Modern Day Exile

My last post inspired several comments, including one anonymous person who wrote at length about the idea of making released sex offenders live in so-called "safe zones" away from children. The broader question is what to do with child predators who have served their sentence - assuming of course the sentence is something less than death.

We should first note that not all offenders are equal. For example, it is not uncommon for a young male of 16 or 17 to be convicted of sexual contact with a girl of 13 or 14. This is not ideal behavior by any means, but is it equivalent to a man in his 40s preying on young girls? Hardly. Yet in the eyes of the law both are "child predators" and will be labeled as such for life. Our laws need to make better distinctions about the type and degree of sex crimes.

The second thing to remember is that many, and perhaps most, child predators are mentally ill. This is common sense - normal adults do not seek out young children for sexual purposes. Yes, there are people who are simply evil and must be treated as such. However many offenders have some kind of disorder. Sadly, our society has simply turned its back on these people. Fifty years ago they were institutionalized, cared for humanely, and kept away from opportunities to act on their impulses. Now, in the name of "equality" we leave mentally ill people to fend for themselves. They fill our homeless shelters, beg for money on the streets, and sometimes commit horrible crimes. This is a shameful situation that must be addressed soon.

Another cause of the apparent increase in sex crimes is that the internet now makes pornography easily available. There have always been magazines and such, but online material is never-ending, easily accessible and very private. It serves to encourage harmful fantasies and, for some people who are already weak, can push them into acting on their impulses. Since a lot of this material comes from overseas, it is not easily stopped. The temptation attacks even otherwise strong Christian men - as we see in the frequent stories of clergymen caught in sexual affairs. True Knights is a good resource for anyone who needs help with this problem.

In any case, the reaction in many states and localities to the release of child predators is to tell them "go somewhere else." A patchwork of laws forbid registered offenders from living within certain distances of schools, churches, parks, bus stops, or other places where children congregate. 2,000 feet is a common limit.

Here's an exercise for you. Try finding a spot in any city or suburb that is not within 2,000 feet (almost a half-mile) of a school, church, park, or bus stop. It isn't easy. So one of two things happens: the predators simply drop out of sight, or they are exiled into isolated rural areas. Does this accomplish anything toward the goal of preventing future offenses? Not really. Most sexual deviants are happy to travel if that's what it takes to find what they want.

It does, however, mean that they are spread out over vast areas and become that much harder to track. It also makes it harder for them to stay in touch with family, friends, therapists, and others who can help them live a normal life and not repeat their offenses.

It's also a fair question to ask why we don't apply this logic to other types of criminals. Should arsonists be forbidden to own matches or enter wooden structures? Should shoplifters be banned from malls? Should tax evaders be sold into slavery until their debt is paid? It's easy to say that punishment should fit the crime, but not always easy to do so in practice.

Of course, if one takes the position that all sex offenders should be executed or imprisoned for life, none of this matters. However anything short of that extreme leaves us with a problem to solve. How do we make sure these people do not hurt more children?

I don't have any simple answers. Maybe there are none, other than to continue all efforts to recover a general sense of faith and morality in our culture. Tougher penalties do not seem to be helping. This isn't surprising since, as noted above, many offenders are mentally ill and are forced to live in the fringes of society. Doing something about this (something more humane than prison or execution) would help a lot.

At the end of the day, the real question is whether we believe people who commit these crimes can change their ways. If they can, then society will benefit from having them return to productive lives. If not, then they have to be separated somehow so they do not harm anyone else. I don't think there is a blanket answer to this question - each case has to be considered individually. That's why broad-brush legislation that reduces the discretion of judges, juries, and parole boards is probably not the best solution.

Do YOU have an answer? If so, I'd like to hear it. Post your comment and we'll talk about it.


Anonymous said...

Roughly 90 persons (out of 100) who are deemed low risk of re-offence must register as a sex offender (in may states the registration requirement is for life). What has not been publicly discussed is the impact of registration on those 90% of registrants and specifically their families and children - many times the child is the victim, and they are doubly victimized when their family is humiliated and ostricized.

We have many testimonials of families torn apart by nonsensical residency restriction, one-size-fits-all restrictions, obligations and requirements that do nothing to make the public safer. Parents who are unable to live with their families even though their offense happened over 20 years ago and involved someone of their own age in a consensual relationship (statutory crime); situations in which infants are ripped from their mother's arms under the guise that the father is a danger (for a statutory crime), yet the father was incarcerated during most of the pregnancy and will not be released for up to 10 years.

Children cry themselves to sleep at night knowing that Daddy has to sleep in his car at a rest stop in below zero temperatures because some beaurocrat decided that even though Daddy's therapists deemed him no threat to any children, Daddy can't live at home.

Children who are forced to move over and over due to harassment at school each time a fellow student's parent sends to school a stack of flyers of Daddy's or brother's SOR listing (*this is illegal in most states) and gets beat up at school after school, losing all social support structure that is so crucial for healthy development.

There are so many testimonials of families who are continually displaced and living in constant fear due to vigilantes and threat of extreme bodily harm. There have been numerous murders of sex offenders and those incorrectly assumed to be registrants, yet posting a map directly to one's house seems not to be an obvious risk to unscrupulous politicians. We wonder if they would object to having a map to their house listed online for everyone to see, to drive by slowly and scream obscenities, smash their car windshields, house windows or even to set their house on fire?

The premise of Megan's Law is that it is worth it to ruin the lives of countless children to save one. We strongly disagree.

How can you look into the eyes of a child and tell them that they somehow deserve to be homeless, harassed, beaten, humiliated, stigmatized and made a pariah for the remote chance at saving some other child? Whose children are worthy? Only those of others? Or do the children of registrants even count?

We believe ALL children count - ALL children must be protected, cherished and allowed to be kids FREE of vigilantism, fear, harassment, humiliation and in freedom.

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