An athlete from Stanford University has been sentenced to six months in jail for raping a woman he found on campus, passed out in a drunken stupor. Many people are upset because the sentence seems so light, considering the ugliness and seriousness of the crime he committed. And they are bothered by the attitude of the young man’s father, who complained about how harsh the sentence is, considering his son only “got 20 minutes of action.”
I agree that the father shows a heartless insensitivity to his son’s morally repugnant crime. I don’t mind the imprisonment being relatively short, since the real punishment is that the young man must register as a sex offender for the rest of his life. There will never be a day for the rest of his life when he doe not remember and regret what he has done. That seems commensurate with the consequences for the young woman, who also will remember for all her days.
I’m always a bit puzzled in situations like this, however, because no one seems to point out an obvious lesson: Drunkenness makes you needlessly vulnerable. Drinking until you are out of control of yourself is never excusable. The young woman’s serious lack of judgment is no way or to any degree lessons the responsibility of the fellow for his vile crime. And it cannot be said that she is in any way is at fault for being raped. The crime is his and his alone.
And yet it must also be said that we humans do not have the moral right to willfully surrender our own dignity and our own ability to wisely make our own decisions.
There are two lessons, then, in this story. One is that taking advantage of the helpless is morally and legally unacceptable. The other is that rendering ourselves needlessly helpless is foolish at best.
UPDATE: Since writing the above, I’ve learned that the young man who committed the rape on a drunk woman was himself drunk. This just underscores my point: Drinking to excess is inexcusable because it makes us liable not just to be abused but to abuse. There is no excuse for getting drunk. It is never morally acceptable and most certainly never wise.