Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you have by now heard the news of ex-Subway spokesman, Jared Fogle. He faces between 5 and 12.5 years in prison after agreeing to plead guilty to charges that he paid for sex with minors and received child pornography. His criminal behavior involved at least 14 children. This case was foreshadowed by the raid of Fogle’s Indiana home, which many speculated had to do with the arrest of the executive director of his charity, Russell Taylor. Taylor was arrested on charges of child exploitation, possession of child pornography, and voyeurism, and is currently serving time behind bars.
As with any high profile case, this story has gotten loads of media attention. And whenever the news outlets present a new story, we see hundreds and thousands of comments on these stories. I’ve written about these comments before. Sometimes, the people posting comments actually provide some sort of additional insight or some shred of compassion by the people negatively affected. Sometimes.
Most of the time what we see in comments is a less-than-delightful blend of moral superiority complexes, death wishes, and unoriginal jokes – in this case about the length of Subway’s $5 sandwiches as compared to parts of the male anatomy Jared is sure to receive. Throw in a pinch of racism, sexism, or homophobia if the story is right. Now don’t get me wrong. What Jared Fogle did was disgusting. Reprehensible. Abominable. Repugnant. The thesaurus I used to brainstorm adjectives didn’t list enough words to adequately describe how I feel about Jared’s actions, and the actions of sexual violence perpetrators alike. He deserves prison time, and I believe he deserves more time than he faces. And although I have mixed feelings about capital punishment, I can even understand how some may feel that is a just punishment. I don’t necessarily agree, but I can at least understand it enough that I don’t feel the need to address it. But he most certainly does not deserve to be raped in prison. And neither does any other sex offender.
To say that Jared Fogle deserves to be raped in prison says that there is a line separating where people do and do not deserve rape. And there isn’t. Rape is not justifiable – not when someone is drunk, not when they are wearing sexy clothing, not when they’ve had sex with the person before, and not when they have abused other people. It simply can’t work like that. There are already enough factors silencing victims of rape and sex abuse. We can’t add a time where someone actually does deserve it. That time, that situation, doesn’t exist. Hear me when I say that what are fighting against isn’t rapists, but it is rape in and of itself. What Jared Fogle did can be described using any and all synonyms for the word “vile”. And those same synonyms can be used to describe any sexual assault done to Jared Fogle or any other sexual offender in retaliation.
Put yourself in these shoes for just a second. Let’s pretend – and of course I would certainly never wish this on anyone ever – that someone in your life has been sexually abused or assaulted. Let’s say that they haven’t told anyone, but they are carrying that weight around with them, and have been for a while. One of the reasons they carry that weight is because perhaps they don’t want to admit the circumstances under which they were violated. Maybe they had been drinking. Maybe they were at a party that all their friends and family told them not to go to. Maybe they were a child, and since they didn’t say “no” clearly enough (because they didn’t really know how to), they feel some sense of responsibility for what happened. Even though none of these situations places blame on the person assaulted, society tells them differently. Family and friends tell them differently, even if they don’t mean to. So here we are, with a loved one of yours who was hurt, and they feel like they deserved it.
But maybe they wanted to open up about it to you. Maybe they are ready to tell someone, and they’ve decided that you’re the one that will understand. You’re the one that will hear them out. But then you, out of your completely understandable anger, claim that Jared will “see what it’s like to have that happen to him in prison” or some other equal statement. Think of how you’re portraying yourself to the person who wants to tell you something but already feels blame. You’re telling them that there are situations where someone deserves to be sexually assaulted, and that may push them away. Even if you don’t mean to, this is the message it can send.
Be disgusted by rape. Be enraged by it. But don’t condone it. There are many means of justice. Rape is never one of them.