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.)