On the Potential of those who Rape

Content warning: brief (though not explicit) statutory rape and murder depiction. 

As a part of my readings for my Criminal Law course, I learned about a 1997 case in which a high school senior who walked in on his friend who was struggling with a seven-year-old girl in a bathroom stall. The boy did nothing and simply left the bathroom. He did not report the incident or try to stop it.The friend raped and then murdered the girl.

The boy was later interviewed and said this:

“I have done nothing wrong. It’s a very tragic event, okay? But the simple fact remains I do not know this little girl. I do not know starving children in Panama. I do not know people that die in Panama… The only person I knew in this event was [my friend]…, and I know as his best friend that he had potential. I’m sad I lost a best friend. I’m not going to lose sleep over somebody else’s problem.”

I’ve heard of countless stories of people who have been encouraged not to report rapes or sexual assaults because the assailant was really a “good person” and had “a lot of potential.” One must ask, of course: potential for what?

A person who has committed rape may still have potential to do good things, but this crime reveals something that person definitely has potential for. In that case, the boy did not only defend his friend’s potential to achieve great things; he also defended his friend’s potential to rape and assault women, which the friend already showed himself capable of doing.

I’m tired of the “he has so much potential” argument being a defense for people who have committed rape or sexual assault. We should seek to make those people better and to flourish, but we shouldn’t simply ignore the fact that they’ve done something terrible that they could do again. We all have the potential for both good and evil. We already know what someone who has committed rape has the potential for. She knows it too. If we ignore it, we might foster it.

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1 Comment

  1. I never thought potential has anything to do it. There are a lot of the people that someone has seen grow, and they used to be “”(fill the blank- smart, talented, brilliant) and had potential for great future- then they end up at a bad job and have whatever life and never fulfill that potential…We are always held by standards and expectations, but truth is, you leave that expectation aside when you decide to take action towards it or away from it. You could have had potential. That guy could have had potential for a great life. Yet they chose to abuse somebody. May be by mistake or not- but they did something awful, and that’s all there is to it. Potential is just an idea, what comes out of it is what is reflected in our action. There is no excuse for rape or murder.

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