The Corner

On the Fate of Child Rapists

In my earlier post, I said I wasn’t opposed to applying the death penalty in certain non-murder cases, including particularly horrific cases of child rape. The responses run the gamut, from “First draw and quarter them” to “there’s no justification for the death penalty.” I don’t want to dive deep into defending the death penalty (again) here. And, besides, my proposal will never actually happen. 

But there are three responses I want to address quickly. You could call them, “the good, the bad and the ugly.” The good argument is that if you imposed the death penalty for such crimes, you’d see a lot more rapes ending in murders. I don’t know the data to back this up, but it seems entirely plausible and worth considering.

The bad argument, by my lights, are various forms of the slippery slope claim. If we start executing serial child rapists, pretty soon we’ll be executing people for statutory rape and the like. I just don’t believe this and there’s nothing in our culture, politics or recent legal history that leads me to think this would happen. Sure, as abstraction or logic-game, it’s plausible. But in every other context I can think of, extremely unpersuasive.

And then there’s the ugly. One thing you always hear is how child rapists get treated very badly in prison and then are dispatched fairly quickly. If this is true, my heart doesn’t really bleed for the deceased, but isn’t there something troubling about this tacit admission that the system executes these people anyway, just outside the law?

Which leads me to a factual question: Do we know this is actually the truth? It’s a staple of pop culture and water cooler talk that such people are targeted by the rest of the prison population. Does it actually happen?

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