The Rehabilitation of Mike Tyson

MikeTysonThe recent conversation about Chris Brown reminds me of something I have been wanting to write a post on for a little while. Ever since I saw one of the closing episodes of last season of How I Met Your Mother. Mike Tyson had a guest role helping the main character take care of a baby. Sort of. It was later revealed, for comic effect, that Mike Tyson will go on to be a US Senator.

The whole thing struck a nerve. Even setting aside what I am going to talk about, the notion of Tyson as a senator strains even the loose narrative of the show, which is generally pretty conservative about revealing what comes in the future, even if it’s outlandish about what is happening in the present (“unreliable narrator”). But beyond that, Tyson himself is not a very good object for this humor. He is a wreck of an individual – and not a particularly lovable wreck – and much more importantly, a convicted rapist.

Was there a point at which it was decided that Mike Tyson did not commit the crime for which he was convicted? That he was railroaded? Or that it was, at the least, ambiguous?

I have not heard anybody say as much, though it does seen that at times we act as though that’s the case. Mel Gibson’s cameo in Hangover 2 was scrapped due to objections from the cast and crew, some of which pertaining to some of Gibson’s controversies. Yet Mike Tyson was allowed his second cameo in the film series despite, well, rape. And it was an unmitigated positive portrayal, too, unlike his appearance in the first Hangover film.

Now, Mike Tyson has legally paid his debt to society. It might have been a light sentence in the overall, but it was the sentence that the system reserved. I do not begrudge Tyson being able to make a living. Even in Hollywood, and even trading on his celebrity. But not so much as the lovable celebrity friend, or an ironic future US Senator, or the tough guy who is gentle-at-heart. Given the givens, that role should fall flat with us. The first Hangover walked the line closely, but other portrayals have been more problematic. The humor should not revolve around exalting him. Unless it actually has been decided that he got a bum deal from the system.

Re-reading details from the case, it doesn’t look that way to me at all.

Matt Zoeller Seitz has a piece pointing out the incongruity between Gibson’s ouster and Tyson’s role. He goes on to argue that private lives – however despicable – shouldn’t have an effect. I go back and forth on the more general topic. Ultimatey, though, I think it depends on the context. Some artists – notably singers – form a relationship with their audience. And as such, revealed private behavior can easily effect how one approaches the art that they produce. Sensitive love songs from a revealed wife-beater create an… awkward context. An actor, on the other hand, is playing somebody else (usually). A writer or director is telling a story about somebody else (ostensibly, usually) and so I personally find it more easy to overlook.

Except when, as is the case with Tyson, he is playing himself and his role very much depends on our relationship with the figure. Some measure of forgiveness, to laugh along. And I think, in this respect, I am not as forgiving as Hollywood seems to be.

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57 thoughts on “The Rehabilitation of Mike Tyson

  1. He goes on to argue that private lives – however despicable – shouldn’t have an effect

    Is he defining rape as a private act?

    But Tyson has paid his “debt to society,” as defined by society’s authorized representatives. I say give him a chance to be a better person than he was, which will be much harder if we keep insisting that he be seen only in his criminal persona.

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      • No, Seitz’s bad choice of words:
        “If artists should be publicly censured and denied employment on the basis of offenses they commit in private life”

        He asks a good question about why we overlook some celebrities’ misbehavior and not others (although his complaint about “Americans” being hypocritical is stupidly narrow), but the real underlying question is whether these things are private or not.

        Tyson doing The Hangover for drug money? I’d say private. Tyson raping someone? I’d say not private. Alec Baldwin verbally berating his daughter? …..I’m not sure.

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        • I think Baldwin is clearly private: we only know about it because the answering-machine tape was leaked. And unless you’re a much calmer parent than I am, you wouldn’t want everything you ever said to your daughters in the heat of anger made public.

