I know that as a feminist I am supposed to feel good about the fact that justice was served in the case of former Congressman Anthony Weiner. Weiner pleaded guilty to one count of sending obscene material to a minor and will, as the NY Post so tactfully put it, will be getting “hard time.”
Despite his plea to serve his time as a suspended sentence, he will spend 21 months incarcerated for sexting with a 15-year-old. In a series of exchanges, he cajoled her into undressing and touching herself on Skype, and then sent her explicit messages about what he would do to her if she were 18.
But I don’t feel good, and not only because typing the previous sentence made me want to vomit. And not because it makes me sad that so many girls lose their childhoods to men who exploit and abuse them. And not because the girl admitted it started as a scam in order to see if “Anthony was still up to the same antics.”
Undoubtedly, Weiner has a serious problem; he has stated that he is in treatment for addiction, and in a letter to the judge in the case, wrote that he is attempting to learn how to live with integrity. He has also apologized for “endangering the wellbeing of a 15 year old girl.” When Weiner entered into a plea deal, he agreed not to appeal the 21 to 27 month recommendation set by prosecutors. I do believe Weiner deserves to serve time, not only to show that actions like his have consequences, but to instill hope in victims of sexual predation, abuse, and violence, who so rarely get justice.
Maybe that’s why there is a gnawing feeling in my stomach: because this is when justice is served. This is when we choose to care — when the accused felon is flashy, interesting, a celebrity.
According to RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), it’s estimated that only 310 out of every 1000 rapes in the United States are reported to the police, meaning 2 out of every 3 go unreported. Of those 310 that are even reported, only 57 lead to arrest. Of those 57, only 11 cases will be referred to prosecutors, and only 6 rapists will be incarcerated. That’s a 0.6 percent conviction rate in sexual assault cases.
(Robberies and assaults are two times more likely to be reported to the police, with two percent and four percent of those perpetrators, respectively, serving time. Incarceration rates are highest among drug offenses .)
Rates of conviction for other kinds of sexual exploitation and violence are harder to track down. When it comes to rates of perpetration we have a better idea of the problems at hand, but data is still iffy. The National Center for Victims of Crime reports that one in 5 girls and one in 20 boys is a victim of child sexual abuse. Further, the U.S. Department of Justice reports that one in 25 minors received an online sexual solicitation in which the solicitor tried to make offline contact, and in more than one-quarter (27 percent) of incidents, solicitors asked minors for sexual photographs of themselves.
It’s obviously important that we celebrate when the criminal justice system does something right. But, we must remember — it is a system built to serve us, to serve our communities. Too many cases of sexual violence and exploitation go unnoticed and unpunished. If Anthony Weiner is one of the rare predators actually being penalized, the system doesn’t work. Everyone needs to be held accountable, not just those with a political background and an ironic last name.