A thought experiment...


Categories: Personal Politics

As commented previously, there’s a lot of outrage because a couple of kids who raped underage girls got sentenced as though they had comitted a crime.

First, some baseline facts:

  1. These kids identified themselves as “the rape crew”.
  2. These were not crimes of opportunity, but premeditated setups.
  3. They openly bragged about what they’d done, until someone revealed that you could in theory get in trouble for raping people.
  4. The boy whose house the rape occurred in was not charged. His mom is the prosecuting attorney for the county…
  5. I’ve read allegations that she also tried to pressure the victim not to press charges.
  6. The victim was drunk, and possibly drugged, enough that she didn’t know what happened until she saw pictures and heard comments through social media.

Now, normally, if you have people demonstrating a clear plan of arranging to get someone unconscious enough to be unable to even comprehend what’s happening, let alone consent to it, that’s considered pretty good evidence of bad intent. But! This happened in a big football town, and the boys are big football stars. So there’s a ton of commentary from various bystanders (mostly apparently unaware of the details of the case) asserting that it was just a girl who got herself drunk and then regretted her actions the next day, not “rape” at all.

There’s a lot of problems with this; for one thing, do we generally expect a sixteen-year-old to be competent to manage her alcohol intake? Do the allegations that she was drugged, not merely drunk, matter?

But you can see the real nature of the problem through a little thought experiment: Imagine that the crime weren’t rape. Imagine that it were basically anything else. Say… Theft.

So, consider the hypothetical town of Bustenville, a small town with a very popular and avidly-watched youth hockey league. It comes out that some of the players on the hockey league have taken to calling themselves the “mugging crew”. What they do is, they have parties, and arrange for people at those parties to get really drunk – so drunk they can’t remember what happens – and then take all their valuables. Cash, jewelry, and so on. They post pictures of this, they talk about it, they brag about how much money they’re taking in. And finally one of the victims comes forward and complains. Videos and pictures are recovered showing the unconscious victim and the “mugging crew” lifting cash out of the victim’s wallet. It comes to trial, and the kids are found guilty of having stolen money from their victims, on the grounds that they took money without any consent from the victims.

Would you expect to see dozens of posts on social media sites defending the kids? Calling it youthful hijinks? Explaining that the people they took the money from were probably just really generous and then regretted it the next day?

No, you wouldn’t.

If these kids had killed someone, you might see attempts to claim it was a tragic accident, but if they had been calling themselves “the murder crew”, and talking about it and planning it and posting pictures, and making it clear that the resulting death was an outcome considered in advance and actively sought… Do you think you’d see a lot of people outraged at the suggestion that they could be called “murderers”? No.

And that’s the point of the little thought experiment. What’s happening here is not that these kids are facing unfair charges. It’s that people have very different standards for rape, which are mostly that they don’t think it’s all that serious. Change it to theft or murder, and the general feeling is that people who commit crimes are criminals. Change it to rape, and suddenly there’s a lot of people who think it’s horrible that these boys will be known as rapists. Well, maybe they’ll be known as rapists because they are.

I’ve been told that the distribution of rape among rapists follows a power law distribution. I can’t find a way to verify that – because it’s really hard to construct search terms that involve “rape”, “power”, and “law” and have to do with distribution curves rather than legalities or imbalances of strength or capability. But it seems pretty reasonable. I am pretty sure I don’t know any guys who have comitted any rapes. I certainly don’t know any who brag about it. On the other hand, if these kids hadn’t gotten in trouble, do you really think they’d have stopped?

That said, there is one point where I think it makes sense to suggest that maybe people other than these kids are at least a little culpable. Where the hell were the adults? Why was the football coach threatening people who asked questions about this rather than getting involved and investigating the students? Why was the mom, who is presumably at least basically aware of the law, not more involved in finding out what was happening and educating her kids? Why were multiple parties acting to defend these kids, and help them cover things up, rather than cooperating with getting them busted?

Heck if I know. But I’d guess the very sympathetic reporting about the horrible loss of these kids’ football careers is a factor.

Comments [archived]

From: Jackabug
Date: 2013-04-16 08:20:23 -0500

“I am pretty sure I don’t know any guys who have committed any rapes.”

I don’t know you, and I don’t have any idea who the majority of the male people you’re acquainted with are. But I’m still willing to bet (for all that it’s likely unprovable) that you DO know at least one guy who has committed rape, and even that you almost certainly know more than one.

Let me present the basics of my reasoning.

First, consider how many men who commit non-stranger rapes don’t even realize that there are other kinds of rape. The belief that only the masked stranger with a weapon is a rapist is akin to the belief that only people who belong to the Ku Klux Klan are racists: entirely wrong, but tragically common. It’s fairly clear from what I’ve read of your writing that YOU understand that other types of rape are still rape, but from here it appears that you’re not applying that understanding as far as it goes.

Second, consider the statistics for rape victims. One in every four women has been sexually assaulted in some way by the time she turns eighteen — before she has even gone to college, that hotbed of acquaintance-rape. Yes, there are almost certainly more rape victims than there are rapists, because many (most? probably impossible to know) rapists don’t rape only one victim.

Third, let’s not forget that not all rape victims are female, but that the majority of those who rape males are themselves also male.

It still seems unlikely to me that a person of your approximate age would not know even a single male who had committed even a single rape. Not impossible; but unlikely in the extreme, unless you are far more of a hermit than you seem to be.

From: seebs
Date: 2013-04-16 13:13:07 -0500

Your point is well-taken. As I understand it, what little research there is suggests that the overwhelming majority of rapes are committed by a very small number of people, but even so, the sheer numbers and the fact that I know probably hundreds of guys would argue that there’s gotta be at least some.

There’s also cases where social norms have been shifting, and it’s unclear how to count things which we would now regard as probably inappropriate, but which were generally regarded as acceptable twenty years ago. If my spouse and I once had sex when we were both too drunk to meet modern standards of consent, did anyone commit rape? Heck if I know. I am inclined to think not, but I’m sure there are people who would dispute that.

From: Jackabug
Date: 2013-04-16 17:23:00 -0500

I’m old enough to not only remember when many states still had a marital exemption for rape — i.e., a man couldn’t be charged with rape if he was married to the victim at the time — but to have debated whether there should continue to be such an exemption in college.

In a situation such as yours, where the two parties were married to one another, and both significantly impaired, I would say there were certain key questions to ask:
1. Before they became impaired, were they on good terms — not separated, not even having an argument?
2. Did they both become impaired at roughly the same rate after commencing to drink at roughly the same time?
3. Were they both aware (whether as a general inference or by extrapolating from their past interactions, if not from prior conversation) that drinking with their spouse to or past the point of impairment could lead to a drunken sexual assignation?

If all three can be answered “yes,” then I would probably be comfortable characterizing it as not-rape, in both directions. Any “no” could make a difference.

Of course, IANAL… or a police officer, or a prosecutor, or a judge, or a jury. But that’s my take.

From: seebs
Date: 2013-04-16 23:08:07 -0500

When I was in college, I remember a professor mentioning his strong feelings in opposition to some guy who was writing a book about why there could be no such thing as rape within marriage.

My general analysis of marriage-like things is that you can make a reasonable case for general/implicit consent as a presupposition, but not as an ironclad rule. It’s not strong enough to override evidence to the contrary, but it’s strong enough to argue that if everyone involved seems happy, there is probably nothing wrong.

From: persephonesidekick
Date: 2013-04-21 14:47:39 -0500

About the power law thing: I searched for “power law distribution” and “rape” as my two search terms. I got this basically an inconclusive study on the question I think, maybe there’s more further down the results if you want to look.