A couple weeks ago I wrote a blog post arguing that our sexual desires–including “unacceptable” ones such as rape, bestiality, and pedophilia–were something we were born with. I am not going to rehash those arguments now. If you are interested, or disagree, feel free to tell me why on that post. What I want to talk about today is the response I got to this argument.
It was the idea that it doesn’t matter where the desire (specifically to rape) comes from, and that we shouldn’t focus on it because that will excuse the behavior of the rapists. Obviously, this is a condensed version of what was said, but the gist is there: by explaining the reasons behind why people rape we are potentially excusing them from the behavior, something which we shouldn’t be doing.
I understand the concern. We don’t want to give anyone an “out” for committing a crime. However, I think that this concern oversimplifies things, and runs the risk of amplifying the problem.
Let’s start with the reason I wrote the original blog. Given my view that these desires were inherent, something we are born with to some extent, and something we cannot change (like being attracted to men, women, or both), I wanted to bring this out there as an idea. To some extent I guess I do want to excuse something, but not the behavior, the desire. I want it to be okay for someone struggling with their desire to rape, or molest children to come forward to speak to a psychiatrist about their feelings and get help to control themselves so as to NOT commit a crime. As it is, if anyone opens up to having these sorts of feelings–even without acting on them–they are immediately viewed with suspicion by all those around them. I would like people to be able to ask for help before they get lost in their own desires.
I understand the concern that was had from this discussion. “If we say it’s innate then aren’t we excusing it?” I don’t think so. I am saying the desire could be innate, not the behavior. Think of it from another point of view. Scientists say that some people are more prone to addiction than others. Those with a family history of alcoholism for example — those with an innate pull towards alcohol — do have a choice. If a person watches both their parents, their grandparents, and older sibling struggle with alcoholism, and s/he knows about the genetic links, then that person does have a choice as to whether to touch alcohol. And if that person chooses to drink and keep drinking despite knowing the risks then we, as a society, do still hold them accountable for their actions. A genetic predisposition towards alcoholism is not an excuse, a “get out of jail free” card for someone to hold up and say “it’s okay, I can keep drinking, it’s in my genes”. I believe that the crimes of a sexual nature should be treated in the same way.
I have already argued why I don’t think mental illness can be an excuse for bad behavior, and I think the same holds true in the case of rape and other “bad” sexual desires. In a way, one could argue that they are a form of mental illness.
Do I think that the desire to rape could be inherent in a person, something people a “born with”? Yes. Do I think that this compels a person to rape? No. Therefore, I don’t think there is any way in which this should excuse the behavior of a person, merely inform us of more potential ways to prevent these sorts of things happening in the future.