Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Here's an IUD--but wait! You can't have sex yet!


By now virtually everyone in the “sex offender laws reform” camp knows the story of Zack Anderson, the 19 year old Indiana youth who faces imprisonment and sex offender registration for a sexual liaison with a 14 year old who pretended to be 17. His parents have pushed and pushed for publicity on this—good for them!—and they have it. The story made the New York Times, quoting RSOL’s executive director Brenda Jones saying that the public registry was “a conviction on steroids.”  Lenore Skenazy wrote a wonderful piece for reason.com about the case, with her own this-says-it-all quote: “That’s because the public Sex Offender Registry is not about public safety. It’s about public shame.” 

And the "Diane Rehm Show" on National Public Radio on July 7, 2015, featured Zack’s story as a segue into the topic of the registry in general and juveniles in particular and the need for reform. Brenda Jones was one of the four panelists, and excellent points were made, with all panelists, even one in the “opposition” camp, agreeing that reform was definitely needed, especially when it comes to juveniles.

There is probably not a reformer among us who could not tell his or her own story of teenage sex resulting in a conviction, either jail time or probation, and placement on the appropriate state’s sex offender registry, often for life. Even states that had or now have passed “Romeo and Juliet” laws have hundreds, often thousands, of young men, and a few young women, on registries because the age difference was one year too many or because, once the exception law was passed, there was no retroactive removal.

Texas’ own most prominent case also made headlines and even went to national television. The story, as briefly as possible, is this: dating high school couple, boy a senior, girl a freshman; he was convicted of “sexual abuse of a child” and registered for life. They married; they have four children; they have been married now for over 15 years; he remains on the registry and will be there, unless something changes, until he dies. A generation before, this was called pre-marital sex; now it is sexual abuse of a child.

If this were the end of the story, it would be bad enough. However….

The Guttmacher Institute, a non-profit organization that works to advance reproductive health, has published a report verifying that over half of our states allow all minors twelve years old and above to receive contraceptive services, many of them without the permission of a parent, which, in this situation, is actually immaterial. Almost all of the remaining states make them available to some, sometimes dependent on an arbitrary decision that the individual is “more mature.” In some states the adolescents learn of this availability and their rights in their middle schools. 

Does anyone see a problem here? However they find out about them, wherever they can go to receive them, 12 and 13 and 14 year olds are being fitted with contraceptive devices in programs sanctioned and sometimes promoted by our government. With whom is it legal for these 12 and 13 and 14 year olds to engage in sex? The way the sexual penal code reads in virtually every state, no one. Not too many years ago, the state of Utah prosecuted both a 13-year-old girl and her 12-year-old boyfriend for “sexual assault of a child under 14.” They were each named as the victim in the other’s case. Both of these sexual criminals were placed on the Utah sex offender registry. 

And heaven help the 17 year old who engages in sex with a fully compliant 14 year old in a state where the age of consent is 16 or 17. Her contraceptive device may protect her from pregnancy, but it will not protect him from the horrors of a prosecution for sexual assault of a child or a minor, and it certainly won’t protect him from many, many years, quite possibly a lifetime, of sex offender registration.

Our penal codes and many government practices are full of contradictions and hypocrisies. A 14 year old is unable to consent to sexual activity and, if her partner is older, will be considered a victim incapable of being responsible for the act of having sex, no matter how willing she was. However, if she decides to kill him rather than sleep with him, in many states she will be tried as an adult and held fully responsible for her decision and her action.

When an adult man is duped by a 15-year-old girl into believing she is 18, he will be prosecuted for the reality, not for what he believed. But if that same man is duped by an undercover agent into believing he is chatting with a 15 year old, he will be prosecuted for what he believed, not for the reality.

However, when we—we in the universal sense—hand out sexual contraception to those who, when it becomes known that they have put it to its intended use, may well have put into motion what will destroy either their own lives or that of their partners--depending almost always on who is the elder, and if they are the same age, the male--are not we the instigators of that destruction?

Are not we who should be on the registry?

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

If you want to get attention, just say "Sex Offender!"

I think we've all seen it--headlines shouting "sex offender" when the article had little to do with a registrant or registrants in general. It's the modern day version of, "If it bleeds, it leads."

I may have identified the most egregious example of this phenomena.

The headline screams, "Florida complex for sex offenders blasted for selling children's toys at yard sale."  Apparently the Lighthouse Mission, a halfway house for released sex offenders in Florida, was having a yard sale of used and donated items. Among these items were "Stuffed animals, baby toys and strollers...."
The implication given is that the registrants deliberately included items attractive to children in an attempt to lure them within their reach.

Neighbors were up in arms, rushing to protect neighborhood children from the danger lurking just inside the door of the mission, danger in the form of registered sex offenders.

