Words: Jessica Sheridan
This morning I woke up to find yet another headline that has become all too familiar over the past few months: ‘Rapist Walks Free’. I’m starting to forget the last time I woke up and there wasn’t a similar story somewhere on my newsfeed.
A few days ago I read about Kraigen Grooms, a 19-year-old from the US who pleaded guilty to committing sexual acts with a toddler back in 2014. Grooms was 16 at the time of the attack, and the female victim was aged between 12-18 months; more of a baby than a toddler. The lewd act was also recorded on camera by another party. Police found evidence to suggest the attack was premeditated, and that Grooms may have also planned to commit a similar offence against another toddler, this time a three year old boy.
So to sum up: a teenager raped a baby while streaming it online. And he planned to do it again.
I imagine that many of us assume that an offence such as this would carry with it an appropriate sentence, and for most of us I think that a lengthy prison term would satiate our want to see justice done. Sexual violence is after all one of the most heinous crimes that can be committed, and young children and babies are some of the most vulnerable members of society. Surely, for their protection, such an act should be met with adequate justice?
Grooms, who was guilty of engaging in a lascivious act with a child, received a ten year suspended sentence. The only term he served was the two years waiting for his trial, shared between juvenile detention and county prison. The only palpable impact upon his life was the requirement that he register as a sex offender. If he fails to do so, then he will serve his prison sentence. In other words, as long as he follows the rules this time around, he doesn’t have to serve any jail time for his offence.
One can’t help but draw parallels between this case and that of the now infamous Brock Turner. Turner was found guilty of sexual assault earlier this year, and was sentenced to only six months in prison. To add salt to the wound, he only served three of those months, released early for his good behaviour. The Rolling Stone reported that the judge’s lenient sentence was supported by the claim that a lengthy prison sentence would have a ‘severe impact’ upon Turner. Turner was also required to register as a sex offender, which the judge felt was part and parcel of his punishment.
Unlike Grooms, Turner was not a minor when he committed his crimes, and his victim was 22 years old. Still it is easy to see the similar way leniency was shown in both cases. Both offenders evaded lengthy prison sentences, both are white males, and both are required to register as sex offenders. And in both cases there has been public outrage and a call for the sentencing judges to be investigated and dismissed.
But what does registering as a sexual offender really mean? In the US it limits where a sexual offender can live so that they cannot reside close to places with children, like schools and parks. However, as critic Emily Horowitz has noted, not all offenders have committed sexual crimes against children. Turner, for example, attacked an older woman. While protection of our kids is obviously paramount, you have to wonder why the focus is on children even for offenders who have not committed acts against children. The punishment does not seem to fit the crime.
Some might argue that the sex offender registry is designed to forever inhibit offenders whose details are listed publically for employers, neighbours, and basically everyone to see. But if you were hoping that this would be the long term punishment you thought they would receive, then I’m afraid you’ll be disappointed. Although the register does provide details of registered offenders, in some US states only the details of high-risk offenders are available to the public.
And as if that wasn’t enough, the Office of Justice has found no consistent studies demonstrating the effectiveness of sex offender registration in actually preventing further crime.
So what’s the real outcome here? What punishment do Grooms and Turner face for sexually assaulting their respective victims who were both unable to defend themselves? The answer unfortunately is that neither of them will likely serve any significant prison time for their crimes, and the only long-term punishment either will receive is being listed on a glorified name and shame register.
Am I understating the impact on a person’s life of being a registered sex offender? Probably. But both of these men who committed crimes against vulnerable persons will serve understated sentences. So yes, I’m bitter. I’m angry at the sense of entitlement that seems to encourage men to take whatever they want. And I’m angry that the system is letting them largely get away with it. Why should the victim suffer more than the offender?
And yes, both Turner and Grooms will probably suffer at the hands of public outrage. And no, it is not okay to stand outside someone’s house with assault weapons as some people have done outside of Turner’s house – that is not an appropriate punishment either. None of this goes to the core of the issue: neither of these offenders will face a punishment that fits the crimes they committed.
At first we weren’t finding rapists guilty of their violent crimes. We called victims of sex crimes liars and fabricators and victim blamed our way through centuries, blindfolded and throwing punches in the dark. Now we finally accept that these violent sexual acts are occurring, but we refuse to punish offenders because we are too focused on how their lives will be affected in the long term.
We need appropriate sentencing. We need rehabilitation programs. We need justice.
Featured Image: Zac Quitzau Facebook: Zac’s Doodles