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Punishment for sexually abusing a 4 month old infant

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 6/4/2016 Category: Society
Updated: 2 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 448 times Debate No: 92307
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A 12 year old girl has been found guilty of aggravated sexual abuse of a 4 month old girl. The judge has sentenced her to die in the gas chamber.

Most people believe that is an excessive, unreasonable, and unnecessary punishment. But there is disagreement over whether the girl should be sent to the women's prison to be punished or to a juvenile treatment center to be rehabilitated.

Pro will choose whether to sent the child to prison or to a treatment facility

Con (me) will oppose whatever Con chooses and advocate for the alternative

Note this takes place in the near future in a land ruled by a religious tyranny. One may assume which type at their own risk--- but it could be Christian just as well as Islamic or something else


In accordance with the debate outline, I will be arguing that the child in this scenario should be sent to a juvenile treatment facility to be rehabilitated.

There is hardly a more horrific criminal act than the rape of a toddler; it is difficult to imagine a scenario under which there is a more appropriate situation to assign the title of "monster" to the perpetrator of a crime, and yet , in this particular scenario, this assignment of guilt conflicts with an almost equally visceral and commonly held sensibility; that all children are innocent. One may believe that the mere question of innocence is not up for review, or even appropriate to this discussion, when designating a sentence to a known perpetrator of such a horrendous act, but it is this very question that lay at the heart of this moral dilemma, and we will see in the argument below that one must address the definition of guilt and innocence before proceeding to sentencing.

When discussing guilt as a definition, we have to first define certain parameters by which we can equally administer this "guilt" to perpetrators of crimes of all natures. The most basic tenet in our criminal justice system for establishing guilt is that harm must be done to a person's health or damage to their property as a direct or indirect result of another person's actions. This may seem fine as a definition initially, but what happens when the accused has no reasonable way of knowing that their actions will cause damage or harm? If a man is killed by another man who has broken into his home and stabbed him with his kitchen knife, should the brother of this man also be implicated, provided that he gifted his brother with those knives? Should the knife manufacturer? If we can agree that neither of these parties are responsible, we must add another clause into our general assignment of guilt; that harm must be done by what we would reasonably consider either intent or negligence in order for an assignment of guilt to be attributed to those involved in a crime.

As soon as we enter this clause into our definition of guilt, we face a very serious moral dilemma in the punishment-based prosecution of a child. During early adolescence and throughout teenage years, a person's brain is, in a very literal way, still forming. We do not trust a child's judgment enough to allow them to drive, to drink, to be able to consent to sex, to vote, or to stand on a jury, because we understand, as a society, that there is a certain amount of judgment and comprehension for the implications of one's actions that are simply not developed enough in the minds of adolescents below a certain age. It must be reasoned then that a person can not be found guilty of a particular crime if they do not have the capacity to comprehend the damage that they are inflicting on others.

This argument addresses the first "pro" stance that prison sentencing usually encourages; that is, to punish the guilty party for their crimes, but what about the other positions, and why might rehabilitation, in this case, be a more suitable option? We may also consider the deterrence of future offenders, but given the argument for lack of comprehension, this position hardly makes sense. There is still the question of protecting society at large though, and this is where the option for rehabilitation truly outshines it's alternative.

Put simply, rehabilitation is more effective as a means of protecting the public from offenders. In a study tracking over 400,000 prisoners in 30 states in the US, a 67.8% recidivism rate was found within three years of prisoner release. (1) A meta-analysis conducted across multiples studies on the effect of rehabilitation programs on recidivism, in contrast, found that rehabilitation reduced recidivism by 10 percentage points from the base rate. (2)

Debate Round No. 1


I wish you had taken the other side then I could make (more) sensible and intelligent arguments. Skilled debating though is about making good arguments when one is on the wrong side of the issue. It is not just about arguing from where the facts are on your side and you agree with them..

With that observation in mind and it is not a criticism of you of picking what is clearly the best option offered I will proceed with a counter argument.

As you mentioned the aggravated sexual abuse of a 4 month old girl or any infant of about the age is horrible. The abuse was very extensive. We will have to self censor the description of it. One can reasonably expect retribution be imposed on the perpetrator of such an evil crime even a 12 year old female.

Now in the matter of adjudication of guilt and the disposition of punishment as to the matter of the defendant's age.--- in the matter of guilt-- does the child understand or is capable of understanding what she was doing when she abused the baby was morally and legally wrong. Did she have a mental capacity to be capable of knowing it was against the law. For the sake of the debate we must assume she was examined and found to be mentally competent. Common law doctrine generally assumes a 7 year old understand the basic concepts of right and wrong

The second prong is with the matter of punishment. A note the rules of establishing competence are the same in both an adult criminal trial and a juvenile delinquency proceeding-- and the level of proof for conviction or finding of delinquency beyond a reasonable doubt is the same. If she was sentenced to death and were to be executed-- then the requirement is

Is she aware she is going to the gas chamber

Is she aware she will die in the gas chamber

Is she aware she will die in the gas chamber to punish her for the abuse of an infant

Now of course execution isn't an issue in this case and it shouldn't be-- and I don't know how the principal just outlined applies in matters of incarceration in adult penal facilities-- so lets go to another test-- does the need for punishment in the adult correctional system outweigh than the benefits from treatment and rehabilitation in the juvenile system.

