Tuesday, December 24, 2013

It has happened again

 A man has been murdered in his home, dead of multiple gunshot wounds. Although it should be, this is not an unusual occurrence.

This is a developing story, and details are being added hourly; this much is known: David Wheelock was a registered sex offender, required to be on the registry in the state of New Hampshire for one incident involving 28 charges of viewing illegal pornography in 2005. He was compliant with his legal requirements. He was found shot to death this past Saturday night, Dec. 21, in his home in Keene, New Hampshire. Mr. Wheelock was wheelchair bound due to multiple sclerosis.

Even though attacks on registered citizens are escalating, with an especially brutal vigilante double murder in South Carolina in June targeting a registrant and his wife, it is yet unknown if this was the motivation behind Mr. Wheelock’s murder.

His registrant status, though, certainly plays a part in media presentation and public reaction. Every article that I could find about his murder identifies him as a registered sex offender although, kudos to New Hampshire, not blaring from the headlines, which is more the norm.

One article notes that the attack was a "vicious" one. Another makes mention of the “dehumanizing effect” that placement on the list creates, and this is certainly borne out by comments on a Facebook page and online comment boards, often by people who have no qualms identifying themselves fully--unless they are using fake names and false photographs. 

Joel Kaplan: “No sympathy. Good riddance.” And “Guilty pervert. Only place left for him is hell.”

Nhstoneybrook: “A dead child molester is a good one.” (There is no indication Wheelock was a child molester; this is part of the negativity of the registry: sex offender = child molester in many people's eyes.)

Jenny Dow Dang: “I hope he died terribly.”

None of these people, nor the others who posted equally vile remarks, knew Mr. Wheelock. They do not know the specifics of his offense and his charges. They do not know whether he was actually guilty, only that he was adjudicated guilty. (28 charges could easily result from a scant handful of images and is an extremely low number for most who collect child porn.) They do not care that there has been no offense since the one arrest. They apparently do not care that he was seriously ill and disabled, confined to a wheelchair, posing no risk to public safety.

All they needed to know to make them feel totally justified in their vileness, viciousness, and hatred is that he was reported to be a registered sex offender.


I will be updating when new information is available.

Update 12/25; most interesting: from the office of the New Hampshire Attorney General:

Saturday, December 21, 2013

When sex offenders are the topic, we need some honesty in journalism and in legislation

Florida, which already has the reputation for its harshness and apparent lack of concern for measures promoting rehabilitation when dealing with sex offender legislation, has churned out four new bills, as detailed here.

The political posturing is seen from the first sentence but is no where more colorful than in the quote by Florida Senator Gaetz promising to "make Florida scorched earth for those who seek to harm our children."

I have two problems with the presentation of information in this article.

First, the standard for "sexually violent predator," if one actually reads the criminal code, is extremely vague and structured so that it could be, and undoubtedly is, applied to many who should not be in that category. The article, to be fair and balanced, has a responsibility to point that out.    

Secondly, using Mr. Harrel, who was not on the registry and therefore not a known repeat offender, as an example equal with Mr. Smith as "cases involving repeat sexually violent predators" is misleading, even unethical, journalism. Is Harrel the second-best example? Then the entire premise is a lie. Removing Mr. Harrel leaves only Mr. Smith, and the justification of "repeat sexually violent predators" coupled with the "last three years" is gone.

Both of these men were murderers. Both committed heinous crimes against their victims before they murdered them. Both deserve(d) appropriate punishment through the justice system. However, those designated as sexually violent predators in Florida who have murdered no one and fall far short of committing such heinous acts do not deserve punishment thinly disguised as "public safety measures" based on what those two men did.

If another has brutally raped a child, if another has murdered a child, then apply the stricter guidelines to him, not to the 99.9% who have done neither.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Where Is the Outcry in a World Gone Mad?

I am old enough to remember the world before it went mad.

I read about a child--a baby, really, six--suspended from school for sexual harassment after he kissed a little girl in his class on the hand. Yes, he had apparently given her attention before, and some indications are it was unwanted attention, and correction of behavior may well have been warranted, but SEXUAL HARASSMENT at six?

The school has apparently removed that specific language from his record after an outcry that swept almost from shore to shore.

Thank God we are still out-crying against something.

I remember being on the playground during recess when I was probably eight. The girls were all together on the ground playing jacks, and the boys were across the way playing--whatever boys played. One little boy left the herd, swooped into the girl group, reached down and planted a very loud kiss on the cheek of the girl next to me, and raced back to his group amid the laughter of everyone. The group of teachers watching our play laughed the loudest. That was before the world went mad.

