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Rape: The Crime That Is Truly Insane

March 20, 1994

The people of Claremont can breathe easier: Rapist Christopher Evans Hubbart failed a psychiatric exam last Wednesday and as a result was not paroled. Modoc County citizens are pressing their fight to keep out another serial rapist, Melvin A. Carter, released on parole Thursday. But Claremont can relax only until August, 1995, when Hubbart's prison term is up; psychiatric exams can delay a parole but not extend a sentence.

Given that tests show that Hubbart is mentally disordered, does he belong in a conventional prison in the first place? The assumption that an offender sane enough to stand trial is sane enough to be returned to the community needs a second look. Even though Hubbart may understand that his crime is a crime, he may belong in psychiatric rather than criminal confinement.

Most crimes accomplish by illegal means some end that could also be accomplished by legal means. Instead of buying a popular CD, a teen-ager steals it. The act, though wrong, is comprehensible. Sex crimes are different. Rape only seems to be a path to sexual pleasure. As all serious students of the subject confirm, the violence of rape is an end in itself for the rapist.

Those who commit sex crimes are often denounced as animals, but sex crimes as the human species commits them scarcely are paralleled in other species. This is so because these crimes pervert the distinctive capacity of the human animal to make symbols; that is, to make one reality stand for another. Solders kill, but they are not murderers. Rapists perform the sex act but they are not lovers. In the first case, the empirical reality of the act is ennobled; in the second, it is hideously degraded. But only the human animal is able to make either transformation.

To recognize the deeply human strangeness of sex crime is not to excuse it. John Wayne Gacy, the professional clown who murdered 33 boys and young men during the 1970s in a Chicago suburb, was rightly found guilty: His disorder had not robbed his mind of its ability to recognize crime as crime. And yet, as a recent exhibit of Gacy's prison art at the Tatou gallery in Beverly Hills all too vividly confirmed, Gacy does indeed have a richly disordered mind.

For his kind of crime, concern for public safety and concern for the disturbed criminal himself may be pointing in the same direction. Mentally disturbed, violent people should not be on the streets.

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