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The Rapist Says He’s Sorry

In 1996, Tom Junot won the National Magazine Award for Feature Writing for a story published in GQ called The Rapist Says He’s Sorry. It’s about a man named Mitchell Gaff:

Who is Mitchell Gaff? Well, he is that which, at this moment in our history, frightens us the most-about ourselves, and about our democracy’s ability to contain what is worst in us. Mitch is a sex offender, but not only a sex offender; he is a rapist, but not only a rapist. He is, in the words of a law written in 1990 by the Washington state legislature, “a sexual predator”-that is, someone who “suffers from a mental abnormality or personality disorder which makes [him] likely to engage in predatory acts of sexual violence if not confined in a secure facility.” Now, never mind for the moment that this law created a category of mental illness unrecognized by modern psychiatry, and that it did so for the purpose of enabling the state to achieve in the name of mercy what it couldn’t in the name of justice: the removal of men like Mitchell Gaff from the face of the earth. What’s important to know right now is that Mitch Gaff is or has been a human being who hurts other human beings for sexual pleasure: not out of need, not to gain the dire exigencies of food, shelter, money, transportation and status, but out of want-because he likes it. It’s the wanting that scares us the most, of course, because of what we know about our own wanting-that it rises from someplace deep within us, that it is immune to intention and that it doesn’t just go away. We want Mitch to go away. It hardly matters that he has done his time; that he has, in that quaint old phrase, “paid his debt to society”; and that his continued incarceration is probably unconstitutional. We want him to go away for as long as his wanting lasts, and that’s why the state of Washington invented something called the Special Commitment Center.

There’s a short intro available here as well as a special note by Junot at the end of the main article. And after you read the article, there are two further updates on Mitch Gaff here (complete with inappropriately lusty personal ads running alongside the article) and here.