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Sexual intercourse outside marriage – guilty to statutory rape, but was not jailed?

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How do we respond to Afizal, the national bowler who pleaded guilty to statutory rape, but was not jailed? The preceding sentence could be written in several ways. If I had written “pleaded guilty to rape” or “was not jailed for committing rape,” some would accuse me of suggesting the bowler committed a violent crime.

According to some, the bowler committed statutory rape, not rape. They say he’s not a rapist. They say if we must label him, we must call him a statutory rapist, not a rapist. They say that if we don’t do as they say, we lack compassion. They are unimpressed by arguments that statutory rape is classified as rape, so the offender is a rapist.

They say the two “offences” (they are reluctant to use the word “crime” for what the bowler did) are dissimilar, so we should distinguish between them.

They say rape involves violence and an unwilling party, whom they agree is “a victim.”

They say statutory rape doesn’t always involve a victim — they say it could be consenting sex. They recognise that by law a minor (under 16 years of age, not 18), by law, cannot give consent. But they argue that this is a technicality.

They bring us to the edge. They ask “what if she were 16 years plus one day old?” They ask “what if she were 16 years minus one day old?” They take it further. They ask “who, by looking, can accurately tell the age of a person?” They say it’s not significant that there is a five-year difference in age between the bowler and the minor (she was 13+, he was 18+).

[I’m ignoring those whose arguments are centred on the 18 year age which legally separates boys from men.]

They remind us that we ourselves routinely break laws — we beat the lights, cheat on taxes, exceed speed limits. They say that just as we give ourselves a break, we should give others a break. Especially in cases involving sex and minors.

They want us to look in the mirror and see just how grotesque we are for insisting upon respecting the technical definition of a minor: a “technicality,” according to them.

We know there is some truth to what they say. I think back to an occasion when I was embarrassed to learn a girl whom I thought was an adult was only 14.

We know what cosmetics, clothes and conversation can do to mask age. We know young people who “experiment” and do the silliest things. We know the age of consent is not the same everywhere: marriage at 13 is permitted in some nations.

But we cringe at the word “technicality”.

We cringe when “the compassionate” say we are appealing to a technicality when we suggest that the prosecutor was right to expect the court to send the bowler to prison. [Though we know Malaysian prisons are dangerous places, where the number of deaths in custody is extremely high.]

We cringe at the word “technicality” because we know it can be used to hound people.

We know, we are sure, that if Rafizi’s release of National Feedlot Corporation (NFC) bank transactions is in breach of the BAFIA (Banking and Financial Institutions Act), the breach is a “technicality” and the A-G should not prosecute Rafizi. After all, Rafizi was acting as a whistle blower — even though the Whistle Blower Act only allows Rafizi to report the information to the authorities, not to the public.

“The compassionate” know, and are sure, Afizal should be given the benefit of the doubt. After all, he admitted guilt (actually he changed his plea to guilty after the minor’s father spoke during the first hearing). After all, it’s possible that he didn’t know the girl was a minor. After all, it’s possible that she was the one who wanted it (she may even have written something to this effect). After all, many countries have created a special category of offences which they call “young people’s offences”. This is the world we live in.

What kind of world do we live in? Let me put it to you bluntly.

We live in a world in which many girls get to use make-up, go to spas, dress like adults, watch television and surf the web unsupervised, etc before they reach the age of consent. We live in a world where males just want to have fun, and women think of men as playthings: remember “Sex in the City”?

We live in a world which pays more attention to image than to substance. We live in a world which looks for people to idolise — whether film stars, CEOs or athletes. We live in a world which focuses on individual rights, not the common good. We live in a world where politicians wish to be idolised — who can think of the leaders of Umno and the MIC without recalling billboards and garlands?

We live in a world which pretends that premarital sex is the norm. In all the ranting and raging, how much have you heard about refraining from sex before marriage? Are those who promote “no sex before marriage” just silly?

Many secretly approve what the bowler’s girlfriend said: “If you’re not involved, butt out.” People don’t think that what they do in private affects the fabric of the community.

Many think you can do anything and get away with it — all you need is a team of lawyers who can find “technicalities” to get you off the hook.

Are there any technicalities in the case of Afizal? In relation to sex with the minor, what should we call Afizal? Fool? Idol? Monster? Neighbour? Statutory Rapist? Stud? Rapist? Unlucky? Victim? When we look in the mirror, what do we see?

Postscript: I awoke with a deep sense that this article will never satisfy me this side of heaven, for there is a tension between compassion and justice which will remain unresolved. The word which chokes in our throats is not “technicality”, it’s “justice”.

We choke because we know laws and justice this side of heaven are imperfect, but necessary: for evil must be restrained if we are to live in community. We choke because we know we are superficial if in all our thinking about Afizal and the minor we don’t consider God, justice, laws, heaven, earth and hell. We choke because we know the very existence of laws implies a place of punishment for those who wilfully disobey.

Also, we choke because we don’t want to talk about chastity, the “elephant” that was in that hotel room together with Afizal and the minor, past midnight one day three years ago in Malacca. I end with a quote from C.S. Lewis (the man who wrote the Narnia chronicles):

“The monstrosity of sexual intercourse outside marriage is that those who indulge in it are trying to isolate one kind of union (the sexual) from all the other kinds of union which were intended to go along with it and make up the total union.

“The Christian attitude does not mean that there is anything wrong about sexual pleasure, any more than about the pleasure of eating.

“It means that you must not isolate that pleasure and try to get it by itself, any more than you ought to try to get the pleasures of taste without swallowing and digesting, by chewing things and spitting them out again.” — C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity – TMI