We do not outcry when legislators sell communities on the idea of 1000 feet residency and presence restrictive zones around schools, parks, libraries, and "any other place children congregate." There could not be a legislator alive who has not at least been told of the huge body of research and scholarly work showing these restrictions to be not only ineffective and having no correlation with improved public safety but also resulting in negative consequences that actually decrease public safety.

Politicians like to call these "unexpected consequences," but how can they be unexpected when they are as predictable as a hand put on a hot stove getting burned? And just as predictable is that anyone who attempts an outcry will be drowned out by strident ignorance making accusations of "child molester" against the few, weak voices.

Missing also is the outcry that should be heard as a massive roar after a state has "fallen" to the federal government's propaganda machine designed to "sell" the Adam Walsh Act. This has just occurred fully in Nevada, one of seventeen states to be so persuaded. Though being "reasonably compliant" for several years now, Nevada's Supreme Court  has, reluctantly, forced Nevada into the final step--and that should be said in the same tone as the final solution.

Several things should cause an outcry when any state adopts AWA: the realization that the federal money "saved" by not having it taken away is but a drop in the bucket to what it will cost to maintain the increased number of public registrants and everything the AWA requires; the anticipation of, with so many more people on the public registry, an increase in the instances of violence against registrants will occur, simply because they are so labeled; and, most onerous, registrants who have lived in peace for twenty years or more with a risk level of I, not requiring public notification, people who have never re-offended and have build decent and productive lives, are suddenly reassigned to Levels II or III based on nothing but the type of classification system the AWA requires, one that most experts say is the least effective. It usually doesn't take more than a year or two before the lives of these people and their families are destroyed.

But the greatest outcry should come over what Nevada is now facing. AWA requires that all persons who committed sexual offenses against children--anyone below sixteen-when they themselves were as young as fourteen, going all the way back to 1956, be subject to public registration.

Nevada, like many states who resist AWA compliance, has successfully followed research and expert recommendations in treating juvenile offenders "more like patients than prisoners." That approach will no longer be allowed; a fourteen year old who gives another fourteen year old an inappropriate touch and is charged with sexual battery will be a felon, on the public registry, with his life in ruins. Where is the outcry?

And in another two or three years, when a politician manages to convince the public that even consensual sexual activity with someone under sixteen, even if the partner is also under sixteen, is a criminal, registerable offense, will there be an outcry then?

I began this by speaking of the days before the world went mad. I remember seeing an image in textbooks when I was growing up, one that had become an icon for what we had believed was the end of madness, one that symbolized hope that sanity would return to the world. It was Alfred Eisenstaedt's  photograph taken in Times Square on VJ Day of an American sailor kissing a young woman who appears to be in a nurse's uniform. There is probably no one reading this who isn't familiar with it and the story behind it.

If that were happening in the world of today, would he be arrested on the spot and charged with sexual battery and required to register as a sexual offender?

And would there be any outcry?

Friday, December 6, 2013

Registered Sex Offenders and Parks--Can They Ever Co-exist?

I have just watched the San Antonio City Council vote unanimously to further restrict where San Antonio citizens who are listed on the sex offender registry may live and go in regard to city parks.

Watching this, it was clear it was a done deal. While advocates for fact-based laws spoke, begging the council to think this through more thoroughly and to be sure they had read the research, only one, a law enforcement officer, spoke for it, citing the need to have this as a tool in protecting children.

Recent incidents in public parks have been committed by those not on the registry. This ordinance would have offered no protection against them.

If the ordinance were more narrowly tailored to target registrants whose offenses were against children or, even more appropriately, registrants who have a history of luring children from public places, it would not be so offensive.

This is not the case. It will affect the grandfather who had an adult victim 25 years ago, totally paid his legal obligation, has never re-offended, and takes his grandchildren to the park on a regular basis. It will affect the father who is on the registry for an illegal but otherwise consensual sexual relationship with his high school sweetheart who has been for years his wife and mother of the children that he may no longer take to the park. It will affect the young man who was innocent of the accusations against him but was nonetheless convicted and required to register for life.

The only redeeming aspect of this ordinance is that it will not affect registrants who are already living in what will become restricted areas. But when they move, it will affect them. Due to the broad and ever growing range of what are considered sexual offenses, Texas adds an alarming number of individuals yearly to the registry. For those who live in or move to San Antonio, their already limited access to housing will be even more limited and difficult to obtain, a factor that research studies show works against rather than for public safety.

Theoretically, a registrant can apply for an exemption from the policy. When a council member pressed for assurance that this was a fact in reality, no one there could clearly articulate an answer. Finally someone managed to say that yes, if a registrant applied for an exemption before March 1st and it was granted, then if he were arrested/cited for being in a park, his exemption would serve as an affirmative defense.

That is not the same thing as being exempt from the ordinance.