The truth, of course, bears no resemblance to that.

The mission, which helps registrants rehabilitate and find employment, is run by a mother and daughter. They hold several of these sales a year, and their tight-stretched budget is dependent on them for income. According to them, several of the resident registrants helped move some of the heavier items before the sale began. They were not involved with the sale at all.

But what if they had been? Would children be at risk? Does the near--and mere--proximity of those who have committed any of a myriad of registerable offenses, served prison time, and been released automatically put children at risk? All available studies and research says no.

Of course, those frantically concerned neighbors would not know this. Chances are high that they are ignorant of what the literature says on the subject. No, all they need to know in order to spring into action and, ultimately, force the closing of the yard sale, is that sex offenders are somehow involved.

I have been to many a yard sale. Most of them do include items for babies, toddlers, and children. What I have never seen is the babies, toddlers, and children wandering around on their own shopping for their baby toys and strollers.


BI am used to the most trivial and ridiculous issues becoming front page news if the phrase "sex offender" can be attached to it, but this may be the most ridiculous one yet. Even if the registered offenders in question were running the sale instead of just helping out by moving heavy furniture, how on earth would children be endangered? Even assuming that children in the proximity of registrants automatically creates a risk, which it doesn't, I have been at many a yard sale, and I don't recall ever seeing babies and toddlers shopping for their own toys or strollers. I am used to the most trivial and ridiculous issues becoming front page news if the phrase "sex offender" can be attached to it, but this may be the most ridiculous one yet. Even if the registered offenders in question were running the sale instead of just helping out by moving heavy furniture, how on earth would children be endangered? Even assuming that children in the proximity of registrants automatically creates a risk, which it doesn't, I have been at many a yard sale, and I don't recall ever seeing babies and toddlers shopping for their own toys or strollers.   am used to the most trivial and ridiculous issues becoming front page news if the phrase "sex offender" can be attached to it, but this may be the most ridiculous one yet. Even if the registered offenders in question were running the sale instead of just helping out by moving heavy furniture, how on earth would children be endangered? Even assuming that children in the proximity of registrants automatically creates a risk, which it doesn't, I have been at many a yard sale, and I don't recall ever seeing babies and toddlers shopping for their own toys or strollers. am used to the most trivial and ridiculous issues becoming front page news if the phrase "sex offender" can be attached to it, but this may be the most ridiculous one yet. Even if the registered offenders in question were running the sale instead of just helping out by moving heavy furniture, how on earth would children be endangered? Even assuming that children in the proximity of registrants automatically creates a risk, which it doesn't, I have been at many a yard sale, and I don't recall ever seeing babies and toddlers shopping for their own toys or strollers. IsIIII;

Friday, June 12, 2015

The Public Sex Offender Registry--A Perpetual Shame

Amanda Hess has written a brilliant piece about the re-emergence of public shaming using the tragic example of a father's punishment of his daughter. For disobeying a house rule, he filmed his cutting off her hair, chastising her all the while, and posted it online. She was only 13, unable to deal with the humiliation, and she killed herself.

Hess then takes us back to the days when public shaming was the norm, into more modern times when it fell into disfavor and disuse, and forward into our electronic age, where it has emerged wild of eye and fierce of tooth.

I was struck by some of her phraseology. "Online, your shame can move instantly from your father’s cellphone to every important person from every stage and aspect of your life. And if you try to move on, your offense can be dialed up on Google and replayed for future acquaintances to see."

"...social media has found a way to integrate total strangers in the shaming process. Digital villagers are no longer relegated to the sidelines; online, everybody gets a gavel."

"...the only thing that some Internet gawkers know about you now is this one jerky thing you did."

Substitute the registered sex offender for the disgraced teen, the sex offender laws for the father, and the world for...the world, and we have in a nutshell the destructive power of the public registry.

Approximately 95% of those on the registry will never commit another offense. An unknown but significant percentage have families, are raising children, and are doing so with the entire world looking on and condemning them for what was, for a great many, that "one jerky thing" they did. Even when the offense went beyond the jerky category, years of living a law-abiding life and doing everything possible to fit into a society all too ready to reject them counts for nothing as long as their names on a public registry shout to the world that they are dangerous and have to be watched and tracked and monitored, often for the rest of their lives.

Public hangings and pillorings faded from public usage as the reality of community changed and as the public lost their taste for such barbaric acts.

Those who use the Internet today to shame and disgrace a child who is in disfavor themselves risk the tide of public opinion--and even the law when they have gone too far--turning against them and condemning them for their actions.

But those on the registry remain.  Against all facts, against all evidence, the public registry remains. The ultimate public shaming tool remains.