Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The cruelest cut of all

I started this blog as a means by which to comment on and question a segment of our criminal justice system, that which deals with crimes of a sexual nature. I saw then and see even more clearly today how far from reality these laws and practices are, how far from fact-based, how damaging rather than rehabilitating, how life-destroying rather than healing.

I have not previously used this forum to discuss or deal with any personal involvement in the issue. It is said that for every "not ever," there is an exception. This is mine.

A person close to me, a person I will call Lee, was adjudicated for a sexual crime, inappropriate sexual behavior, almost nine years ago. The victim was an older teenager and Lee was in a position of authority. The victim was sexually aggressive and coercive. Lee was the adult, knew better, and was wrong. It was a one-time situation, and they were caught.

Lee's probationary conditions are standard for one-size-fits-all sex offender management.

Ten years of probation.
No contact with anyone under the age of 18, not even young family members.
No internet access except for job searches and for work itself.
No going out of the county, not even just across the county line for a family gathering following Lee's sister's funeral. Lee was allowed to attend the funeral; it was in the county Lee is confined to.
Mandated sex offender "therapy" sessions once a week, every week, for ten years.

Lee has and has always had mental health issues: medically diagnosed depression and anxiety; poor decision making and coping skills; very little self-confidence in spite of a great deal of talent and ability. Lee is on the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum.

Lee has always had difficulty establishing and maintaining relationships. The publicity surrounding the sexual offense destroyed hopes of having a normal social life. Career in ruins, other attempts at jobs were futile. One was denied by probation because it was on the same block as a building that served as a children's theater.

Family gatherings were denied because Lee's siblings had young children, infants and toddlers--nieces and nephews to whom Lee had been close.

Church was denied until Lee disclosed the crime to the congregational leader, something Lee was too ashamed to do.

Lee's only outlet was and is the weekly "therapy" session.

I cannot use the word "therapy" in context with this treatment without enclosing it in quotation marks. Whatever definition the word "therapy" conveys does not exist among the state-sanctioned, mandated sex offender treatment models in the state where Lee lives. Every single session focuses on the vileness and the guilt of the attendees. One assignment required Lee to list 40 people who were affected by Lee's offense and to write an essay for each of the 40 detailing all of the ways that person was or could have been harmed by the offense. If the group leader felt the account was not thorough enough, it had to be redone with Lee imagining even more ways the offense might possibly have hurt the person.

Lee's mental health has declined not just significantly but dramatically. Any attempts to seek outside therapy, even autism-specific therapy, were denied by the treatment group on the grounds that it might "un-do" the work they were doing.

Any attempts to be released early from probation were shot down by the judge who yelled at Lee from the bench that sex offenders didn't get early release in her court.

Any appeals to the probation officer resulted in an automatic repetition of what the treatment provider had said.

Over the years Lee has become more and more isolated, desperate, and suicidal. The end of the year, with Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays and family gatherings that cannot be attended, exacerbates Lee's depression and isolation.

The "therapy" group, the one place where sharing of negative feelings and the offering of positive support should be a given, is the opposite. Lee knows that such sharing of negative feelings and fears invites the reinforcement of them: one who has committed a sexual crime should be depressed.

The thing that should be helpful is the most hurtful. And that is surely, to paraphrase Shakespeare, the cruelest cut of all.

Monday, November 20, 2017

It's time to stop and think about accusations from years gone by

Something is happening in this nation that should cause serious concern to every American.

It is being praised by many as being an incredible break-through, something whose time has finally come; and it bestows on those who are speaking out the status of brave heros – or heroines – for opening the floodgates.

And those who have serious reservations aren’t saying much of anything. Why not?

They know all too well the fate that awaits them if they do, the sneers, the looks, the accusations, the hateful comments. Rape apologist. Aiding and abetting the enemy. Victim-blamer.

And there’s something else. Deep in the heart of everyone who is thinking, “Wait a minute; slow down; this has the potential to destroy so many innocent,” there is the knowledge that some of it is true. People in power have, without doubt, used that power to extract sexual favors from those with less power. It is an abhorrent and vile truth.

But does that justify jumping on every bandwagon that leaves the starting gate and assuming the worst about every person, celebrity or not, about whom an accusation is made?

Accusations of this sort are the most insidious of all. Accuse an innocent man of stealing company funds, and when the true culprit is caught, he is exonerated; his reputation and life are not destroyed. Someone made a mistake in accusing him, and that mistake was righted.

Accuse an innocent man of making improper sexual advances, of molestation, of rape, and there is no exoneration. He is judged guilty even if the charges are never proved, even if there is never a conviction. He just got away with it. Those in power cover up for their friends. He's got money; he bought his way out. Where there is smoke, there is fire. When two or five or ten women accuse the same man, it has to be true.

Does it?

There is something about this that reminds me of the psychology of mob mentality.

Men who are celebrities are, by definition, high profile targets. Saying something happened fifteen or thirty or forty years ago is such as easy thing to do. If someone else has already said it, it is even easier. It spreads like wildfire.

So what should we do? Should we just close our eyes and allow real abuse to continue? No. But should we slow down and have a conversation about how easy it would be, how easy it is, to destroy someone who is innocent? Should we recognize that this is a bandwagon that people are being encouraged to jump on? Should we at least talk about the part that is played by the emergence of the “social justice warrior” movement and the new feminism, a feminism that appears to seek not fairness and equality but domination and even revenge?

Should we recognize that, with this issue, a highly cherished constitutional protection is disappearing right before our eyes? The burden of proof has always been on the accuser, on the state. That is shifting and morphing more every day, with every accusation. Each person accused feels the burden to prove he did not do such a thing. That has terrifying implications, not only for those accused of crimes of a sexual nature but for those accused of any crime.

And in attempting to prove innocence, is anyone talking about the sheer impossibility of proving a negative, especially one alleged to have occurred decades ago? Or for those not so innocent, the impossibility of mounting a legal defense when the accusations are from another lifetime ago?

No one is having these conversations, but should we?

We must. Otherwise, who is safe? Not your father, not your husband, not your son, not your friend.

Not you.

I'm Baaack

Due to other demands on my time and my talents, such as they are, I have severely neglected this blog. I have recently been admonished for doing so by a dear colleague whose thoughts I value highly, and I was easily persuaded to return . So, for what it's worth, posts by Shelly Stow will again be going forth. I hope that there remain at least a few readers who will help me put this back together, and I thank them in advance.

And here we go.....