[Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro] possesses, however, few of his predecessor’s resources, lacking not just oil revenue but Chávez’s surplus of charisma, humour and political skill. Maduro, unable to end the crisis, has increasingly sided with the privileged classes against the masses; his security forces are regularly dispatched into barrios to repress militants under the guise of fighting crime. Having lost its majority in Congress, the government, fearing it can’t win at the polls the way Chávez did, cancelled gubernatorial elections that had been set for December last year (though they now appear to be on again). Maduro has convened an assembly to write a new constitution, supposedly with the objective of institutionalising the power of social movements, though it is unlikely to lessen the country’s polarisation.
It is my view that the challenge now is to begin to understand that minimum sentencing legislation is not the panacea for our crime problem. Rather, it is the certainty of punishment that is far more of a deterrent. Also, that sustained change will require substantial investment in the development of sound social policy on issues such as education, health and poverty alleviation.
I cannot agree more. But punishment is not only about deterrence. Punishment in criminal cases should also reflect, to some degree, the seriousness with which a society views different crimes. Punishment therefore has a strong symbolic function. When the criminal justice system fails to adequately punish even those few perpetrators convicted of rape and other violent crimes against women, it sends a signal that the system does not value women equally with men.
We will not stop rape by forcing judges to impose minimum sentences for rapists. But such laws will make judicial officers think again about their views on rape and will send a signal that as a society we abhor violence against women. Such a signal will be far more potent than the pious statements of politicians during the sixteen days of activism because it says we are prepared to put the power and the money of the state behind this effort to stop rape.