The Problem with Hoping Rapists Will Be Raped

Lock the rapist up and see how he likes it when he’s turned into some guy’s girlfriend.

We’ve all heard sentiments like the one up above at some point. They might have come from acquaintances, friends, or family members who thought that they were taking a hard line stance against rape. It might have even been us, in a moment of weakness, expressing a wish for a rapist to truly understand the violation he has inflicted on another. We see it all the time, more commonly the more horrific a rape is considered to be — including from feminists, womanists, or others who are invested in bringing an end to sexual violence. The words can very easily roll off the tongue. It can be easy to believe that it makes sense to say, I hope he’s raped in jail and finds out what it’s like.

And it needs to stop.

The simple fact is that wishing rape on another person is never, no matter what the circumstances, anti-rape. It inherently can’t be, and there is no way around it.

At the most surface level, the way in which such a sentiment is very frequently expressed — the “girlfriend” (or “bitch”) line up above — is straight up misogynistic and homophobic. It works off of an assumption that men who are sexually penetrated by another man (consensually or not) are inherently feminine, and further suggests that “girlfriends” — women — exist for the purposes of being raped. This is, for hopefully obvious reasons, simply not okay.

But more importantly than that, such a statement trivializes, and approves of, the very real issue of prison rape. Prison rape is an epidemic — in fact, around 20% of inmates in male prisons are raped. And those who are raped in male prisons are not usually rapists or other violent criminals (though it would not magically be okay if they were), but rather people incarcerated for non-violent crimes, such as drug use or theft. Minors placed in adult prisons are particularly at risk. Gay men are particularly at risk. People with disabilities are particularly at risk. And trans women who are wrongly and transphobically so frequently placed in male prisons are at extraordinary risk (one study shows that 59% of all transgender inmates have been sexually assaulted). These are many of the people who are raped in prison. It is their experiences that form the basis of the cultural joke about prison rape. They are the reason that so many expect that a man going to prison likely will be raped, and so to wish rape on an incarcerated rapist is to also, intentionally or not, approve the continuation of vulnerable populations experiencing systematic sexual violence.

This context is basic, and it is vital — it can’t be washed away, nor should it be. And it alone should be enough for us to work for an end to such statements.

But let us consider for a moment the sentiment itself — the very core of simply wanting a rapist to be raped in return for what he has done.

I understand the desire for vengeance. And I understand how rape survivors can lash out in moments of anger, and feel that desire for vengeance down to their very core. I have been there. Many, many times. And while I believe that acting on that desire is wrong, I also understand the need to let that anger out — to express it, to expunge it, to work through it, even if it results in saying things that we profoundly regret. I would never want to deny anyone that release, or for anyone to deny themselves that as a result of something that I have said.

But it’s also well-known that expressions of anger can often expose our prejudices, including those we don’t even know we have, and those which we are appalled to learn we have. And that certainly can include the deep-seated prejudices instilled in us through rape culture.

To say that a rapist should be raped is to say that rape is a legitimate act of revenge and justice. It is to establish a set of circumstances under which rape is acceptable.

Rape as a form of revenge is already a too common aspect of our world. Many rapes are committed for precisely that reason. Rape is used as an act of “revenge” against a partner for being unfaithful. It’s used as revenge against women who reject sexual advances by men who feel they have the right to their bodies, or who are otherwise “being a bitch.” Rape is wielded as a “punishment” for dressing a certain way, drinking, talking back, working as a sex worker, and much, much more.

Many already believe that these are legitimate motivations for rape. And these beliefs are a part of the strong foundation of rape culture. The last thing we should be doing is reinforcing and encouraging them.

Rape is a violent crime for which there is never an excuse. Unlike with murder and assault, there is never such a thing as raping in self-defense. Everyone has a right to their own body — this has to be a basic staple of the anti-sexual violence movement. No one deserves to have their body violated, ever — no matter what they’ve done that might be interpreted by someone as provocation, no matter how angry they’ve made us, no matter how inhuman we perceive them to be, no matter how little else we feel they deserve, no matter how horrible of a person they have been.

And if we are to concede otherwise, that some violations are justified, that some people really do have it coming, we have already lost.

