What Are We Doing To Punish Sex Offenders In America?

A former frat president at Baylor University, Jacob Walter Anderson, was indicted on four counts of sexual assault in 2016. On Monday December 10, 2018, Anderson was let off with no jail time, a small fine of $400 and only a recommended three years’ probation, along with psychological, alcohol and substance abuse counseling.

That’s it.

This is the result of drugging and violently raping a nineteen-year-old sophomore at a frat party and leaving her passed out in her own vomit. And if he successfully completes his three years of probation and pays his fine, he won’t even have to register as a sex offender.

Brock Turner, former Stanford University swimmer, was indicted on charges of sexual assault of an unconscious person, sexual assault of an intoxicated person and sexual assault with intent to commit rape. His sentence?

Only six months of jail.

As reported in the New York Times, his father complained that his son’s life “had been ruined for 20 minutes of action.” Turner’s victim was found behind a dumpster. There were witnesses.

But these are the inequalities of the justice system in cases of rape and sexual assault. Driven by male privilege, the proceedings are geared towards protecting the reputation of the attacker rather than delivering an appropriate sentence, even in the face of overwhelming evidence. The justice system is promoting rape culture while simultaneously devaluing the credibility of victims.

This is evident in the humiliating, inappropriate questions about clothing choices and sexual history directed towards women in rape and sexual assault trials; the goal of defense lawyers is not to prove the innocence of their clients, but to undermine the integrity of genuine evidence.

In her revealing and emotional victim impact statement, the woman raped by Anderson wrote, “Jacob Anderson and all rapists who get away with their crimes will never be cured, never change. If anything they will be emboldened by their power over women and their ability to escape justice and punishment.” This is what the justice system is doing by letting sexual offenders off with minimal to no sentencing. It is giving sexual offenders power they don’t deserve, while also taking power away from the victims.

Related: The FeMALE Dialogues: What Men Really Think About Sexual Assault

After already losing so much from the actual experience of rape and sexual assault, actions that forever alter a victim’s life, these court decisions are simply devastating and deprecating. Baring their hearts and reliving the worst moments of their lives, sexual assault and rape victims are forced to be brave and share more than they ever wanted to. And yet still, something about our society tells us that it's only okay for the victim’s lives to be ruined, not the sexual offender. Something’s wrong with that image.

I was always taught that there are consequences for our actions. Because I believe in due process, I’m not talking about people that have not yet been convicted of sexual assault or rape. I’m talking about those who have admitted and have been convicted, those that deserve consequences for their extremely damaging actions. However, these consequences seem to be few and far between and there appears to be no reform in site.

In fact, on a more close-to-home note, the Education Department under Nancy DeVos has already rescinded Obama-era policies regarding Title IX, which protects against sexual discrimination in education and has also been expanded to cover sexual assault.

DeVos’s plan adopts a new Supreme Court definition of “sexual harassment” that is extremely vague and could be easily disputable. Sexual harassment would be defined as “unwelcome conduct on the basis of sex that is so severe, pervasive and objectively offensive that it denies a person access to the school’s education program or activity.” The new laws would also not require schools to investigate incidents that happened off campus, like at an off-campus party.

Related: What The New Changes In Title IX Policy Means For Survivors On College Campuses

One out of every four female undergraduates will fall victim to some form of sexual assault before graduation. That statistic scares me because I think about how many friends that statistic may one day include or already includes. And I wonder if I will be a part of that statistic.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) also estimates that at least ninety-five percent of campus rapes go unreported. This number is ninety-five percent too many and means that victims are likely too scared to come forward because they believe nothing good will result from telling their story.

It’s sad that even presented with these facts, there are still those in the justice system and our government who actively seek to devalue these individuals and set limitations on the definitions of sexual assault and rape, leaving far too many vulnerable and forgotten.

Sexual offenders will never learn from their mistakes. They’ll never change or feel guilty if they are not severely punished for admitting to violating another human. We have a responsibility to survivors- of all genders and identities- to make them feel seen, heard and understood... and the justice system is frankly failing. It’s time to demand public policy change that will benefit all parties and will discontinue the promotion of rape culture in a courtroom setting.

National Sexual Assault Hotline: 800-656-HOPE

George Mason University Student Support and Advocacy Center Hotline: 703-993-3686