Current laws against sexual harassment are laughable

Category:  Opinions
Wednesday, September 26th, 2018 at 5:44 PM

It began with a conversation between Spectator staff members on the subject of a play about acquaintance rape. 

We agreed the idea was interesting, but something about the description didn’t sit well with us. The play was described on the producer’s website as an “entertaining play about rape.” That line acted as a springboard into a conversation about the punishments surrounding rape. A few days later, our arts editor, Livia Homerski, and myself sat down to talk about our thoughts on how the punishment for rape was being handled nationally, locally and personally. This article is the result of that conversation. 

“I see the ‘one in five women’ statistic everyday. I know women personally in every place I visit daily who have been assaulted and came to me about their stories. There are men in my life who I know who have also been assaulted. And not one of them got the justice they most rightfully deserved. Every perpetrator is walking freely,” Homerski said. 

The stat that she refers to is one published by the Centers for Disease Control in their National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey. The survey found that one in five women and one in 71 men have been raped in their lifetime. The numbers are so staggering that they beg one question: What laws are in place to punish perpetrators of sexual violence? 

Early on in researching this piece I discovered an interesting tidbit: There is not national rape law in the United States. This is because parts of the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 were ruled unconstitutional. The absence of a federal rape law means that the degree of seriousness at which rape perpetrators are treated in the U.S. varies from state to state. 

In California the sentences for raping someone varies depending on the nature of the crime and the age of the perpetrator. Brock Turner, the infamous “Stanford Rapist,” got 6 months of jail time for raping a woman behind a dumpster. According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), any rape that is accomplished against the victim’s will using force, violence, duress, menace or fear of immediate and unlawful bodily injury on the victim or another person, and assuming that the victim is a non-minor, the maximum sentence is nine years. In some cases the “One Strike” law can be applied, giving a judge the choice of sentencing a perpetrator to a maximum of life in prison. Only nine years for committing a crime that is, as Livia put it, “The most evil thing you could do to someone without killing them.” 

And that’s in a more progressive state.      

In Pennsylvania, according to RAINN, rape is a first-degree felony with a maximum of 20 years imprisonment. If a child was raped, then the maximum is 40 years. Only if a child is raped with serious bodily injury is the maximum raised to life.      

These sentences are, to put it bluntly, laughably ridiculous. When a perpetrator rapes a person, they commit homicide against their personhood — they wreck the victim’s sense of self, destroy their trust in society, and leave behind emotional carnage that can take a lifetime to heal from. 

So, when the judiciary branch of government, which has been put in place to punish the worst of society, treats rape as a third-tier crime worthy of only two to three decades of a perpetrator’s life, a dangerous ideal begins to develop; That rape is not a big deal. And so, we continue this cycle of rape occurring and rapists getting let off, and slowly but surely, we silently tell victims of rape that their accusations don’t matter. Because no one seems to be listening.                 

Even getting immediate health treatment after experiencing rape can be soul crushing. According to Reuters News, rape kits, an investigative package that collects DNA evidence of the rape, can be billed by hospitals if they are billed in a bundle with other inpatient stay services. This results in victims having to pay hundreds, if not thousands of dollars to file an integral part of their rape investigation. This is despite the Violence Against Women Act of 1994, which mandated that all rape kits be provided free of charge. 

The frustrating pattern of figuring out who to report the incident too, frustration dealing with tracking a rape kit — or even not having the resources to pay for an investigation — serves as more barriers for the reporting of rape. 

Even more enraging is the hushed commentary that always seems to surround cases of rape: “what about the perpetrator,” they ask, “why ruin their whole life over one mistake?”

When being the cause of lifelong anguish is treated as a regular old life mistake that you live and grow from, something is seriously wrong with society. We don’t accept first time murders into society because we fear them hurting someone again. In the same way we should worry about rapists coming out of prisons and hurting someone in a different way. 

Rape is a life-altering experience, and it should be treated as such.     

And the punishment for ruining a life is life in prison. Period. 

If you or someone you know has gone through rape or sexual assault, there are resources available. The university health center provides 10 free counseling sessions per academic year with the presentation of your student ID. A 24-hour phone hotline is set up through the National Sexual Assault Hotline. Call (800) 656-4673.

Shayma Musa can be reached at

Tags: voices, opinions

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