We need to ultimately keep our eye on justice — and to constantly ask ourselves difficult questions about what “justice” means in a world where prisons are themselves a site of systematic sexual violence, and where those seeking and needing justice are more often than not harmed and silenced by those who are supposed to help them. And we need to allow ourselves to be angry and to fight back in ways that are responsible, that do not undermine our work, and that do not reinforce oppression. We need to because a world in which any rape is seen as acceptable is a world in which rape will continue to thrive. We need to stop wishing on others that which we so condemn.

0 thoughts on “The Problem with Hoping Rapists Will Be Raped

  1. meloukhia

    Oh my stars, thank you so much for saying this. I have been really upset and disturbed by the “rapists should be raped” language I’ve been seeing in a lot of places. It makes me very uncomfortable to see people condemning rape by suggesting that it’s a good idea to use rape as punishment.

  2. kaninchenzero

    Oh yes this. As a trans woman this is not a small fear for me. I like to think I would be against hoping rapists or anyone else will be raped in prison even if I were not trans, and in my life and writing I make a point of not doing poetic justice of any sort. But I can’t know for certain. Maybe I wouldn’t have examined this particular injustice without the fear to impel it. (In this context my surgical status — I have not had bottom surgery — is somewhat relevant as it means I’m more likely to be placed into a male jail or prison if an interaction with the police went badly what with still having all the original equipment. I don’t usually mention it because it’s usually not relevant.)

  3. melanie

    an eye for an eye teaches nothing. the point of punishment is to teach a lesson and protect people. unfortunately, a lot of prisons just breed more violence.

    i wrote a blog today about the roman polanski support from hollywood people today.

  4. Gloria

    Thank you so much for this post. It is incredible! I sent it to my students, maybe we can have a discussion about it. I work at a LawSchool in Buenos Aires, Argentina. And follow your posts. Thank you!!!

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  8. Ned B.

    Cara, thanks for being so vigilant. You are, of course, right that rape is never justified. Great post. Good points all. I often like to comment in detail, but I found your post so good that I don’t want to dilute its effect by adding or restating anything. Good job!

  9. sarah

    [Trigger Warning — Mod.]

    I had to sit in the guardian ad litem court ordered counselor’s office for my two children, and listen to my ex mother in law cry, worrying that her son, who raped me in front of My son when i served him with divorce papers, would possibly get it up the butt, because he dropped dirty on probation from cocaine.
    He got sentenced in the morning and I asked the judge to give him work release for a year, so that I could get child support and move my kids away. The judge granted it. A guy came outside after the sentencing and said he represented all the guys in the court room. They all wanted me to know that not all guys were like that.
    We got divorced that afternoon with him in handcuffs. His divorce lawyer came up and apologized to me for the divorce. X never told him about the criminal stuff. I shoulda been tougher, but I just wanted away from him.
    He screwed up the work release and sat his worthless butt in jail for 10 months. Then was out for about 9. Then he did the drop dirty with the coke. Off he went to prison, for 5 years, and I got ovarian cancer at the same time. Do you think I f…ing cared whether or not he got it up the butt?
    I had oncologists with everything up everything at that point. He just needed to go away.
    Karma is what happens. God decided he needed to be in prison and whatever happened was for God’s reasons. I never should have meddled and let the judge send him for the 10 years he initially wanted to.
    Hind sight lol.

    1. Cara Post author


      I’m very sorry to hear about what your ex did to you, and I thank you for sharing your story here.

      But as I said in the post: my point is not that we should take the “high ground” and care about the humanity of each and every individual rapist and try to see the good in them, have some mercy, whatever. (If others feel they need to do that to heal, that is of course alright, too, but that is not where I’m coming from.) I can understand not really caring what happens to your own rapist or feeling any sympathy for them after the horror they have put you through. What I am talking about is rape culture and the fact that rapes like the one that you endured, and the one that I endured, and the ones that countless others have endured, are not going to stop until we start seeing rape as inherently wrong for what it is, and not for the goodness of the people it is done to.

      I’m also extremely uncomfortable with you referring to anal rape as “getting it up the butt.” I would ask you to remember that rape is not something to be flippant about, and that other rape survivors are reading here — including those who have been anally raped and who might be extremely upset and triggered by such language — and to not use it if you’re going to comment again.