San Antonio has enacted this day an ordinance that is contradicted by everything empirical data says about residence and presence restrictions against registered citizens. Other cities, having enacted them several years ago, have reversed them when lawsuits, wasted tax revenue, and other negative consequences made it clear they had made the wrong choice.

I await the day when the San Antonio city council reaches the same conclusion.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Advocating for Registered Sex Offenders' Rights Isn't for Sissies

I have long been aware that anyone and any organization who put themselves out there in favor of fact-based laws and constitutional rights for those on the registry are subject to criticism and even slander. I have encountered a few "crazies" who are easy to ignore because they are--well--crazy. I don't think I have ever actually encountered pure hatred until now.

I was making some comments on a recent article, and the only point I was pushing is that there should be a clearer distinction between statutory offenses and forced ones.

The situation was one in which a man, now grown, has been charged with rape resulting from what the evidence clearly indicates was a consensual relationship when he was 18 with a 14 year old young lady. The encounter was clearly a violation of the law. I stated that I recognized his culpability and that he was deserving of appropriate punishment.

Most of the comments were somewhat vicious toward him, and the word rape was thrown around freely. My comments were focused on the characteristics of a statutory offense and that there should be clearer distinction between such an offense, especially when the age difference between partners was not great, and a forced rape.

I was not well received, and in defense of my position, I revealed the personal information that at 16 I had dated, and before I was 17 married, a man 7 years older than myself. The first comment to this was that my parents should have been jailed for "inappropriate parenting" and that they were "criminals." My only response was, "Not in 1958."

This was when another poster took up the fight. He wrote, "they should have been....to think you are around children is disgusting...and sad...for the children that are exposed to your thinking....i loathe you and the others of your ilk...

Forgetting my self-imposed rule not to argue with an idiot, and in spite of being impressed that he knew the word "ilk," I expressed my dismay that he was willing to be so rude and vicious toward someone he didn't know and that he had no idea what my thinking was.  I then wished him happy Thanksgiving and blessings.

That was a mistake.

He next wrote: 
Shelly Stow ?....I don't need any happy wishes or anything else from you period....your round about defense of a rapists [sic] tells me all i need to know of you....you can use semantics to try and make your case but you are a miserable human being ....to think you reproduced is disgusting.....i find you STRANGE to say the least....when your generation dies off and your way of thinking is history, then we can all be thankful.....your ancient way of justifying rape will be history...as well....we hope for a better future without the disgusting beliefs of you and your ilk...
Ilk again. And all of this because I got married at 16 to someone 23 and because I thought that statutory rape and forced rape should be more clearly delineated.

And he continued...                                                                                                                                    
....one can only hope you have a neighbor like this piece of crap....looking forward to your defense strategy then....I am so thankful I do not live or exist anywhere near your locale....maybe when your granddaughter meets another man like this one you defend?....you will come around to a different way of thinking and come out of the "leave it to beaver" Jim Crow world you came from....have fun at your next tea bigot fox fake news rally....
 I finally decided I was outclassed in the idiot category and quit sparring with him. But I was shaken by his degree of hatred, pure vitriol, and his willingness to make assumptions about me and my life that he drew from the air. The man clearly has a problem, but it goes beyond that. It must be the subject matter that renders him not only illogical but irrational; surely he doesn't display such idiocy all the time. In spite of my resolve not to respond to him again, I couldn't stop thinking about it.

I was so disturbed that I asked  Lenore over at Free Range Kids for her take on it, and she too blogged about it.

So, what is the take-away here? I guess develop a thicker skin. Just accept that what I do and believe will make enemies.

And don't get in comment exchanges with idiots.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Just How Offensive Can a Sex Offender Be?

A short while ago I read an opinion piece entitled, "Viewpoint: Sex offenders need stronger punishments," in the Baylor Lariat.

The author ridiculed the 5th annual conference held by Reform Sex Offender Laws, Inc. in Los Angeles the end of August and said that he found a conference held by those who seek reform to these laws to be offensive.                            
I find his taking offense at this offensive. The author said that these laws placing people on a public registry, often for life, laws that impede their rebuilding their lives, are needed to protect children. I find this to be untrue.

It is no secret to anyone, except possibly the writer of "Viewpoint...," that virtually all child sexual abuse is committed by those close to the children in their lives, specifically their family members, their peers, and their authority figures, individuals who almost certainly have no previous arrest records for sexual offenses. This fact renders the public sex offender registry impotent as a means of protecting children from sexual crime.

In fact, experts in the field credit the registry and the entire sex offender industry that has grown up around it with obfuscating the real problem of child sexual abuse by keeping the focus turned in the wrong direction.

