Deciding on more Severe Punishments for Sex Offenders and Child Abusers

Certainly, anyone who is guilty of a crime should be punished for it. In particular, those who abuse, sexually or otherwise, innocent children are the lowest of the low and I do not have much sympathy for them. But before we castrate sexual predators and/or lock them away from the light of day forever, there are several important considerations that should be taken into account.

1. Are we certain that only the guilty are being punished? Our system of justice is not perfect. In recent years, advances in DNA evidence has demonstrated in case after case that innocent men and women have been “punished” for crimes that they did not commit. When deciding on more stringent punishment, we need to be as sure as we can be that the guilty are the ones being punished. New scientific techniques for collecting and analyzing evidence certainly help in that regard. We need to find other ways of determining or insuring that guilt is determined.

2. Should the punishment fit the crime? As someone who worked in the criminal justice system for many years, I can tell you that there is a big difference between an innocent, ten-year old victim of sexual abuse and a sexually active, consenting fifteen year-old. In both situations, the accused could be found guilty of first degree felony sexual assault. Should the accused in both cases be punished the same way? Our current system of punishment attempts to take into account the nature and severity of the crime (i. e., the age of the victim, the kind of force used, if any, etc.) and the past record of the accused. In increasing the severity of punishment for sexual predators, we should continue to consider these kinds of factors.

3. What is the purpose behind increasing the severity of the punishment? Traditional factors behind devising penalties for criminal infractions include treatment and rehabilitation as well as punishment. In making the punishment more severe, do we really want to jettison the other stated purposes? Or do we want just an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth?

There are no easy answers to any of these questions. But any discussion on increasing the severity of the punishment for sexual predators should include these issues, as well as many more.