  10. sarah

    I’ll apologize for the terms i used – I am sorry if I offended anyone. I understand that there are many forms of rape. I was reffering to my heterosexual x going to prison and his mother’s worries and fears. And I was also reffering to the oncological exams from my surgeon and his whole entourage of interns – sorry.
    I personally love Andrew Vachss and his whole mission in life. There are people who really want to make a difference. I admire that man.
    We are each only one person – the question is – How do we each make a difference.
    Speaking out is one – Publicly. If we keep hiding – what good will it do?
    Rape the act – like you are saying is wrong.
    I have forgiven my x for what he did and what he put my kids thru. I am no longer afraid of him. But – his actions were wrong – along with a lot of others. The big question to me is – How do we stop producing these sorts of people in our society? And how do we effectively deal with them when they do act out? How do we somehow prevent the perpetuation one way or another, of this sort of behavior?
    It’s all about saying NO! No to our kids who act out in really bad ways, no to our spouses or aquaintances, friends = anyone who is exhibitting cruel behaviors. Rape isn’t sex – it’s power and cruelty – because the CAN.

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  12. orlando

    A lesser reason I would offer to avoid this kind of comparison is that it is a miscasting of the dynamics that operate between men and women in our world to suggest it would be a real comparison. If I may draw on Polanski as an example, because we are familiar with something of the nature of his crime and his victim’s circumstances: whatever another man were to do to him in the context of a prison sentence, he would never experience the fear, the incomprehension, the misplaced sense of guilt, the public condemnation, the complete revision of the direction of her life and the way she would respond to all subsequent experiences that his victim must have gone through. In short, it would be an insult to her if he were to think he could approximate the suffering he inflicted on her.

    1. Cara Post author

      Hmm. You know, I’m quite sure that male rape victims face pretty much the same ill effects as female rape victims. Obviously there is some variance in according with our society’s enforced gender roles, but the fear, shame, self-blame, etc. are all fairly universal. And while I can only imagine, I feel as though prison would be a particularly terrifying place to be raped, as you are literally locked in a room with your abuser for a rather long period of time.

      So, while I agree that all rape victims have different experiences, and that being raped does not give you insight into the experiences and pain of all other rape survivors, I believe that it’s incredibly important to not try to “rank” the suffering of different rape victims. As someone who herself has been told that her rape didn’t count as a “real rape” because it wasn’t “bad enough,” I think it’s a dangerous, hurtful and triggering road to go down.

  13. Joshua

    The part of this post that was most novel to me was the connection between, “I hope he gets raped in prison,” and revenge-rapes against women. My mind inherently recoils against the idea of a revenge-rape against a woman, but I find myself having to intellectualize my objection to the idea of revenge-raping a male rapist. I understand the reasons why it’s wrong, but my emotional reaction isn’t nearly as strong. I think that’s probably at least in part because violence against men, by other men, is normalized in our culture, and sexual violence against men is not even supposed to be possible. Therefore, when a man is raped by another man in prison, it’s NOT perceived as sexual violence in the same way that it would be if a man raped a woman, and it’s perceived as simply another form of male-on-male violence, which is seen as perfectly normal and unremarkable.

  14. Richard James

    I thank you very much for this post. You have made a very important point. We cannot genuinely and convincingly argue that rape is completely unacceptable while at the same time advocating that it should happen to some people. We must remember that rape is a crime even if it happens in prison, and prisons must do a much better job of preventing it. If we really believe that rapists should have physical component to their punishment, it should be as it was in the past, where rapists are given a prescribed number of lashes, professionally administered. That way, the right person gets exactly the punishment to which he is sentenced, and we are not relying on random punishments that are disprortionately handed out to those who are unlucky or physically weak. I do not mean to sound harsh, but, as a male myself, I often think that bringing back caning, whipping, or strapping (in addition to prison) as punishment for rape as was done in past times and is done in nations such as Singapore and Malaysia would be one of the best ways of deterring rape. I often think that if society is unwilling to flog men for abusing women, society is not doing all that it can to protect women.

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