I will argue the severity of the crime requires she be sentenced to of a term of 40 years in the women's prison


Despite taking the more challenging side, you seem to be holding it up admirably, although I'm sure it was quite a bit more stressful. Let's carry on though.

The question of guilt and of comprehension is not a binary one. We know this to be true by virtue of the fact that we have superseded the original judgment in place of one of two alternatives. It is not simply a question of whether someone knows they are breaking the law, but rather whether they understand what the law is, and whether they fully grasp the weight of their actions. We would both agree that stealing a chocolate bar from a convenience store is, as an example, both unethical and illegal, but that does not mean that if we were to commit this crime, it would warrant a 40 year incarceration, nor would we infer from it that we had destroyed another person's life. Under this premise, I believe the argument for gradients of comprehension is an important one, and that if a 12 year old told you that they were doing something that they weren't supposed to, that that very admission could apply truthfully for a child who had stolen a chocolate bar as much as it could to a child who has committed an act as horrific as the one under discussion today.

I admit that it is tempting to ignore the logic that we ourselves accept in every other instance of ruling on related matters when we are faced with such a grim situation, but the importance of applying the rationale and standards of law can not be understated here. We would not allow a child of 12 years old to perform any task that required any sort of depth of decision making, or judgment, because we recognize their inability to make fully informed decisions, and the lack of depth in the comprehension of the world around them. We can not now ignore this foregone conclusion, when it suits us, as tempting as it may be, because we need a monster to pay for the horrific crime that's been committed. The desire for blood and suffering to pay for brutality is an understandable one, but not always the basis for just rulings, and often the premise, themselves, for injustice.

On the topic of level of comprehension for being put to death, I will not comment, as this ruling is not part of our discussion, nor is the law surrounding it.

If you would like to discuss the need for punishment vs. the benefit of treatment, I would ask you what scale we might be comparing these two topics on that we could even relate them? If one could outweigh the other, then it only stands to reason that there is some sort of exchange rate where the areas could be held equally, does it not? If she were incarcerated for, say, 60 years in prison; is this equivalent to full rehabilitation and the cultivation of good mental health for the minor accused here? Would we be measuring the advantage of making this girl suffer against the benefit of healing her? Since these two options seem fundamentally at odds, I simply can not see how one might outweigh the other.

The question here is not whether this 12 year old girl deserves to suffer, and we should not be fooling ourselves about what the incarceration option is put forward for either, it is purely here as a punishment option. The question we have to answer is in who we are, as a people. Are we a society that looks at a tragedy and decide that the horrendous rape of an innocent baby needs to be payed for by the blood of the perpetrator, even if this perpetrator is a mentally unstable child, or are we a society that looks at a little girl clearly afflicted by mental illness, from birth, and tries to apply what we know to be true in psychology to give them the help they so clearly need? There is no one here arguing today that what has happened is not a tragedy, the question is, from here, do we try to stop the progression of this tragedy, or pay for it with suffering, because we can not do both.
Debate Round No. 2


There are four basic principles which apply in criminal sentencing. All are applicable in juvenile cases although the greater emphasis is placed on the first one listed

1. to provide for the treatment and rehabilitation of the offender

2. to incapacitate the offender

3. to provide for society and the victim just retribution

4. to deter others by example

In juvenile sentencing judges consider primarily the needs of the child but also the safety of the public. The latter is reflected in the second and fourth principles listed. Less so in the third one.

It is clear from the depravity and severity of her crime the child's rehabilitation must give way to the more than reasonable demands of society that she be punished and punished severely. For that basic reason a term of 40 years in the State Reformatory For Women is both necessary and appropriate.


A child's mind is plastic and malleable in the early years of their life, which is why they call these years "formative" and "developmental", because the grey matter in their little brains are being pruned as a direct result of environmental stimulii. Putting this girl in an institution surrounded by sociopaths and designed to punish her is not going to alleviate her mental instability, but plastically form her mind into the permanent framework for a sociopath.

Moreover, your argument is not internally consistent. You demand that "the child's rehabilitation must give way to... a term of 40 years in the State Reformatory for Women" does not make any sense. Any claim for the child's rehabilitation would not impose a term of any set period of time, let alone 40 years, as we do not know how long rehabilitation will take. A 40 year sentencing is purely for punishment, and this punishment is tenable only in the spirit of vengeance.

What we have here is a very mentally ill child. We have her paying for a crime that she doesn't have the capacity to understand in it's severity. The 4 month old has been traumatized, it's true, but she has a loving family, and years of therapy and care from that family could see her lead a very happy and fulfilling life. There is nothing on Earth that could give a mentally ill little girl any peace of mind, in her entire life, after 40 years of incarceration.
Debate Round No. 3


You are correct she was sent to the State Reformatory For Women to punish her and to satisfy society's just desire for retribution. As for time needed for rehabilitation the most she would have in the juvenile system in most states is less than 9 or until she is 21. There are a few states where juvenile court jurisdiction even for adjudicated children ends at 18.

If this were a real case one would hope your views would prevail. Unfortunately that is not always the case.

Thank you for a good debate. And BTW I'd be worried if some of what I said made sense-- hopefully if didn't make sense because it genuinely couldn't not because of poor writing skills


Reductio forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 4


thank you for a good debate. I think you have one more round left if you want to use it. Since I should be on the losing side I don't think I should say any more


Reductio forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 5
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