Saturday, July 30, 2011

Finally finished. My thoughts on Sex Offender laws.

Sex Offender Registry

     Scottie, at Scotties Toy Box (note blog link in sidebar), took on the incredible concept of the recent and expanding Sex Offender Registry laws currently going throughout the United States. His information comes much from letters received, some personal experiences as a child, and a lot of common sense, observation and ethics. He has encouraged others to make comment, and in part I’ve been somewhat hesitant to as it is such a hot button issue and difficult to find the balance of what should and should not be done.

     As I think on the issue, some thoughts come to mind about what MLK, Jr. said, and I’ll paraphrase rather than look up the exact quote, ‘injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere’. Another quote that comes to mind, attributed to Martin Nimoller, speaking on the lack of response to the rise of the Nazi party, control, and depredations:

First they came for the Communists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.

Then they came for Me. And, there was not one left to speak for me.
     So, despite the uncomfortable nature of the topic and the difficulty in finding my way, it really is necessary that I look at this and offer my thoughts. Sorry, morality requires it of me.
     Evan, in his great post on this, spoke of a term called “Social Panic”. See (here). In this, he spoke of a Problem arising, being brought to the Media, which publishes their concern, etc., and gathers the attention of the Authority, who decide if and what response is necessary. Often, this response garners a Scapegoat, one sort or another of marginalized people or group the citizenry can place the blame upon.
     In the above, and thinking on the context of the post, it is not difficult to see where sex offenders and pedophiles in particular would be an easy scapegoat to the perceived outcry of the populace. Indeed, it is simple to get any sort of legislation passed by simply calling it by a name so filled with fear or so filled with positive feelings that no one would stand up against it as they would be then against that charged phrase. Things that come to mind, “It’s for the protection of the children” and “Family friendly”. Recent other hot-button issues falling into these catch phrases: gay marriage and DOMA, Patriot laws.
     Now, in all things, there is the good and the bad. When we look at issues that come up in the press and in the politics, a certain degree is good positive change and a certain degree is way over the top. Not surprising in an age of sensationalism and an elected authority desperate to avoid a real job that the appeasement of the populace is primary. What is right, positive, affirming and sustaining takes a distant position and is likely more considered “the next guys problem”. So saying, it is easy to find that a bit of push in one direction that brings a positive effect will increase the likelihood of continued pushing in that direction to be seen as “effective leadership” when in fact it is like feeding your child more and more chocolate cake because he so liked the first slice and encouraged more and more. And, just like that child, who has no concept of the future of such gluttony, the politician (parent) is only concerned about the now happy child. That one very good piece of cake transformed into gluttony becomes the catalyst for further inroads into obesity, diabetes, social stigma and weakness because the authority figure was too blinded by the applause.
     Another likely question: Since the damage to children is felt by the criminality of sex offenders, what about other issues? Surely the crack dealer is dangerous to all children. Surely the drunk driver is dangerous to all children. Surely the pit bull owner, the skateboard maker, the pool and lakeshore owners, the dangerous chemical manufacturers….. At what point do we put a stop?
     Currently we hear stories of the way that people, having been convicted of being a sex offender, are now unable to find housing, once finding housing are relegated to near hermit existence due to restriction about where they may go and what they may do, have difficulty finding employment much less meaningful employment, have their very lives splashed across the internet for anyone to see and react in whatever fashion they deem appropriate. There are difficulties everywhere, and it really isn’t hard to find a great list of them. Perhaps it’s far too easy to find such a list. And people hear of these troubles and think; ‘yeah, sucks to be them, but they deserve it right?’ Those questions and rationales really come back to the list of other things that could bind one to such strictures I noted above, where the proponents, if one were to replace a word, would find it quickly coming to their own doorstep.
     So, as my answer to the question: In my mind, this comes not in new legislation, but in relying on the things upon which this country has been grounded. Specifically: If you commit an offense, there are laws and consequences, specifically which we will send you off to prison and you will need to change your ways. The use of the penitentiary is …. for the penitent. The use of parole was originally done so those who are intent upon changing their ways could escape the full measure of the sentence and be a good and productive citizen. The concept of 5 to 10 imposed by the judge, or whatever given as the punishment, is to give an end to the term so that life can start again.
     Is this the case with the new laws? Are the new laws really helping? I would submit to you that the majority of sex offenders, the great majority (of around 90+%) of sex offenders are one time offenders - having once been caught and punished tend to refrain from more offenses. So, the real majority of NEW offenses are done by the person well known to the family and victim, the nice guy down the street, or whoever. Isn’t it they who should be watched? Isn’t it they who need to be focused upon?
     I have had the confusing and sometimes enlightening pleasure of taking some college courses in sociology and psychology. I must admit, most of it went way over my head. But, one of the things that I came to understand in those courses is that people will find a way to meet their needs. Laws, values, acceptable procedures all fail when looking at Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs; the starving person is rarely seeking self-actualization when faced with a dumpster dive. Well, among the many needs, sexual gratification is among the basic drives. The failure of the person to understand, to grow and reach a better method of meeting his needs cannot be helped by making his or her life even more onerous, cause an even greater degree of withdrawal, defensiveness, denial, fear. In time, the person will hopefully ask for help, but in some troubles it is more likely that s/he will come to the attention of the authorities and thrown into prison. This can only compound the problems, creating even greater withdrawal and defensiveness, certainly fear. Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not against the concept of prison. It is often necessary to remove someone harmful to the group in order to help them and return them to the group….prison gives that opportunity to examine the motivations and methods, the faults and failures, and give chance for positive intervention. That should be the goal of prison: to establish in the prisoner’s mind that his ways are not acceptable, teach him new and effective methods, and return him positive and well to society.
     Wouldn’t it be a wonderful thing if a person entering into prison was given such a great deal of help that he would exit the prison system ready to positively meet his needs? I don’t believe this is the case; I believe people are swept under society’s rug, to wallow in semi-existence until some future point in time whence they are allowed to exit prison in worse shape than entering. Isn’t this quite counterproductive?
     Going further, it was my sad and yet very clear understanding in those very classes that the seeking of help, especially for a sexually based problem, is not only terrifying but likely opens one up for a lifetime of restrictions. A friend of mine broke his hand and severed tendons. The surgery and rehabilitation were torture, so he was prescribed pain medication – in increasing amounts until one day he was labled “cured” and all meds removed. Well, he’d become dependent. Seeking help to beat the dependency, he checked himself in for drug rehab. Now this avid hunter and sportsman is denied the ability to purchase guns because he is considered a drug abuser. All because he ASKED for help. Now, that is an example of how asking for help requires the admitting of the problem and then all the consequences seem to come crashing in on the person. If the consequences are a lifetime of restrictions and social pariahism, can we really expect people to ask for help?
     My concern with these new laws is that they are ineffective. They spend money on seeking to catch an offense and not upon helping to reduce the likelihood that an offense could occur. The very laws intended to straight-jacket an offender may encourage a return to past ways of meeting one’s needs as the new rules become too difficult, too shameful, too restrictive. These same laws seem to seek to make a person’s life public to a public that cares little for the person. Why would it not be better to list such information only to the local police? In fact, sifting the lists of people to find those most of concern could couple an officer with that person for mentoring and oversight, creating positive and affirming change in the offender’s life. I posit that the laws, having been named for the victims of the most horrible crimes, are more a method of vengeance than watchfulness. What better scapegoat than one who can’t ‘scape?

My conclusion, my opinion such as it is, is that these laws coming about do far more harm than good. They were made in fear and vengeance, furthered by opportunists, and have removed all thought from the process. The logical conclusion should be obvious, but the panic remains the driving force.