I read that five Afghanis had been executed for gang rape. In Afghanistan rape carries the death penalty. In England rape was never been a capital offence, for since about 1861 but fifty years earlier there were around two hundred capital offences many of which we would regard as trivial today. In modern times in developed nations rape is an offence that has only carried the death penalty in most of the Southern States of the USA and in the US military.
During the Second World War Shepton Mallet prison was used by the US military as a prison. There eighteen military executions were carried out, six of which were for rape. Ten of the executed men were African Americans, five were white and three were of Latino origin. In the USA between 1941 and 1964 three hundred people were executed for rape, even though their victims had survived the rape.
Of course rape is a terrible crime, but I cannot see that it should be punished as a capital offence. Although I can see the logic (and violently disagree with it but that disagreement is incidental to my point) for arguing that murder should be punished with judicial murder, I cannot see the logic of punishing rape with the death penalty.
Rape is an offence which attracts much public interest. Today the courts do their best to ensure that the victim of rape is treated properly and her anonymity preserved, although no such considerations apply to those who are found not guilty of the crime.
I do not suggest that we adopt the matter of fact attitude to rape that Miss Cunegund showed in “Candide”.
“Good heavens!” cried Candide, “is it you? Is it Miss Cunegund I behold, and alive? Do I find you again in Portugal? Then you have not been ravished? They did not rip open your body, as the philosopher Pangloss informed me?”
“Indeed but they did,” replied Miss Cunegund; “but these two accidents do not always prove mortal.”
Rape is never an accident, but a serious crime which needs a careful approach because it is easy to allege and hard to disprove as well as being traumatic for the victim upon whose evidence most cases will turn and traumatised victims rarely give an easy account of the facts when being cross examined in court. The right of an individual not to be raped is as important as the right of an individual not to suffer for a crime that he or she did not commit. Society has a right to punish wrongdoers, provided that they are wrongdoers.
In the case of the executions for rape in Afghanistan human rights groups have said that the convictions of the five hanged men were unsafe, and that they should not have been found guilty, let alone executed. I understand that crimes against women are a real problem in Afghanistan, notwithstanding the benefits of the invasion of the country that George W Bush and Tony Blair said would be brought for the Afghan people, as a result of their invasion. I remember politicians using the argument that the war was necessary to defend women’s rights in Afghanistan. Thirteen years later it seems not much has changed.