“Hurt people hurt people” is not a new or original thought; it is a fact that anyone who has ever studied psychology, been abused, or been an abuser knows to be true.
However, we can sympathize with a person’s past trauma without in any way treating their actions with sympathy. We do not owe Brock Turner any sympathy for his decision to violently rape a young woman behind a dumpster. You should have taken the wave of empathy you felt while writing this post and directed it to his victim, who will live her life forever remembering that night.
If Mr. Turner was in some way hurt by the world (something he has not claimed, as a highly privileged young man whose parents have supported him wholly through his rape case and incarceration), we can condemn any abuse he experienced. We can fight for proper treatment for abused men and boys. But we cannot use that as a reason to say that he, Brock Turner, the adult man who made the decision to violently rape a woman behind a dumpster, should be forgiven when he has shown no remorse whatsoever for his actions.
We owe rapists nothing. Not sympathy. Not restraint in shaming their actions. Not protection from others who want to shame them. If you personally would like to forgive them and invite them into your life — perhaps room with them, employ them, marry them — feel free to make that personal choice. I hope that you choose one who has had extensive therapy, because data indicate that a majority of rapists are responsible for 6+ rapes in their lifetimes.
But don’t you dare tell other women to have more empathy for their rapists. Who had empathy for the survivors of those rapes, when their sexual histories were argued in a court of law? When they were told they could not have been raped if they had previous consensual sex with their rapist? When their panties were examined as evidence and their rapists freed as a result?
What rapists need most from society is not more empathy, but consequences severe enough to force them to find a way to change. Rapists already get lots of empathy, every time someone says “consent is so confusing these days” or “she sent mixed messages.” What they don’t get is a wall of rock hard consequences that tells them “NO, you CANNOT go on with your life if you continue to rape. Your life as you know it will change for the VERY MUCH WORSE if you continue to rape. You MUST change, if you want any kind of a life at all.”
If you believe they are confused, then you must also believe they are capable of shame. If they are capable of shame, then someday the full reality of their choices will hit them and they will realize that in exchange for a few moments of feeling invincible, they did irreversible harm to their victims. The most people they have harmed, the more pain they will feel if/when they finally realize what they’ve really done. They may want to harm or kill themselves, when they realize the full horror of what they’ve done.
The kindest, most compassionate thing we can do for rapists is STOP them. A rapist stopped before they cross any more lines can perhaps become someday a redeemed and healthy person, although still not a person I would ever invite to my home. A serial rapist who got empathy for his “hurt” and “confusion” instead of consequences severe enough to encourage him to really, really change? That’s someone whose future holds only the promise of being hit with a twelve-ton truck of deferred pain whenever he finally wakes up enough to understand what he’s done.