Monday, September 19, 2016

What drives Ron Book?

 I watched the film Untouchable through live streaming as it was shown at the RSOL National Conference that has just concluded in Atlanta, Georgia.

This film could well have been named, “Portrait of a bitter, angry man.”

Ron Book’s daughter Lauren was sexually assaulted by a nanny the family had hired for Lauren. The abuse went on for many years. She kept Lauren from revealing the truth to her parents through threats and intimidation.

Of course he was angry to learn the truth – devastated, actually. Any parent would be. Of course he is bitter that his little girl suffered pain and horror for so many years.

Rob Book, as an outlet for his anger and his bitterness, has made himself a juggernaut whose purpose is to destroy every sex offender in the state. Involved even then in Florida’s political scene, he has become arguably one of the most powerful men in the state.

He is responsible for legislation that created the Julia Tuttle Bridge scandal. He is almost single-handedly responsible for law after law whose sole purposes are to punish everyone on the Florida sex offer registry to the furthest degree possible. He openly and proudly announced that Florida was
“scorched earth” to any registered sex offender.

He revealed that he is closely watching the progress of Lauren’s abuser toward a release date and that he will be there to hound her every second he can.

He cites unrealistically high sexual recidivism rates and makes outlandish statements about the surety of registrants to commit new crimes and their extreme danger to society. When questioned about research study after research study all showing the opposite of everything he has said, he brushes it aside like an annoying gnat. All lies, he said, trumped up figures, nonsense.

It is not until the last few minutes of the film that another motive for all of his actions, all of his hatred, emerges. He is seated behind his desk, and an off-camera interviewer asks him which, if any, of all the laws on Florida’s books today, laws whose existence he is responsible for, would have, had they existed years ago, saved Lauren.

He stumbles only a little when he says no, most likely none of them would have made a difference. None would have protected Lauren from her abuser. And then he says something remarkable.

He says, stumbling a bit more, that the only thing that would have saved her is if he and her mother had, when she was young, educated her about what to do in such a situation. Told her that she could tell them anything. Told her that secrets are not forever. Told her what to say to them, her parents, if anyone hurt her or scared her. He said that she might not have told them the first time it happened, or maybe not even the second, but that he is sure she would have told them soon -- if only they had taught her that she could.

And with those words, the truth about what motivates Ron Book was revealed. Yes, he is angry. And bitter. And vengeful. But that is not what drives him.

What drives him is guilt.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Picketing and threats for Brock: Is there a better way?

In the wake of Brock Turner’s stint in jail and subsequent release, America has not behaved very well. Like the cluster of schoolboys ganging up to neutralize the playground bully, their actions are understandable but not helpful to the ultimate goal of ending the violence.

What is the ultimate goal in regard to Brock Turner? Surely it is that he has learned his lesson and will not commit another sexual offense.

What is the broader goal in regard to the community and society? Surely it is that public safety is enhanced.

Groups of armed vigilantes outside his home and hate messages scrawled on his sidewalk fall far short of contributing to either goal, and many of those not close enough to strap on their weapons and descend on the Turner home are cheering on those who are. Additionally, some media reports all but encourage and applaud such behavior.

What will contribute to both goals? Culling from studies and experts who have worked for years toward these goals, who have made the choice to be part of the solution, it is this: successfully integrating the offender back into the community. And what works toward this? That is best answered by looking at what destroys it: isolation; shaming; rejection; ostracization; hatred; vilification.

Neighbors with guns, reminiscent of lynch mobs several decades ago.

Brock’s neighbors are not expected to welcome him with apple pies and invitations to backyard barbecues – at least not now.

But if they too want to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem, they will leave him and his family alone.

They will look within themselves and find the grace to consider the greater good of society rather than reacting out of a media-whipped, frenzied belief that he wasn’t punished enough – a judgment call that was not theirs to make in the first place.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Dealing with monsters -- uh -- sex offenders

If things really come in threes, then I have a monster story yet to come my way.

The first one was when an editor wrote a "Pokemon warning" to his readers and chose to call registrants living in the area "the real monsters." I took exception to that verbiage and, after contacting him, sent my rebuttal, which he, in decency, printed.

Now, this morning, when I opened my usual collection of daily alerts, one shouted at me, "Monsters among us site provides digital vigilance to help you keep track of sexual predators..." The thing turned out to be nothing more than an advertisement for Family Watchdog masquerading as a site review, but my initial reaction was, again, my radar going on high alert at the word "monsters" being used to describe those on the registry.

At the end of the piece was a request for readers to share their favorite sites for him to review. I took him up on it, sending him the following. Time will tell if I get a response.

Dear Mr. O'Neill,
Thank you for the invitation to share a favorite site. The one I would like to share is It is the site of National Reform Sex Offender Laws, Inc., and it is dedicated to the advocacy of laws and policies based on facts and evidence that support
the successful rehabilitation and reintegration of law abiding, former sex offenders into society. This is our goal because this is what research shows will help create a safer society.
Unlike the site you most recently recommended, we do not call people "monsters." Research indicates that pejorative language of that type is counter-productive in furthering the rehabilitation initiatives approved by our criminal justice system.
Additionally, we find the type of site touted in your article "Monsters among us site..." contradictory to empirical evidence, and we find companies such as Family Watchdog extremely unethical as they are using deceit to play on the fears of parents. An exhaustive look at the research and scholarly literature on the subject will reveal that evidence does not support the use of public notification such as public sex offender registries. These popular but wasteful schemes do not further public safety, reduce sexual re-offending, nor offer any protection to children or other potential victims. They are predicated on misconceptions and myths and are denounced by academics and scientists alike.
I will be happy to dialogue with you further on this subject. Thank you for considering the site I have recommended for your column.