Death Penalty for Sex Offenders and Rapists

December 2, 2019 2:20 pm33 commentsViews: 103

Sex offenders are often released from prison with various types of mandated monitoring. But the monitoring system is flawed, and criminals commit crimes while being monitored.

Death Penalty for Sex Offenders and Rapists

Emily Friedman in her article “Anthony Sowell and Phillip Garrido Cases Raise Questions about Sex Offender Monitoring” explores the issue noting that although six decomposed bodies were found in Anthony Sowell’s house, police officers who had conducted a monitoring visit a month earlier didn’t notice anything amiss.

Carol J. Adams, one of the authors featured in Transforming the Rape Culture feels that the justice system’s response to sex crimes is inadequate and says that rape is “minimized, misnamed, and misunderstood” and argues for harsher punishments (page 89). Hadki R. Madhutbuti adds that “if men were raped as frequently as women, rape would be a federal crime rivaling murder and bank robbery” (page 175).

Classifying Sex Offenders

However, to deliver just punishment, some distinctions need to be made in classifying sex offenders. Georgia Harlem, writer for the Economist describes an incident that took place in a Georgia classroom. The lights in the classroom were turned off so that the students could watch a video.

Harlem writes that “Wendy Whitaker, a 17-year-old pupil at the time, was sitting near the back. The boy next to her suggested that, since it was dark, she could perform oral sex on him without anyone noticing. She obliged. And that single teenage fumble wrecked her life. Her classmate was three weeks shy of his 16th birthday.”

Her classmate at 16 years of age was classified as a minor. Wendy Whitaker because she had performed a sex act on a minor was categorized as a sex offender. If harsher sentences are to be fairly assigned, violent predators must be distinguished from offenders like Wendy Whitaker.

Also monitoring of sex offenders can be more effective if resources are spent on evaluating violent rapists instead of individuals like Whitaker. Friedman in her ABC article about the flawed system for monitoring sex offenders observes that overwhelmed police cannot adequately monitor violent offenders.

Individuals like Whitaker are placed in the same class as “dangerous predators,” and the police are required to monitor both with the same amount of scrutiny. But the level of scrutiny – like the punishment – should match the severity of the crime. The justice system also struggles to determine how harsh punishment should be for certain crimes.

Rape Compared to Murder

Rapist Patrick Kennedy received a harsh sentence. After being convicted of the rape of his eight year-old step-daughter, he was sentenced to death in accordance with a state law in Louisiana that allows for implementation of the death penalty if a child younger than 12 is raped. But on June 6, 2008 the Supreme Court of the United States “rejected the death penalty for child rapists” reports Joan Biskupic, of USA Today.

Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy writing the majority opinion compared murder to rape and determined, “The latter crimes may be devastating in their harm, as here, but in terms of moral depravity and of the injury to the person and to the public, they cannot be compared to murder in their severity and irrevocability” (Biskupic).

The crime of rape is thus compared to murder and “minimized.” However the level of cruelty and inhumanity required for one to rape and torture a child over a period of years arguably rivals the inhumanity required to commit murder. Ultimately, criminal punishment is meant to protect society from individuals regardless of the crime.

The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) representing the other side of the argument hailed the Supreme Court decision as a victory for rape victims. NASW was concerned that threat of execution “provides an incentive for the perpetrator to kill his victim who is often the only witness, is likely to increase the emotional trauma to the victim due to repeated court testimony about acts of brutality, and may increase the under-reporting of child sexual abuse, as perpetrators are often family members.”

NASW adds that revealing an attacker’s identity forces a child to make a life or death decision that he/she is too young to make. Maya Angelou expresses the victim’s guilt over such a choice in her autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

Victims and Guilt

When she was seven years old, Angelou was raped by her mother’s boyfriend. Angelou revealed her attacker’s identity, and the assailant was killed shortly thereafter. The guilt-stricken Angelou refused to speak for five years afterwards, believing that her admission had caused the man’s death.

But this attitude places the onus upon the victim instead of the attacker. The victim is made responsible for the perpetrator’s punishment or pursuit and the responsibility of the rapist for his/her actions and the consequences thereof are not acknowledged.

By such reasoning, any victim of a crime who identifies his or her victimizer is then responsible for the offender’s punishment. The guilt is misplaced; in reality although victims may feel guilt – the rapist committed the crime and is the guilty party.


Just as the rape victim is expected to contend with the trauma of rape, violence, and captivity with counseling, the rape victim should receive counseling to contend with any perceptions of guilt. Reducing the consequences for committing rape is not a solution to victim guilt; it is an evasion.

Carol J. Adams states in Transforming a Rape Culture that “the most effective way to stop violence against women and children is to hold the abuser accountable.” The answer to the question of how to make the world safer for children and others is to respond to rape as a serious crime and mandate either life imprisonment (without parole) or capital punishment for those convicted of just one violent sex crime.


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