Statutory Rape of 13-Year-Old Yields No Jail Time, Because of Defendant’s Cultural Insularity

The Daily Mail (UK) reports:

A muslim who raped [in the sense of statutory rape -EV] a 13-year-old girl he groomed on Facebook has been spared a prison sentence after a judge heard he went to an Islamic faith school where he was taught that women are worthless.

Adil Rashid, 18, claimed he was not aware that it was illegal for him to have sex with the girl because his education left him ignorant of British law.

Yesterday Judge Michael Stokes handed Rashid a suspended sentence, saying: ‘Although chronologically 18, it is quite clear from the reports that you are very naive and immature when it comes to sexual matters.’

Earlier Nottingham Crown Court heard that such crimes usually result in a four to seven-year prison sentence.

But the judge said that because Rashid was ‘passive’ and ‘lacking assertiveness’, sending him to jail might cause him ‘more damage than good’.

Earlier the court heard how Rashid had ‘little experience of women’ due to his education at an Islamic school in the UK, which cannot be named for legal reasons….

In … interviews with psychologists, Rashid claimed he had been taught in his school that ‘women are no more worthy than a lollipop that has been dropped on the ground’. …

[The sentencing judge] said that Rashid knew what he was doing was wrong.

‘It was made clear to you at the school you attended that having sexual relations with a woman before marriage was contrary to the precepts of Islam,’ he said….

My quick thoughts:

1. In the abstract, while ignorance of the law is generally not a defense to a crime (an oversimplification, but one that’s apt here), it might sometimes play a proper role in sentencing. For instance, to the extent that one is sentencing a person to incapacitate him from committing future crimes, or to specifically deter him from committing future crimes, one might treat differently (A) someone who did the act knowing it was a crime from (B) someone who didn’t know the act was a crime. Person B, under the right circumstances, might be quite willing to change his ways simply because he learns that the conduct is illegal; one can’t say the same about person A.

One can see that especially clearly as to minor offenses that vary from place to place or are just not widely known, whether we’re talking about sentencing or just law enforcement discretion. If you’re busted for turning right on red in a place where that’s forbidden, and the police officer sees from your license that you’re from a place where it’s allowed, it might make sense for the officer to give you a break. You can imagine the same as to sentencing for regulatory offenses where the defendant seems otherwise law-abiding, and seems likely to abide by this law as well, now that he knows it.

2. This having been said, when the legal system sees the offense as serious enough — and inherently serious — there ought to be some substantial punishment just as a matter of retribution, and not just incapacitation or special deterrence of this particular offender.

3. This is especially so when there aren’t separate indications that this is an otherwise highly law-abiding person who has just made an error, or when the person’s own defense suggests a propensity for serious misbehavior (as the “women are no more worthy than a lollipop that has been dropped on the ground”); there, punishment for incapacitation or special deterrence might be quite useful. To be sure, we don’t deliberately treat people as guilty just because they hold reprehensible moral beliefs, or lack evidence of being generally law-abiding. But if a person is guilty of the crime, and seeks lenient treatment on the grounds that a harsh sentence isn’t really needed, then looking at his broader character is relevant to evaluating just how dangerous he is, and how much of a lesson he needs.

4. Finally, when the claim is “I didn’t know because I was raised in an insular community,” there is reason for punishment precisely to send a message to members of insular communities (and leaders of those communities) that they need to work harder to learn the important commands of the legal system. Conversely, cutting slack to people who don’t know the law because they grew up in an insular community — or to people who claim not to know the law for this reason — reinforces the tendency of many in insular communities to focus more on following the norms of their community than trying to learn and abide by the norms of society.