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        • When did Mike Tyson become an artist? He’s not in a movie for his acting, only for the celebrity. Part of his fame is due to his crime and conviction. Likewise, the movie is making money partly due to its audacity in having someone like Mike Tyson. He and the movie company are allowed to do it, sure. The fault lies with the public for letting them get away with it, as much as with Tyson and the studio.

          I do think that Tyson followed the old Ten-Year Rule, something that Chris Brown and more notably Mark Sanford got away with breaking. The rule was, as it’s said about hypocrisy, the payment that vice makes to virtue. We can choose to believe the best about people if we give them time to have changed, even if we suspect that we’re kidding ourselves.

          I’ll tell you the one that bothers me the most: Gary Busey. The man has serious brain damage, and we’re supposed to huddle around and laugh when he does something weird? No way.

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          • You’re more cynical about Tyson than I am. I think 90+% of this fame comes from being an exceptionally fearsome heavyweight champion, and about the last one whose name anyone remembers. (According to Wikipedia, he’s also the last one that was just “The Champ”, as opposed to the Champ according to the JKL but not the QRS.)

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            • Exceptional athlete. If anything, underrated. But an athlete of the 1980’s. These days, he’s probably remembered for his face tattoo, ear-biting, raping, and squeaky voice.

              In terms of sports fame, I’d put Tyson around the level of Magic Johnson. But you wouldn’t have Johnson do a wacky cameo as a babysitter and future senator, because there’s nothing funny about it. The humor isn’t that a great athlete is taking care of a kid then advancing in politics; it’s that a criminally insane person is taking care of a kid then advancing in politics.

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    • “I say give him a chance to be a better person than he was, which will be much harder if we keep insisting that he be seen only in his criminal persona.”

      I agree with this, but I still think that there’s something perverse about the assumption that this should include fame and celebrity. There is a difference, I would argue, between being allowed to get on with your life and being encouraged to continue to have the microphone and be on TV, the movies, and magazine spreads.

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      • This. I don’t want my son to grow up and think that he can commit a heinous crime, pay his debt for just a few years, and then proceed on with his life like nothing happened. I don’t think he should have to suffer for the rest of his life, but there is lots of middle ground between suffering and being rich, famous, and an influential figure.

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        • If I may play devil’s advocate, both Tod and Mary could be read as saying a criminal’s debt to society is never fully repaid, but is a lifelong debt that can never be fully obliterated.

          And here I thought those Oregonians were liberal! ;)

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          • It’s a fine line. My ex-husband was a felon on parole when I met him. Do I think he’s a bad person and should have to pay for his crime for the rest of his life? No. Should he be a role model on a large scale? Probably not, unless he’s warning kids of the dangers. I would rather have a what to do role model, I guess.

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          • a criminal’s debt to society is never fully repaid

            By virtue of serving his/her time, the criminal is allowed to go free — that’s the whole deal. He/She is not thereby entitled to have the rest of society act as if the original crime never happened. Society’s response will depend partly on the crime itself and partly on the criminal’s subsequent words and actions. And of course on how marketable he/she is.

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            • This.

              The criminal isn’t entitled to a return to the spotlight. But nor should he be banned from such.

              If Chris Brown can sell out arenas because (as Carolla jokes) “he can move”… are we going to bar him from such? And, if so, via what mechanism?

              Would I pay to go see his show? That’s a different conversation from whether I think others should be able to and, as a result, whether he should be able to collect that ticket revenue.

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                • No one is “entitled” to the spotlight. If enough people want him in the spotlight, then he’ll be in the spotlight.

                  I used the term “entitled” because it seems that some people think they only end up back there because of some form of entitlement. I disagree with that. They’re their because we (collectively) want them there.

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          • I’m not sure that liberal has anything to do with this; a criminal (meaning felon) remains a felon. It’s part of his/her pedigree; available to human resources, creditors, land lords, colleges. Unless there is some legal action expunging the record, the felon’s place in society is forever altered despite his or her return to society.

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            • So the debt is never paid.

