Tuesday, October 28, 2014

When it comes to sex offender facts, freedom of speech is squashed

~~by Shelly

This will be filed under Halloween, but it extends far beyond that.

A little town in Indiana named Bedford did something this Halloween that I found particularly despicable. The past week or so I have been commenting fast and furiously, as often as possible, against the need to expend extra-ordinary efforts protecting trick-or-treaters against registrants and for the more-needed addition of traffic patrols Halloween evening and night. I was getting rather blase about it because the articles were much the same: for the town's or county's registered citizens, no decorations; no lights; no costumes; no handing out treats; no being on the streets; mandatory meetings.

Then this morning, this headline really caught my eye: "Police use creative video to warn community about sex offenders before Halloween."  The opening paragraphs give the full picture--pun intended--better than I could paraphrase it:
Halloween is just days away, and one central Indiana police department is getting the word out about local sex offenders. 
The Bedford Police Department made a Facebook video that shows the faces of the nearly 50 sex offenders living in the city.
My first thought was, "Well, crap. What if some kid sees his or her daddy or uncle or grandpa on there? Will there be any end to the grief for that child, to the harassment and bullying that will result from peers?"

My second thought was, "This is SO wrong." I started hunting for a way to post an objection. The article did not have a comment board attached. I found a Facebook page for the news outlet that posted the original article and dropped in this comment:
This is horrible...and total nonsense. A little research would reveal that children are at zero increased risk for sexual harm from registrants or from anyone else on Halloween; it would reveal that exhaustive research has failed to turn up any cases of children being harmed by a registrant on Halloween. It will also reveal that every year several children are killed and more injured in auto-pedestrian accidents. What children are at increased risk for on Halloween is death by car. So, if the authorities of Bedford actually care about child safety and want to protect children on Halloween, they should direct their efforts to increased traffic patrol and traffic safety.
These two blog entries just came out and are very informative:
At With Justice for All: "This is getting boring, but it's Halloween again"
At Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment: "Halloween & Sex Crime: Myth vs. Reality"
It was delegated to some back page, but it was there--if you hunted for it. I then tried to find a Facebook page for the Bedford Police Department, and when a friend sent me the link to the page about the video, I put the comment there along-side a dozen or so others about the video display. Mine was the longest and therefore prominent. When I went back a few minutes later, my comment was gone--and so was the window for me to write another comment. They not only removed my comment; they also blocked my posting on that page. I then went to their main Facebook page; I was blocked from there also.

Maybe I shouldn't have said it was horrible or called it nonsense. I seriously doubt that would have made a difference, but I still wonder. The rest of my comment was fact and truth. If the Bedford Police Department Facebook moderator cared at all for the truth, he could have just removed the horrible and nonsense part and left the rest.

This is the greatest challenge that those of our advocacy face: getting the truth before the public. Our venues are limited; our blogs are read by each other and very few others. Mainstream publications and venues must be hit in the face with significant articles by prominent writers or results of research before they will publish anything giving the actual facts.

So what does this mean? First, we have a hard job ahead of us, but we already know that. More importantly, we will not be silenced. If one of us is blocked, ten more will find a way and a place to make our voices heard. There is no option. Facebook can block us; letters to the editor may be deemed not worthy of publication; law-enforcement sites may ignore or remove our comments. We will find a way. We will not be silenced.
  

Saturday, October 25, 2014

This is getting boring, but it's Halloween again

I really thought this year was going to be different. Last year the "big, bad sex offender at Halloween" hype started as early as August and was in full swing in September. This year, all was quiet on the scare tactics front through the end of September and was slow going into October. However, the past few days have picked up speed, and some of the articles are so self-righteously infuriating about how they are making
Halloween safer for children by--take your pick--visiting all registrants in their district on Halloween/not allowing registrants to decorate; hand out candy; wear costumes; leave their houses; have their lights on/requiring registrants to come to "informational" meetings or seminars/some other equally idiotic nonsense. Most places limit the restrictions to those on parole or probation, but some do not.

