Some time ago, a sentence of fifty-five years was handed down to a ringleader in a Western Sydney rape trial. This long sentence was controversial. Some commentators were highly critical of the length of the sentence.
In our psychology practice, we counsel rape victims and we can see the benefit of a long sentence for the victims of rape.
Most people do not realise how devastating rape is to the victim. Fearing for their life, exposed and completely powerless, a rape victim’s suffering does not end when the rape is over. Most still suffer fear and anxiety many years later. Their feeling of being safe in the world is gone.
A long sentence, such as that given by the judge in this controversial case, helps the victim come to terms with the rape. They feel that at least the justice system and society acknowledge their suffering.
Healing from rape is greatly impeded when the victim believes that their pain has not been acknowledged. This happens when their rapist is not convicted or when the sentence is light.
One of our clients suffered sexual abuse including rape and threats to her life from age four to eleven. The perpetrator, a relative, was released from jail after serving twelve months. She was thirty when the perpetrator was released. It had a devastating effect on her. She could not be alone or sleep in the dark. She had trouble feeling safe in a world that would not lock away the man who made her childhood a war zone.
Fifty-five years with no parole for forty years is a long time. The convicted rapist, in the long sentence case, would be sixty before he is released. In his sentencing, the judge expressed the hope that, by then, he will no longer be a menace to society.
The judge’s wish might come true but one wonders. This rapist had premeditated, organised and carried out this vicious rape. His actions were sociopathic and remorseless. The way he carried on in the court, joking and smirking, showed he had no understanding of the destructive effect of his actions. Unfortunately, people like him do not easily change.
However, the long sentence might deter some of his followers – the rapists who go along for the ride. Heavy sentences could make some young men think twice before submitting to peer-group pressure and carrying out criminal actions.
Unfortunately, the proportion deterred may be small. This is because people who are socially aware and who think about consequences do not usually participate in criminal actions.
Most young criminals are impulsive and contemptuous. Do they even make the effort to think about the consequences? More likely they don’t let the issue of consequences enter their mind. They are too captivated by the excitement of the illicit experience.
Unfortunately, consequences do not stop crime. No matter what society does, there will always be rapists. Capital punishment never stopped it and neither will long sentences.
The real reason for any punishment for a crime is retribution. Retribution is the price paid by a person causing damage to another. Apart from any considerations of deterrence or rehabilitation, retribution is a sufficient reason for a long sentence.
The best result occurs when those damaged are satisfied with the retribution. In the case where the fifty-ice year sentence was given, the people damaged, the family and friends of the victim and the victim, expressed satisfaction with the sentence.
The general public also wants to see perpetrators pay for their crimes. When they perceive this happening their confidence in the justice system and in those in authority is increased. They all feel a little safer.