              Is that a good thing, that we should protect and defend against efforts at fuller rehabilitation, or a bad thing that we should seek to minimize, if not eliminate?

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              • What do we do to rehabilitate? I don’t even know, do you?

                What I know is that it costs more to keep a person in prison for a year then it does to educate them for a year. That we incarcerate people who are not violent, and who often pick up, hmmm, an education in violence and crime while in prison. The recidivism rate is, from what I gather (without googling stats) high.

                So I have some trouble answering your question, because I’m not really sure we do a lot to ‘rehabilitate.’

                But yes, in reality, without having your record cleaned, the debt is never paid, it trails you, weighting you down, like Marley’s chains. I’ve spent a lot of money to pay attorneys for kids who couldn’t, who’s crimes were silly, and I believed had some hope of redemption and contribution in them. To help them have a start at adult life without those chains.

                Because avoiding a felony, if you’ve done something stupid, is key. And avoiding that if you’re not really a danger to society requires competent defense.

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                • To me rehabilitation means things like education, mental health care and skills training. Lots of prisoners have untreated mental health needs so get them meds and set up with services when they get out( I had a chronically mentally ill client years ago who used to go to county jail every few months. He would always come out doing great since he got his meds every day in jail). Rehab can be things like GED programs and/or college courses. Even things like typing or other basic work skills. It can be drug rehab. (btw i’ve had umpteen clients do drug rehab in jail and it doesn’t work all that great since the audience is captive, bored and motivated by being stuck in prison and then struggle with the temptations when they get out. But it still works sometimes).

                  Rehab is things that will reduce recidivism and help someone get a fresh start.

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                  • Oh, I agree.

                    And I’m sure some incarcerated people get real rehab, enough to actually help them. Lots probably get a little.

                    But we’ve got this huge, complex prison system, Federal, state, county, private. Juvenile detention. INS. Military. Gitmo.

                    Our rehab habits are, quite literally, all over the map.

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                • My use of “rehabilitation” was not clear. I was using it more in the Soviet sense, of a former disgraced person being brought back into acceptable society, so to speak. In the context of felons, it was not a felicitous word choice, given the more obvious sense of rehabilitation in that context. Sorry for the confusion.

                  So my question essentially is, given that one’s prior conviction “trails you, weighting you down, like Marley’s chains,” should we seek to enhance that effect or to diminish it?

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                  • I would argue we should diminish it. If someone serves their sentence, we ought to bring them back into society with all the formality we used to incarcerate them.

                    If they’ve done their time, those prisoners need to be told “Yes, you committed a crime, you’ve done your time, now you’re a full member of society again.” To that end, I’d put almost every prisoner into a halfway house situation, probably have some staging area within the prisons, too — preparing them for life on the outside. Make them jump through the hoops, maybe tack on time to their sentences if they don’t take this retraining seriously.

                    The Army isn’t above putting a bad soldier into retraining brigade. It’s really retraining — I knew a guy who went through retraining brigade. He spent the rest of his enlistment as a truck driver, did pretty well at it, too. We stayed in touch. He wasn’t a problem for the Army any more. Cali Chris.

                    If we don’t get these felons back on their feet, we might as well just give ’em their jail money, walk them out the gate and say “See you next week.” I’m all for atonement, that’s why they’re doing time. But we can’t go on kicking these guys forever. Does us no good as a society, does them no good as human beings.

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                    • I’d argue “diminish” for most things, but rape resides in a somewhat different space than most crimes. At the very least, it would take more work than having served time for me to support the sort of acceptance that Mike Tyson is getting in some quarters.

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                    • Fame is a great curse. I think I could handle Fortune pretty well, I know enough to get some good advisers and lawyers to help with that. But fame? What’s it like when everyone knows your name, when you get a cameo as yourself because you’re a famous fuckup?

                      Want to get that call from your Coke Encrusted Agent?

