Two stories in yesterday’s Minneapolis StarTribune send conflicting messages that mirror a society that struggles to address sexual assault. (More)

“I don’t want another kid hurt”

BPI’s own addisnana alerted me to the stories, the first of which reports on lawsuits filed against a priest in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis:

The Rev. Jerome C. Kern was accused in a lawsuit of “sexual battery” involving an Edina boy from 1972 to 1976. Kern had been transferred to our Our Lady of Grace Church in Edina in 1969, after parents at his St. Paul church informed the archdiocese that he had sexually fondled their two school-age sons, attorneys said.

The lawsuit, in Ramsey County District Court, also names the archdiocese on civil charges related to its transfer of Kern to that church without addressing his alleged problems and without notifying families.

The plaintiff, now a man in his 50s, is one of at least 10 people abused by Kern that the law firm of Jeff Anderson & Associates is aware of, attorney Mike Finnegan said. The firm is preparing three more suits against Kern, he said.

“What’s interesting about this case is that Kern has had a low public profile, but already we know about 10 victims,” Finnegan said. “At this early stage of the game, that’s a large number.”

The case follows a pattern that has played out in Catholic churches around the world, but it’s not just a Catholic problem. Similar scandals have plagued Southern Baptists and Mormons, schools like Penn State and the Maryland School for the Deaf, and institutions ranging from Congress to the military to the Boy Scouts.

In each case, denials and coverups were the norm, not the exception, a pattern that prompted Minneapolis victim Alan Michaud to tell the StarTribune:

I don’t want another kid hurt. I don’t want anyone hurt because people aren’t doing their jobs.

“If I had total freedom to impose a sentence….”

Meanwhile, the proposed release of a serial rapist from an inpatient treatment center is sparking public outrage:

An unlikely assortment of legislators and law-enforcement officials – on both sides of the political aisle – has expressed concern over the proposed provisional discharge of Thomas Duvall, 58, from the Minnesota Sex Offender Program (MSOP). Duvall was convicted on three separate occasions of sexually assaulting teenage girls – each time shortly after he was released from prison – in cases with gruesome and violent details.

The highly charged recommendation to release Duvall, which still must be reviewed by a panel of state judges, has reopened long-standing questions about how long violent sex offenders should be kept behind bars – and about whether public safety would be better served by treating them inside prison, rather than committing them indefinitely to the MSOP centers in St. Peter and Moose Lake.

Although sentences for sexual assault have almost doubled since 1988, the average is still less than 11 years, the StarTribune reports. But many offenders go from prison into MSOPs, and Duvall would be among very few ever released. The judge in Duvall’s last case – the rape of a 17-year-old girl whom Duvall also beat with a hammer – would have preferred a longer prison term:

If I had total freedom to impose a sentence, I probably would have put him away for a longer time. … I would be concerned about Duvall, about whether the security is sufficient.

“Grossly disproportionate”

In 1974, a man named Erlich Coker escaped from prison in Georgia, where he was serving multiple sentences for murder, rape, kidnapping, and assault. While on the run, he raped a woman and stole her car. Upon capture, he was convicted of her rape and sentenced to death. But in Coker v. Georgia, the U.S. Supreme Court held that death was a “grossly disproportionate” punishment for rape.

The Court revisited the issue in 2008, in Kennedy v. Louisiana. The defendant, Patrick Kennedy, raped his 8-year-old stepdaughter and was sentenced to death under a Louisiana statute that made the rape of a child under 12 a capital offense. Because the victim in the Coker case was an adult, the Court had never ruled on whether the rape of a child could justify the death penalty. Based on the proportionality argument in Coker and other cases, the Court held:

[A] death sentence for one who raped but did not kill a child, and who did not intend to assist another in killing the child, is unconstitutional under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments.

While I oppose the death penalty in all cases, I cite Coker and Kennedy to illustrate that the U.S. Supreme Court has decided – in these and other cases – that rape is a less serious crime than murder.

But is it?

“Pedophiles who molest boys, and rapists of adult women, were the types of offenders most likely to recidivate”

Consider the ages of defendants in violent crimes, as reported by Brian Reaues and Pheny Smith in Felony Defendants in Large Urban Counties:

    Murder – Under 18 (11%), 18-20 (24%), 21-24 (19%), 25-29 (19%), 30-34 (10%), 35-40 (9%), 40+ (10%)
    Rape – Under 18 (4%), 18-20 (16%), 21-24 (12%), 25-29 (20%), 30-34 (16%), 35-40 (15%), 40+ (17%)

Murder tends to be a crime of youth, with 35% committed by people 20 or under and the rate dropping sharply at age 30. But rape is different. The age of defendants peaks later, at age 25-29, drops only a little, and remains steady. Simply, age does not reduce the propensity to rape as much as it does for other violent crimes, and the recidivism rate for rape is twice that for homicide.

And while some sex offenders do respond to treatment, the Oregon State Sex Abuse Task Force reports that treatment is less successful for pedophiles who molest boys or men who rape adult women:

Studies that have tracked sex offenders over longer follow-up periods have found that pedophiles who molest boys, and rapists of adult women, were the types of offenders most likely to recidivate at rates of 52% and 39% respectively.

As Minnesota officials consider whether to revamp their sentencing, they should consider these statistics … and ask themselves if treating rape as a less serious crime than murder is yet another element of our rape culture.

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Happy Saturday!