“Your offending was sustained over a period of 15 years, your conduct was not low-level or less-serious rape.”

It’s particularly disappointing as I feel it lessens the impact of a sentencing statement that otherwise conveys the severity of Xydias’ crimes. As she then continues:

“The worst aspect of your conduct was the degrading and dehumanising of your victims,” she said.

“The community will not tolerate the abuse, degradation and humiliation of women as you have carried out.”

All true, but I read the entire thing but what stuck in my mind was the passage I emphasised previously.

What on earth is “low-level or less-serious” rape? Would “the community” tolerate these supposed “low-level” offenses, thus necessitating a lighter sentence? Rape is rape. I appreciate that she perhaps was referring to relative levels of physical violence with regards to the act, but even then, surely the core issue is that the rape itself – the sexual assault – is the most damaging part of the crime for the person who suffers the attack?

The perceived semantics and language of rape – witness the ongoing debate about “grey rape”, “marital rape” and “date rape” (with many pundits and politicians seemingly believing the latter two don’t even exist) – are doubly frustrating because the fact that we even need to argue about the impact of language in these situations demonstrates that the seriousness of rape is still doubted or misunderstood. If a man rapes me, no matter whether I am given a black eye, a slit throat, a drink laced with drugs, or a bunch of flowers afterwards, a man has still raped me. When will the wider community (and, importantly, the legal world) realise that the issue is not (primarily, at least) what happened before, during or after the rape, but the rape itself?

What do you think?

(PS go here for Hoyden About Town’s excellent discussion of the use of passive voice in reporting rape and sexual assault – something that, in rare respite, hasn’t happened in today’s coverage of Xydias’ sentencing.)


8 Responses to “A Sentence Reflects Its Crime – But What Is “Less-Serious Rape”?”

  1. Brad said

    Hmm interesting post. I don’t think I agree that rape is just rape. Some sexual events might be properly classified as rape but doing so might also deny the victim’s own sexual desire. Take statutory rape: I understand the need to designate a set age for consent but at the same time some relations that fall into statutory rape don’t neatly fall into a victim/abuser binary. In fact lots of young people are more traumatised by the court process in which they are forced to ‘realise’ their victimhood where they might otherwise have not felt abused. I don’t want to sound like I’m a rape denier or anything because I’m not. I just want to point out that all sexual experiences are complex events involving differentials of desire, knowledge and intent. So yeah, it is totally problematic to talk about ‘less serious rape’ but I understand that the judge might have wanted to acknowledge that all acts that are legally classified as rape are not all necessarily morally equivalent with one another.

    • Clem Bastow said

      I see your point, Brad, but do we actually have ‘statutory rape’ in Australia? (i.e. does our legal system employ the term?)

      • Brad said

        I’m not an expert on the area but after a quick perusal it seems that Victoria classifies it as ‘unlawful sexual intercourse’. Basically it’s the same thing – according to legal definition a crime has been committed against the minor who engages in sexual activity.

  2. My name is Keith Smith. I was abducted, beaten and raped by a stranger. It wasn’t a neighbor, a coach, a relative, a family friend or teacher. It was a recidivist pedophile predator who spent time in prison for previous sex crimes; an animal hunting for victims in the quiet suburbs of Lincoln, Rhode Island.

    I was able to identify the guy and the car he was driving. He was arrested and indicted but never went to trial. His trial never took place because he was brutally beaten to death in Providence before his court date. 34 years later, no one has ever been charged with the crime.

    In the time between the night of my assault and the night he was murdered, I lived in fear. I was afraid he was still around town. Afraid he was looking for me. Afraid he would track me down and kill me. The fear didn’t go away when he was murdered. Although he was no longer a threat, the simple life and innocence of a 14-year-old boy was gone forever. Carefree childhood thoughts replaced with the unrelenting realization that my world wasn’t a safe place. My peace shattered by a horrific criminal act of sexual violence.