                      CEA: “Yo, Trumwill, my man — Todd Phillips, you know, the guy who did Borat ? — he’s doing another Hangover movie. So these three guys get completely wasted and wake up in Thailand and one of these guys has a face tattoo like yours. Isn’t this great? And there’s a drug dealing monkey in it. So get this, at the end of the flick, you’re going to get to sing! Yeah! One Night in Bangkok!

                      You: Cokie! Are you nuts? I can’t sing! You know I can’t sing! I couldn’t carry a tune in a twelve gallon bucket.

                      CEA: It doesn’t matter. You’re broke and I need a payday. You’ll get a suit out of it, too. A nice white suit. It’s comeback time, bay-bee.

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  2. Even setting aside what I am going to talk about, the notion of Tyson as a senator strains even the loose narrative of the show

    I didn’t see it, but it sounds like a reference to Animal House, where the “After college” scenes at the end showed us that John Belushi’s character became Senator John Blutarski.

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  3. Mike Tyson is a man-child, a great mass of Id. All his life either he’s been doing what others tell him to do or going to juvie and prison when he does something he wants to do. He never really had a father figure in his life: any discipline he had in his life was imposed from the outside. He was born and bred into violence and he made a pretty good buck beating the hell out of other people in the ring until he fell under the spell of Don King.

    Self control was beyond Mike Tyson. He was, then and now, a big baby.

    Mel Gibson is a boozer, a rather bad one. Every drunk is different, the alcohol molecule affects everyone in slightly different ways. It tends to lower the voltage on the brain, which is why a drunk starts sounding like an old cassette player with low batteries. Some drunks get weepy, others get over-friendly, some become morose, others become violent, yet others do just fine, superficially. I’ve known drunks who got on the wagon and become bigger jackasses than they were when they were drunk. A dry drunk is an interesting creature. AA says once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic.

    Mel Gibson came from a rum old family himself. How much of Gibson’s bad manners comes from his alcoholism, how much from his mean old Dad, it really doesn’t matter. I’m told Gibson’s a classic abuser: he came from abuse, he learned it, he repeats it. He does and says these terrible things, he’s very remorseful (the signature of an abuser is his theatrical remorsefulness) and he re-enters the cycle of violence.

    Ordinary people who get into a violent episode don’t become remorseful. They’re usually quite defensive about their involvement: “I was provoked. This has been going on for years and I went off on the bastard. I meant exactly what I said. I was struck and I struck back and no I am not fucking sorry.”. Not the abuser. The sociopathy of the abuser leads him to emote what others want from him.

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    • Every drunk is different, the alcohol molecule affects everyone in slightly different ways

      Individuality is overrated! (Just kiddin’!)

      a drunk starts sounding like an old cassette player with low batteries.

      I drink because I’m nostalgic for the ’70s. (Now we need to explain to Kazzy what a cassette player is.)

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      • Heh, heh. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen F at the James Joyce in Durham get full of whiskey and declaim Yeats, tears running down his face — then five minutes later tear out a few bannister rails and have to be shoved outside by his brother and the rest of the staff.

        The Irish make for the most spectacular drunks. Albanians, too.

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        • I was given a gift of Albanian bathtub liquor once. I never could persuade even my hard-drinking friends to give it a try. Based on what I tasted, I think I can explain spectacular Albanian drunkenness.

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              • Last Christmas, a friend of mine (originally from Poland) made a festive drink by heating wine with cut-up fruit. It was too sweet, so she seasoned it with slivovitz. Then it was too tart, so she threw in more fruit. Too sweet again, so another slug of slivovitz. Repeat a few times, and it’s not really a wine drink anymore. But it’s awfully good.

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                • Ah, the Poles. I love the Poles. They are in fact what the French only wish they were. Their women are lovely and clever, their history is chock full of heroes, good thinkers and better musicians, their food is excellent, their spirits also. How the French ever got their reputation for sophistication and gastronomic excellence is something of a mystery. The French had better PR, I believe.