Children are at increased risk of harm from one thing on Halloween, and that is being killed or injured in an auto-pedestrian accident. I read one article where part of law-enforcement's efforts on Halloween included increased traffic patrol. One.

Last year I wrote the "Official Halloween Blog." I don't think I can improve on it for factual information, so I am repeating it here. Happy, safe trick-or-treating, everyone.

Originally printed 10/10/2013

Why advocate for not monitoring registered offenders on Halloween? What's the harm? I'm so glad you asked.

  • Most Halloween restrictions apply to everyone on the registry or everyone under supervision, whether or not their offense had anything to do with a child. This broad-brush application is bumping up against constitutional protections. Many registrants are forced to gather in one place for special "therapy sessions" or "pep-talks" or movies shown by law enforcement. If the registrant is not under community supervision, this sounds a lot like unlawful detention to me.
  • It is an unconscionable waste of taxpayer money. There are so many other areas in which law enforcement could be gainfully occupied on Halloween other than checking that registrants have no lights on and no jack-o-lanterns on the porch or showing movies to a roomful of registrants. One of these areas is traffic duty since the only increased risk to children on Halloween is not assault by registered sex offenders but car-child accidents.
  • Many, probably even most, registrants are family men. They have children. Under these restrictions, they cannot decorate their houses with or for their children; they cannot attend the carnival at the school with their children; they cannot take their children trick-or-treating. 
Now it's time for the experts to weigh in:

This is from an academic research study:
“There were no significant increases in sex crimes on or around Halloween, and Halloween incidents did not evidence unusual case characteristics. Findings did not vary across years prior to and after these policies became popular.

“In order to contextualize sex crimes against children we examined over 5 million victimizations that took place in 30 states on or around Halloween in 2005. The most common types of crime from among the incidents reported on Halloween and adjacent days were theft (32%), destruction or vandalism of property (21%), assault (19%) and burglary (9%). Vandalism and property destruction accounted for a greater proportion of crime around Halloween compared to other days of the year (21% vs. 14% of all reports). Sex crimes of all types accounted for slightly over 1% of all Halloween crime. Non-familial sex crimes against children age 12 and under accounted for less than .2% of all Halloween crime incidents.

“Other risks to children are more salient on Halloween. According to the Center for Disease Control, children ages 5 to 14 are four times more likely to be killed by a pedestrian/motor-vehicle accident on Halloween than on any other day of the year. Regarding criminal activity on Halloween, theft and vandalism are particularly common. Sex crimes against children by non- family members account for two out of every thousand Halloween crimes, calling into question the justification for diverting law enforcement resources on that day away from more prevalent public safety concerns.”

This is from non-academic commentary:
 “The intimidation campaign is a silly diversion of manpower and a waste of your tax dollars. Police and the politicians who are in search of tough-on-crime votes will tell you otherwise, but don’t believe the myth that Halloween is the night child sexual predators wait all year for. The facts tell a different story... Over the past several decades, there has not been one reported instance that I can find of a convicted sex offender molesting a child on Halloween night.”

And finally, this is a Halloween safety research and resource guide for parents published October, 2011, by a highly regarded world wide organization called safekids.com. There is nothing to quote from them. There is only the fact that they have researched every element of harm to children in connection with Halloween; their guide covers every possible eventuality and tells parents how to guard against it. It has many graphs, charts, and results of studies. Not one time within its 8 pages do the words “sex offenders” or “registry” appear. I believe that is called an argument from silence.

So please, enjoy Halloween; help your kids enjoy Halloween. And please spare a moment to think about the children whose Halloween enjoyment is curtailed because one of their parents is a registered sex offender and they are unfortunate enough to live in one of the jurisdictions where unneeded laws and restrictions make Halloween all trick and no treat for them.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Lions in Cages....

