Friday, December 30, 2016

Sex offenders and the YMCA


I will from time to time receive columns or op-eds written by others with requests to print them on my blog. I have complied a time or two, but generally I do not. This one can be added to the times I complied.

I received an email from someone requesting anonymity. He explained that he was a registrant in New Jersey. He included this link, which led to a message to “the community” in the form of an open letter from the executive director of the West Essex YMCA, which is in Livingston, New Jersey. It is the standard public relations fare put out by businesses in order to familiarize communities with their products and services.

My anonymous correspondent included his own open letter with a request that I try to have it printed in the same online neighborhood newsletter that printed the one from the YMCA. I found the request valid, and I zipped it off to the editor the same day. After several days of no response, I emailed her again telling her that if she would not be using it, I would be printing it elsewhere and asking for an acknowledgment. I received none, and therefore I am printing his letter to the ED of the West Essex YMCA.

Ms. Helen Flores
Executive Director, West Essex YMCA

Dear Ms. Flores,

My family and I have recently moved to your community. I was pleased to see your letter to the community about what your facility offers. My wife and I have three children, and we have been recently discussing the value of the many programs that YMCAs offer. In fact, we had reached the conclusion that a family membership would be a good investment, and then I read something that stopped me in my tracks.

Apparently you have installed a program that screens for sex offenders for the purpose of preventing their entry into the Y and, I presume, preventing their becoming members.

Since the vast majority of those who are currently engaged in sexual offending, especially against children, have never been identified or charged, this confused me. How could your system alert on them? And then I realized that you mean those who are required to register on a sex offender registry, almost none of whom are still sex offenders.

Let me tell you my story. When I was a high school senior, 18 for a portion of my senior year, my girlfriend was a sophomore and 15. We became sexually active and became pregnant with our first child. I was charged with sexual crimes against a child and required to register as a sexual offender.

Sadly, we lost that child in a miscarriage. Her parents moved away, taking her with them, to prevent our seeing each other. Of course we communicated, and after she graduated from high school and I from college, we dated again and then married. Today we have a wonderful marriage and three great children. It took a while, but her parents forgave our bad beginning. I, however, am required to register as a sex offender for life.

Everyone where we lived knew our story, and we were fortunate to suffer only minimal collateral consequences from being registered. Our wonderful family more than made it worthwhile.

My work has now brought me here, and we have had some rocky patches. I am sure though that we will work through them. We cleared a big hurdle recently when we finally found a church who would accept us as a family.

If my wife or I applies for a family membership at your YMCA, what will the outcome be? Will you accept our application? Will you exclude me? If so, will I be allowed to enter to pick up the children on those occasions where my wife’s business takes her out of town and one of our children may have an activity at the Y?

I would very much like to know. I don’t want to put my children in the position of facing embarrassment or ridicule if their father is treated like a criminal and refused entry.

Thank you for your time.

A very concerned father who is NOT a sexual offender.

Shelly here – I have nothing to add.

Monday, December 5, 2016

What does it take to activate a vigilante?

Obviously, not much.

Start with a totally made-up story, make sure it involves child sexual abuse and troops of pedophiles trading and selling kids in Washington, D.C., and mix in enough of one of the major presidential candidates to guarantee that approximately half of the population are predisposed to believe it. 

Stir in one self-proclaimed “protector of children” with a gun or guns – reports are mixed – and the willingness to “protect children” by shooting off said gun into a crowd of them eating pizza.

Edgar Welch drove from North Carolina, gun or guns at the ready, and marched into his target, a popular D.C. pizza restaurant, Sunday, December 4, in order to, in his words, “self-investigate” the pedophile activity. The fact that the false rumors about the pizzeria have been debunked and found to be totally unsupported did not serve as a deterrent to him at all. After all, where sex and children are used in the same sentence, how could it not be true?

How that evolved to his shooting off his rifle is anybody’s guess.

Thank God no one was hurt and the gunman was captured.

False news is apparently one of the negative consequences that we just have to put up with in this age of social media and electronic information where anybody can say anything online with the assurance that somebody will believe him.  But given what it has led to in this specific instance, we need, more and more, to remember that responsibility must accompany the exercise of rights and freedoms.

We must remember that freedom of speech does not grant the right to yell “Fire” in a crowded theater. And the ability to make up a story and disseminate it far and wide via Twitter and Facebook does not grant the sense to know when not to do so.

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.