The media has recently focused a great deal of attention on the issue of sexual assault in the military. Not only has the number of sexual assault cases affecting men and women in uniform spiked sharply over the last year, Congress is currently sparring over how to address this issue. It is unquestionably important to prevent sexual assault and to properly hold individuals accountable for assaulting others. However, the high-profile nature of the military sexual assault debate in the media and in Congress seems to have transitioned recently into efforts aimed at cracking down on sex crimes generally.
Both the federal government and state governments across the nation already treat sex crimes as major offenses. Many convicted sex offenders are not only required to serve significant sentences for their crimes, but are also required to register as sex offenders for life. Sex offender registration requirements often keep individuals who have served their debts to society from obtaining meaningful employment, schooling and housing.
It is just that individuals who break the law are held proportionally accountable for their actions. However, disproportionate punishments and life-long branding can ruin lives, ruin families and ruin communities. Unfortunately, the empathy that many individuals and organizations have for sexual assault victims is translating into injustice for many offenders.
The president of the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network recently told The New York Times that Congressional attention on a host of sex crimes issues is most welcome. He noted that, “What’s unusual right now is that there are so many issues getting attention at the same time. There is a growing sense that these are winnable fights. We are excited and trying to make the most of it.” While it is understandable that sexual assault victim advocates would wish to take advantage of a favorable political climate, such “fights” should neither be waged nor won in ways that unjustly and disproportionately punish and ultimately brand individuals for life if a court determines that a life sentence is not justified in any given case.
Source: New York Times, “Lawmakers Broadening Their Focus to Fight Against an Array of Sex Crimes,” Jennifer Steinhauer, April 21, 2014