    Over the past 34 years, I’ve been haunted by horrible, recurring memories of what he did to me. He visits me in my sleep. There have been dreams–nightmares actually–dozens of them, sweat inducing, yelling-in-my-sleep nightmares filled with images and emotions as real as they were when it actually happened. It doesn’t get easier over time. Long dead, he still visits me, silently sneaking up from out of nowhere when I least expect it. From the grave, he sits by my side on the couch every time the evening news reports a child abduction or sex crime. I don’t watch America’s Most Wanted or Law and Order SVU, because the stories are a catalyst, triggering long suppressed emotions, feelings, memories, fear and horror. Real life horror stories rip painful suppressed memories out from where they hide, from that recessed place in my brain that stores dark, dangerous, horrible memories. It happened when William Bonin confessed to abducting, raping and murdering 14 boys in California; when Jesse Timmendequas raped and murdered Megan Kanka in New Jersey; when Ben Ownby, missing for four days, and Shawn Hornbeck, missing for four years, were recovered in Missouri.

    Despite what happened that night and the constant reminders that continue to haunt me years later, I wouldn’t change what happened. The animal that attacked me was a serial predator, a violent pedophile trolling my neighborhood in Lincoln, Rhode Island looking for young boys. He beat me, raped me, and I stayed alive. I lived to see him arrested, indicted and murdered. It might not have turned out this way if he had grabbed one of my friends or another kid from my neighborhood. Perhaps he’d still be alive. Perhaps there would be dozens of more victims and perhaps he would have progressed to the point of silencing his victims by murdering them.

    Out of fear, shame and guilt, I’ve been silent for over three decades, not sharing with anyone the story of what happened to me. No more. The silence has to end. What happened to me wasn’t my fault. The fear, the shame, the guilt have to go. It’s time to stop keeping this secret from the people closest to me, people I care about, people I love, my long-time friends and my family. It’s time to speak out to raise public awareness of male sexual assault, to let other survivors know that they’re not alone and to help survivors of rape and violent crime understand that the emotion, fear and memories that may still haunt them are not uncommon to those of us who have shared a similar experience.

    My novel, Men in My Town, was inspired by these actual events. Men in My Town is available now at

    For those who suffer in silence, I hope my story brings some comfort, strength, peace and hope.

    For additional information, please visit the Men in My Town blog at

    • Sarah said

      Dear Keith,
      I am a freshman at college and my paper topic deals with Rape and the charges that certain degrees of offense receive. Up til about 15 mins. ago no one at school had known what had happened to me in april. I say up til 15 mins ago because while I was reading this I started bawling. I have felt your night sweats I have been living in fear and I have been haunted by him. Mine however is not dead, and is being released in a few months because at the time he was only 17. I have never felt better crying and getting my story out even tho it had to be to my professor… it still helped. thank you for responding the way you did to the post because if i had not read this, I probably would be keeping the story locked in me forever… thank you so very much, you just helped me start to help myself.

  3. Kat said

    Although the analogy has its flaws, the Rape of Mr Smith is sometimes used when considering sexual assault and theft.

    Most people would agree that theft with a weapon, intimidation or manipulation require different considerations when prosecuting.

    Of course theft can, but doesn’t always, involve physical assault.

    To state that rape can ever be “low level or less serious” is unbelievable. Rape and sexual assault will always include the physical aspect, which already raises the level of seriousness.

  4. anita said

    I am the parent of a 16 yr old who was raped just 3 days ago. 2 questions ive been asked have really annoyed me : Was she drunk and What was she wearing, does it bloody matter if the answer to either was yes? (it wasnt) nobody has any right to violate another person and carry out a sexual act that hasnt been consented to, oh and “less serious rape” how the hell can you define that? Any rape is a serious matter and has consequences for the victim and the victims family that stay in the memory for a lifetime. So if 2 males took it in turns to rape my daughter is it more serious than only 1? in my eyes no its not any rape is serious.

  5. Heidi said

    There is a reason the age of consent is set. I didn’t start feeling like a victim until 5 years later. Because even though I’d resisted him many times, when we did do it (and I was 15) it was ‘consensual’. However only after growing up and looking back on the manipulation I endured to get to the point of intercourse, do I feel extremely violated. But at the same time – not sure whether to report it because of the slim chances of jail time which I firmly believe he deserves.

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