Brian D. Johnson, Ph.D. and Laurie Berdahl, M.D.

Warning Signs for Parents

Is Committing Rape Just Making a Mistake?

Another young male athlete gets away with it

Posted Aug 24, 2016

Source: jarino47/iStockphoto

Is committing sexual assault or rape equivalent to making a mistake? Yes, according to Thomas Rooke, the defense attorney for 18-year-old David Becker who is yet another young male athlete convicted of sexual assault. Becker sexually assaulted two unconscious 18-year-old girls. and Rooke described Becker's crime as “one mistake at one moment on one night which was clouded with alcohol.”

Attorney Rooke argued that, "We all made mistakes when we were 17, 18, 19-years-old, and we shouldn’t be branded for life with a felony offense and branded a sex offender. Putting this kid in jail for two years would have destroyed this kid’s life... He can now look forward to a productive life without being burdened with the stigma of having to register as a sex offender. The goal of this sentence was not to impede this individual from graduating high school and to go onto the next step of his life, which is a college experience.." Gee, we thought the goal of a criminal sentence was to punish perpetrators, serve justice, make restitution to victims, and protect society, not to support the well-being of criminals. 

Are crimes like sexual assault and rape really "mistakes" that "all" teenagers make? Of course not. These crimes are not "mistakes" like turning the wrong direction while driving or misspelling a word, but intentional acts of violence that are supposed to be punishable by law.

These purposeful, nonconsensual violations of victims' bodies show disregard for basic human dignity. Victims suffer long-term physical and emotional harm, including fear, depression, anger, anxiety, PTSD, substance abuse, and suicidal thoughts and actions. They are also more vulnerable to being victimized again in the future. 

Are physical assaults of women and child abuse "mistakes" too? I suspect that arguments of defense attorneys would differ if they themselves, their partners, or their children had been assaulted.

And how about drinking alcohol and committing crimes? Should perpetrators of other crimes like robbery, vehicular assault, or reckless endangerment not get jail time because they or their victims were drinking? If not, why is this an acceptable part of arguments for letting boys get away with committing sexual violence? 

Source: xavigm/iStockphoto

There are warning signs of youth becoming sexual perpetrators, and one is the belief in male entitlement to sex. Research supports that more of our boys are growing up believing they're entitled to have sex with people who don't consent or can't consent due to young age, or being under the influence, unaware or unconscious, or other reasons. Inexcusably, many sexual assault cases over the last few years illustrate that our legal system is promoting this entitlement by inadequately punishing, or not punishing young male perpetrators at all. The failure to adequately punish also demonstrates that the rights and well-being of male assailants are much more highly valued than those of female victims. This dysfunctional promotion of male dominance and aggression also feeds domestic violence, another scourge on our society. 

Parents, mentors, coaches, and kids' peers can turn the tide of violence against women. We can all work to make youth believe that sexual assault is an unacceptable, criminal act that seriously harms victims, and that girls and women are valuable people who deserve respect instead of just body parts to be used for sexual purposes. Kids need to repeatedly hear clear messages that it is never OK to engage in sexual activity with someone who doesn't or cannot legally consent. They also need to know that risks of being assaulted or being accused of it rise when drinking alcohol or using drugs.  

Together, we should also hold our legal system accountable for actions that promote violence against women, which we think includes inadequately punishing perpetrators and encouraging them to believe they just made "mistakes" instead committing intentional crimes that hurt people.

Find more warning signs for becoming perpetrators of sexual violence along with preventive measures in WARNING SIGNS: How to Protect Your Kids from Becoming Victims or Perpetrators of Violence and Aggression.

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