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“Knock Knock…” “Who’s There?” “Uh, rape.”

May 10, 2010
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Though not technically in our mandate. we at Forserious try to be as entertaining as possible when covering the head-scratchingly absurd current events. Normally it’s pretty damn easy (read: those running our country’s governance and related systems act like a bunch of drunk toddlers, and thus their mistakes are inherently amusing. Nay, hilarious).

Not so in the case of the stark sentencing differences for two recent and high profile sexual assault convictions. But I am bringing up the issue regardless, partly because the issue I’m about to raise has been gnawing at me for weeks, and partly because I’m sure I can make up for this brief sojourn into sour with some lighthearted Ottawa mockery later on in the week.

I recently read about the Ontario Superior Court sentence of life in prison for Michael Anderson, who broke into an elderly woman’s home, stabbed her and raped her.

Now initially, the Western Canadian post-Reformer pinko feminist in my shouted, “huzzah! Justice!”

Then I turned the digital page to read about the sentence in the now infamous York University rape case of Daniel Katsnelson, who was sentenced to 8 years by the Ontario Superior Court for sneaking into a residence and raping two women, both in their dorm rooms.

Obviously each case is unique in its circumstances, which is why mandatory homogenous sentencing for crimes is backwards ballyhoo (that’s right Stephen Joseph Harper, I’m talking to you, son). That said, but there are some broad similarities between the two crimes that warrant comparison, especially as we attempt to determine why the sentences differ so greatly. Namely that in each case:

- The guilty are both young and with no mentions of previous convictions
– The nature of both crimes was disturbing and horrific – home invasions followed by violent rape.

Which begs the dark question, why the harsher sentence for the first case? Is it somehow worse to rape an old woman?

A natural argument, and one that several friends offered is, yes. The weaker or frailer the victim, the more offensive the crime. Well that may be true for degree of “offensiveness” what role does “offensiveness” or “weakness” play in sentencing? Surely that worldview puts the onus on the victim of the crime, not on the perpetrator. By that argument, a violent attack against a champion fighter is less infractious than an equal crime against another innocent. Not so.

So looking at it from another angle, is it perhaps more forgiveable to rape young women? More broadly speaking, are there groups or classes of women whom are more acceptable to rape? Perhaps, subconsciously, do we find it more understandable?

I would put forward the notion that yes, because young women are seen more than any other societal demographic as objects of sex, the justice system is more accommodating to those who treat them as objects of sex.

For example, some recent and disturbing examples of sexual assault against aboriginal women in Northern Canada being described here and here by a police officer and a judge as “crimes of opportunity.” A non-aboriginal example is here.

Rape is never a “crime of opportunity.” It’s just a crime. Moving the onus away from the attacker and onto the “opportunity” presented gives excuse to the attacker. It gives understanding of the attacker’s motivations and mind space. It puts onus on the survivor for being in the situation of their assault – it emphasizes in these instances that women’s sexuality and attractiveness are part of the situation responsible for their attack.

And this is where the discrepancies in sentencing begin to make sense. To give understanding to the attacker’s motivations and mind space is easier in the case of the dorm co-eds than it is to the elderly woman. To attack and rape an elderly woman is nothing short of disgusting in the eyes of the court and the world. But the rape of two 19-year old women is, apparently, less disgusting.

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