It is beyond troubling that a schoolchild would report to the education authorities and the police that she was raped by her schoolmates, yet be made to face her alleged attackers every day at school, while our justice system takes its own good time (more than one year in one case) deciding how to deal with the matter.
The presumption of innocence applies in our justice system and does not disappear until conviction in a court of law. But also of utmost importance is the protection of the victim. This is particularly the case when the school’s own disciplinary proceedings relied on an evidentiary record that persuaded the school to suspend the accused for 10 days.
But that cannot be sufficient. What did the police uncover in their investigations? If it is that there is insufficient evidence to bring charges, the victims, their parents, the schools and the public need to know. And if it is that there is evidence, but because of the age of the accused there is a reluctance to charge, we also need to be told that. But if that is the case, what a travesty of justice! What message would we be sending to our young people and to the public?
Those found guilty of rape should be held accountable, regardless of the age at which they committed their crime. If you are old enough to rape, you are old enough to face the consequences.
This does not necessarily mean putting very young perpetrators in prison among adult males where they too are likely to become victims of sexual assault or recruited into a life of crime. But it does mean removing them from society for a period of time during which they must confront the fact that they have committed intolerable acts which cannot and will not be ignored on account of their young age.
In fact to ignore such criminal behavior by young males not only allows age to immunize them from bearing the consequence for their cruel deeds, it also confers on them an entitlement, an impunity that guarantees that when they do become adult males, some, if not all of them would be absolutely dangerous to all women because they had learned that when they violate females, they will remain unpunished.
Our society is also deeply wounded when the victims see their violators escape punishment. Our girls and women are all made less safe by the failure to punish rapists.
One of the most glaring affronts to the safety and dignity of our girls occurs when we allow young rapists to attend the same school and even the same classes as their victims. Common sense and the protection of the victims demand that such students be removed from the schools their victims attend. While it is certainly appropriate to continue to offer an education to young rapists, under no circumstance should they be brought into contact with their victims. This simply compels the victims to be re-traumatized over and over, every time she sees her tormentors. It further robs her of the opportunity to restore a sense of psychological tranquility from which she can continue with her own learning.
Being removed from school and placed in an alternative learning environment should also be the minimum when students are accused of rape, even while the matter is being investigated – not 10 days suspension, then business as usual.
Our society must speak loudly and clearly: age offers no immunity from prosecution for the crime of rape. It is the least we can do for the victims.