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              • Dude, I had this one polyester shirt I got for Xmas one year. Quite gnarly and stylish for those times. I wore that shirt a few times — I swear, it didn’t matter how much deodorant I wore, that thing would give me the stankatrocious armpit syndrome. Vicious, loud and zackly. Zackly like ass.

                Girls didn’t have it a bit better. Those pantsuits. Oh. My. God.

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              • At the time those polyester leisure suits were coming in, I met up with an older guy with impeccable fashion sense, a professor. Dr. B. I had a vague unease with the fashions of the time, the hippies were squalid and the squares were just horrible people with those ricky-tick shirts made from fabric more appropriate as a tablecloth in your grandmother’s dining room. He gave me some sage advice: stick to white and black where you can, avoid patterns of any sort and never wear crappy shoes.

                I don’t think I’ve owned a pair of blue jeans in over 40 years. Worn out pairs of black jeans without number. Worn a few silly jackets over the years. Affected a moustache for a while and shaved it off in disgust. But somehow I avoided most that 70s nonsense.

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            • And polyester shirts. Also disco.

              Wait, those were real? I thought they were just one of the imagined horrors of the bad trip, like the snakes coming out of the walls.

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              • He holds him with his skinny hand,
                ‘There was a shirt,’ quoth he.
                ‘Hold off! quit dancing, disco loon!’
                Eftsoons his hand dropt he.

                He holds him with his glittering eye–
                The Bee Gees in his ear,
                And listens like a three years’ child:
                Travolta sure was weird.

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  4. There was a fabulous documentary done on just how troubled Tyson’s psyche is. I haven’t seen it in years and can’t do it justice here, but he is anything but your typical celebrity-done-bad. Which doesn’t excuse what he did… which was deplorable… but I do think there is some legitimacy in seeing him as something akin to his famous “jungle cat” pet… cute and cuddley when loved and protected, violent and dangerous when otherwise. I generally don’t see him to be of sound mind or heart, which makes it heart to either love or hate him, embrace or deride him.

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  5. We had a team building / training event last fall that involved everyone reading “The Little Black Book of Innovation” http://www.innosight.com/little-black-book/
    Afterwards, we all had to discuss the book, ideally identifying 3 things we learned, 3 things we wanted to try and 3 ideas for changing things at work.
    One of the techniques of the author was to introduce lots of different innovators and talk about how they contributed. And he identified “The Mount Rushmore of Innovation” where he highlighted 4 people to concentrate on, and emphasize their role in promoting innovation. And one of them was Mike Tyson.

    When it came time to discuss the book, I debated how to respond but eventually decided to be honest and blunt. I was appalled that this unrepentant rapist was held up as a paragon and I said so. My co-workers either didn’t know his history or didn’t think it eliminated him from being cited and honored. I know some of it was an age issue (I’m older than most of them) and some a gender issue (I’m the only women). But most of my co-workers didn’t feel his behavior (personal life) disqualified him for accolades (business life).

    It was an interesting training session, but not for the reasons the IT director intended.

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  6. I was thinking about incarceration recently because I reread House of the Dead and I’m not sure it isn’t something we make to serve too many purposes. We want punishment, rehabilitation, exile, to mark out the wicked in our society, and for the criminal to pay for their crimes- all at once. But it doesn’t really satisfy all of those needs. I also wonder if rape isn’t one of those crimes that we really can’t forgive. Child-rape, for instance, is a crime that the criminal can repent for for the rest of their lives without many of us ever really forgiving them.

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    • Why do we make such a big deal out of sex crimes? I’ve had time to contemplate this question, having been accused of such a crime. Why not financial crimes? Or arson? Murderers are accorded some grim respect, drunk drivers who kill their passengers and hapless victims in oncoming traffic, they’re not as bad as rapists. Is the suffering of a million defrauded people different than the suffering of a rape victim? Ever had a car stolen? I’ve had two stolen. Both were recovered after being stripped for wheels and parts. I had to fix them up and drive both of them for a while just to get them out of the impound lot: they charge you to keep the car there. Those cars never felt like mine after being stolen. My son’s teddy bear was in the back of one of them. I found it in the back seat. I stood there in the impound lot and wept horribly.

