Friday, December 15, 2017

When will "Me too" become "Everybody too"?

Jan, a junior executive for a large company, was seeking approval for a new project. She was learning how essential it was to have the friendship and support of the more senior and influential company executives. Therefore, when Ted, one of those important and influential persons, made teasing comments to her about her physical attributes and flirted and joked about a sexual assignation with her, she took it in stride, smiled, and even flirted back a little. 

That was twenty years ago. Jan is no longer with that company, but Ted is, now even more senior. Jan has realized, along with countless other persons, primarily women, that Ted’s comments and behavior were inappropriate and actually amounted to sexual harassment.

Swept along with the backlash against harassment by those in positions of power, she reported Ted’s past behavior to his company and in the media. She was applauded for her courage in “coming forward” and “speaking out.”

No criminal charges were expected, of course. Ted hadn’t broken any laws, and even if he had, the statute of limitations had expired. He had just been a bit of a chauvinist pig. He wasn’t even sure that he remembered Jan or his behavior with her.

None of that mattered to the company. The board of directors fired him almost immediately.

A very familiar story, it is repeating itself over and over. The basic elements don’t vary: a man (almost always) in a position of power; a woman (almost always) hoping to do well in the company or the profession; many years later accusations of inappropriate sexual behavior on his part and helplessness on hers; his very quick firing/removal/canceling of contract by the company.

So what’s the problem?

Was he actually guilty? Only he and she know. Why did she wait so long to speak up? It doesn’t matter. He isn’t being charged with a crime. There are a few people here and there raising a stink about due process and innocent until proven guilty, but no one seems to be paying attention. One writer said that innocent until proven guilty is a legal concept, not a societal one.

The fact that it is a constitutional one seems irrelevant. But if we are willing to change the rules in the absence of legal action, how soon will we be willing to change them within the legal context? This may be the very definition of the slippery slope.

Will this run its course, causing enough concern for enough people that some actual pushback occurs?

Or will others, emboldened, see the perfect way to get rid of unpleasant co-workers, grumpy and demanding supervisors, or others they just don’t like?

What could be easier? Make a few accusations to top management, go public if necessary, and problem solved. How can he prove he didn’t say that to you over the water cooler? 

What’s important is that you don’t have to prove he did.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Sex offenders need not apply

How many times, when reading about virtually anything, has the phrase, “No one with a conviction for a sex offense is eligible,” or “No registered sex offenders allowed,” been part of the narrative?

In everything from voting in some states to being eligible for many government and criminal justice programs to seeking shelter in emergency situations, those who are called sex offenders by virtue of being on the registry are excluded.

The latest to cross my desk is this, “VCU offers chance for jail inmates to ‘write way
out,’ ” about a program being offered by Virginia Commonwealth University.

The program sounds great. Its goal? "To help offenders 'figure out a way to live a better life, a life that keeps them out of the criminal justice system, a life in which they’re proud of what they’re doing, where they’ve discovered a new life purpose or just kind of figured out those self-sabotaging behaviors that create a lot of pain in their own life and in the lives of others.' ”


A secondary outcome is that those in the class, inmate and non-inmate alike, learn  “how to respect one another in their very diverse struggles.”

The program offers something that is not normally found in the more traditional crime to conviction to punishment path: introspection and hope. To be eligible, applicants must be able to read and write and want to break the cycle of criminal offending.

Oh, and they cannot be incarcerated for a sex offense – any sexual offense – or a violent felony or burglary.

Why is this program not available to those who have committed non-violent sexual offenses?

Would sexual offenders benefit from figuring out a better way to live? From figuring out self-sabotaging behaviors? From understanding the pain they have created for themselves and for their victims? It sounds like a page out of a sex-offender therapy manual, one of the actually good ones.

Do those who have committed sexual offenses need to learn how to respect themselves and others? Do they need introspection and hope? Can they read and write?

What are we saying when we close off these sorts of opportunities to those who may need it most of all? What message do we send? We don’t want you to figure out a better way to live? We don’t want you to understand how your behavior caused pain? We don’t want you to have self-respect or respect for others or hope?

Everything about being on the registry says those things already, and the registry is not working, has never worked, and will never work in any positive way, not for those on it nor for society in general.

If having understanding of one’s own behavior and having self-respect and having hope are desirable goals, why do we withhold this opportunity from those on the sex offender registry JUST because they are on the sex offender registry?

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Do sentenced sex offenders deserve special mistreatment in prison?

Closing our eyes to prisoner abuse must stop

Prisons are not supposed to be fun or pleasant. They are designed for restrictions and punishment intended to bring about rehabilitation.

They are not intended to facilitate, even encourage, vigilante activities against those whom other prisoners choose to mistreat.

Men in prison for convictions involving sexual offenses are often considered “fair game” for mistreatment and violence, and all too often prison personnel appear to turn a blind eye to this.

Speculation is already dominating the reports of Ben McCormick’s conviction for child pornography and what will await him if he ends up behind bars. The irony in the situation is that, while a reporter for A Current Affair, McCormick was instrumental in exposing sit-com star Robert Hughes and for Hughes’ subsequent trial, conviction, and incarceration for child sexual abuse. 

Reports of the mistreatment visited upon Hughes are only exceeded by the speculation that the same fate or worse awaits McCormick if he is imprisoned. Reporters euphemistically speak of the “prison welcome” given to Hughes, a welcome in which inmates hurled at him their own feces and urine that they had saved up in milk cartons the first time he entered the prison yard.

Were there guards and other prison personnel who knew the inmates were hoarding their bodily wastes for this purpose? No one is even asking the question. And while this treatment is mild compared to the sexual violence, rapes, and murders that those convicted of sexual crimes fall victim to behind bars, no one is asking those questions either.

There are no statistics. No one knows how many instances of sexual violence prisoners are subjected to. It is not a horror that is visited only upon those convicted of sexual crimes, but they are without a doubt singled out especially for such treatment.

And what of beatings, of maimings, of murders? Prison is a violent place. People in prison are violent people. These things are bound to happen. As far as those who commit sexual crimes receiving more than their “fair share” of such treatment, it is “jail-house justice.” Even other criminals won’t “tolerate” those who sexually abuse children. It’s bound to happen.

But it should not happen because those who should and could prevent it are closing their eyes and tacitly enabling it to happen.

Those who harm others should be punished. The punishment should not put them in positions where others who are also being punished feel free to turn a prison sentence into a sentence of torture or a sentence of death. Those who do that are proving their criminality yet again.

And also earning the title of criminals are the prison officials who shut their eyes. Their refusal to see does not excuse them from their culpability. We must demand that they be held accountable.