I love metaphors. They help words paint pictures; they make meanings clearer; they are usually beautiful and always descriptive.

I read one this morning that, while very descriptive, misses the mark quite a bit on beautiful. It does, however, get high points for misleading, inflammatory, and downright sickening.


It was used in an on-line article that, not surprisingly, is very well written. The editorial is not attributed, but whoever wrote it was paying attention in journalism school. It has a very effective “hook”—the lead-in. It follows standard usage and punctuation rules. The vocabulary level is above average, and it makes good use of the well-chosen words.

This writer, however, fails in one lesson that surely is still stressed in journalism school: even in editorials and opinion pieces, stick to the truth. This writer, again not surprisingly, is clever. The untruth is presented in the metaphor. It is therefore implied, not directly stated and is all the more effective—and misleading, inflammatory, and sickening--due to that fact.

The metaphor, in words and graphic, implies that all who are listed on a sex offender registry are dangerous—and not merely dangerous but wild-animal dangerous, raging wild lions that need to be caged and constantly monitored, even in the cages, to keep them from terrorizing the community.

This is a lie, and it is no less a lie for being clothed in figurative language and vicious-appearing cartoon-figure graphics.

I know it is a lie from personal experience. I know many on the registry. They are good husbands and fathers, good neighbors and employees and employers and fellow church members. They are good citizens and good people. They are as far from being dangerous as I am from qualifying for the Olympics.

A large volume of literature says it is a lie.

The Federal Probation Journal, Volume 74, Number 3, in an analysis of the Kentucky Prison System specifically, a study titled, “Evaluation of Kentucky's Early Inmate Release Initiative: Sentence Commutations, Public Safety and Recidivism,” has this to say:

THE PRISON SYSTEM is one of the most expensive and largest public systems in the nation….
41.2 percent of drug offenders returned to prison are reincarcerated for a subsequent drug offense, 31.2 percent of reincarcerated public order offenders are reincarcerated for another public order offense, 21.6 percent of violent offenders returned to prison are returned for a subsequent violent offense, and only 2.5 percent of reincarcerated rapists are returned to prison for a subsequent rape….
 Hmmm; only 2.5% of rapists are convicted for a rape re-offense.

And, from Sex offense recidivism, risk assessment, and the Adam Walsh Act, a study published by Dr. Jill Levenson at Lynn University in Florida:
According to a study by the U.S. Department of Justice, 5.3% of American sex offenders are rearrested for a new sex crime within three years (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2003).
Sex offenders are among the least likely criminals to kill their victims (Sample, 2006).
Harris and Hanson (2004) concluded: “Most sexual offenders do not re-offend sexually over time … this finding is contrary to some strongly held beliefs.
Sex offense recidivism rates are much lower than commonly believed. The best estimates suggest that 5-14% of known sex offenders will commit a subsequent sex crime within three to six years, and after 15 years, three-quarters will not have recidivated. These recidivism rates are far lower than those for other types of criminals.
Media attention to child abduction and sexually motivated murder creates a sense of alarm and urgency among parents and often inspires sex crime legislation. Such cases are actually extremely rare; it is estimated that about 100 such events occur in the United States each year (National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, 2005). By comparison,…over 1100 children died in 2002 as a result of physical abuse or neglect at the hands of their own parents or caretakers (Child Welfare League of America, 2003).
Those are the extreme cases. Certainly more than 100 on the registry rise to the level of dangerous and in need of law-enforcement monitoring, but surely that point can be made without resorting to images and comparisons with wild animals in cages. And many, many more than 1,100 children each year suffer abuse and neglect at the hands of their parents or caregivers but stop short of being murdered. In fact, we know for a certainty that virtually all sexually abused children are victims of those parents and caregivers and others close to them in their lives, not of anyone already on a sex offender registry.

However, no one would compare all parents, as a group, to dangerous, ravenous lions that must be caged in order to protect society. It is even less appropriate to suggest that all on the public registry must be so treated.