      You stand there in that impound lot with me and console me. Tell me something as seemingly trivial as a car theft doesn’t make the victim feel violated. Crime hurts.

      I’ve met some rapists. Self-confessed rapists, sitting there eating baloney sandwiches in C Pod. We all sat together out of self-defence mostly. Sitting there, listening to a guy who murdered his wife with a butcher knife talking big shit to the sex crimes crowd at our little table. I got out. I was acquitted of all charges. I’m not a registered sex offender. I got my life back. Those guys won’t. That guy who damned near beheaded his wife will eventually get paroled and get to walk past a school. If that’s not a sex crime, you tell me what is.

      How do you denominate suffering? Is there a special currency for rape? Society is so full of itself, putting sex crimes into some special category. You don’t have to forgive him. Just don’t pretend the other prisoners are any fucking better.

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      • I don’t pretend that half the people walking free and clear are any better than the men in jail.
        Hell, half of THEM ain’t never gonna see a jail cell — too much money, people know better than to cross ’em.

        Stupid people without connections get sent to prison. You can be drunk as a skunk, a danger to everyone — and driving over the speedlimit, but if you’re wealthy enough, you aren’t going to jail.

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      • Gender (since most rapists are men & most rape victims are women) plus history (how long has rape actually been thought a serious crime?). That’s why.

        Even now there’s still people that blame rape victims for being raped & get nods of approval. People that blame victims of other violent crimes society has learned to see as assholes quicker.

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        • That doesn’t make any sense. Most domestic violence is men beating women. I don’t see laws requiring people convicted of domestic violence having to register with the local authorities. I don’t see fraudsters prohibited from opening banking accounts. I don’t see car thieves denied drivers’ licences.

          It’s a crock of shit. This has nothing to do with people blaming rape victims and you goddamn well know it. Try again.

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      • I think the reasons we tend to look at sex crimes differently is not because of the victims but because of the offenders. There is a strong belief out there that the sort of person who commits violent sex crimes cannot be rehabilitated, or at least that it is very, very hard to do. That is why we want to lock them up and throw away the key… that is why we force them to register their addresses and report their past crimes to their neighbors… that is why we look down upon them in a way we don’t look down upon others… because once a sexual predator, always a sexual predator. It is not an act you committed in the past… it is a part of your being in the present and future. It defines you, in perpetuity.

        I don’t know how much the science backs up this view or how accurate it is, but it does appear to be the dominant view and would explain the distinction in our response.

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        • It’s all nonsense. Domestic violence blurs into sexual assault all over the map. I’ve seen estimates saying one in four women are the victims of rape or domestic violence at one time or another. Without treatment, most domestic batterers will reoffend.

          No, Kazzy, this society has a fetish. A prurient little rape fetish. It’s the most disturbing crime because it’s sexual and that’s all it is. If this nation gave a shit about rape victims — and it manifestly does not — it would do something about prison rape. It won’t. All you good people out there, goin’ on with your happy little lives, here’s a not so well kept secret. When young men get raped in prison, nobody gives a shit. Everyone turns a blind eye to it. Kids and women, well, that’s different.

          Once a sexual predator, always a sexual predator? Prisons are full of people falsely convicted of rape, still waiting for DNA tests to clear them. There’s a huge backlog of cases. Class X felony, you can be executed for rape and murder where you would get life if you’d just murdered.

          We are forever defined by what we do. What do you think we should do with women who make demonstrably false charges of rape? Any ideas on that front? Don’t say it doesn’t happen. It happened to me.

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          • Blaise,
            If we leave “rape” out of it, and focus on people who are actual, honest-to-god pedophiles, I think a reasonable case could be made that if you broke the laws of human decency once, you’re apt to do it again.

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