The author of this opinion piece states disbelievingly, "Yet those that are labeled as sex offenders...believe that laws that limit where they can live or where they can go are too restrictive and repressive." I find this surprising. How could this author not know that empirical evidence supports that view and goes even further? Research shows no correlation between these types of restrictions and public safety; therefore, whatever resources are spent on supporting and enforcing these restrictions are wasted.

They are indeed too restrictive and repressive in that they work against the goals of rehabilitation and community reintegration, which do work toward public safety; however, their greatest shortcoming is that they are not based on facts or empirical evidence; this is why they are ineffective.

And finally the author appeals to the plight of the victims and the loss of their innocence and their years of pain. I find this disingenuous and hypocritical, for he is supporting a system that has in its bloated budget little to nothing for victims' services, which helps past victims, or for prevention, which is designed to help present victims and reduce the number of future ones. He uses the pain of victims, which is indeed real, to support his emotional appeal, yet he suggests nothing that will help victims or work toward prevention.

I find that this author has written an opinion on a subject about which he has done no research and has little to no factual information.

However, this need not be a terminal disorder. If he wishes to find the truth, he will find these to be helpful.


Thursday, November 21, 2013

Healthy Communities Include Former Sex Offenders

I appreciate the position presented by Becky Jones (11/15 Overexposure of sex offenders) that putting out too much information about former offenders is "not healthy for any community" and might even "lead to further crime against them" (I find the word "further" interesting here).

I would agree that it is "not healthy" when the children of former offenders are bullied and harassed at school because of the prior crimes of their parents. It is definitely "not healthy" for the parents of former offenders to have the cars they are driving, cars listed on the public registry as belonging to their registered-sex-offender-sons, vandalized, smashed, or shot at. And when, this past summer in South Carolina, a wife was brutally murdered along with her former-sex-offender-husband, that definitely was "not healthy."

However, while I agree with these points, I question Ms. Jones's final point that "We should be made aware of their presence in our neighborhoods...." I ask on what basis Ms. Jones holds this position.

Studies done examining the benefit of public notification of those on the registry have found none. No correlation is found between public notification and public safety. Indeed, negative factors have been found that decrease the stability of registrants living in the community, and that decrease of stability is correlated with less public safety.

I suppose that having one's children beat up and one's parents shot at would decrease one's stability.

It is time to re-think our laws and practices dealing with the management of former sex offenders living in the community. Studies also verify that the majority will not commit another sexual offense. We must base our laws on facts and research-based evidence.

That is the only way to build communities that are "healthier" for everyone.

Friday, November 8, 2013

A Sex Offender an Attorney--What Are the Odds?

This article presents the case of a former sex offender, still on the registry, who is a third year law student at the University of Richmond School of Law after receiving "the law school’s most prestigious, $30,000 John Marshall scholarship."

Many questions are being asked, and Zach Jesse has an attorney who has wisely advised him to answer none. His attorney made this statement. “If Zach passes the Virginia bar exam, he will have a hearing before the character and fitness committee of the Virginia Board of Bar Examiners to determine if he will become a member of the Virginia State Bar. I anticipate that the members of the committee will be asking the same types of questions you want to ask, so you can understand that I can’t let Zach answer questions on or off the record prior to his formal hearing.”

If Zach is admitted to the Virginia State Bar, he will be the first felon and certainly he first registered sex offender to earn that honor.

But why? There have been other such applicants. One who did not succeed with the character and fitness committee had been merely charged with a sexual crime; he was not convicted.

Is rehabilitation not recognized as a possibility? Should we not reward, or at least acknowledge, those who demonstrate it? In general, criminal justice systems profess to hold rehabilitation as a goal equal to just punishment. Virginia, however, on their official criminal justice website, doesn't even give rehabilitation lip service; they instead publish, "Welcome to the Web site of Virginia’s Judicial System. Our aim is to assure that disputes are resolved justly, promptly, and economically through a court system unified in its structures and administration."

Well. Promptly and economically. And justly. Not hoping for rehabilitation. Not making it a priority that those passing through the system are encouraged to repent, to strive to do better, to work hard to succeed--which makes it all the more remarkable that Zachery Jesse has done exactly that.

If odds were being given that Zach will end up practicing law in Virginia--or anywhere--I doubt many, if any, would take the bet.

But on the other hand, Zach is most clearly a young man who has proven he can beat the odds.

Zach, the best of luck to you. I hope you succeed. My money is on you.

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Lies About Sex Offenders

The more the evidence shows otherwise, the more places pop up wanting sex offender residency restrictions and "child-safe zones."

Almost every day brings another town or another county proposing some sort of restriction limiting where those on the registry can legally live, go, or work, or placing some special conditions on their being there.

The concept of a "child-safe" area, just like all areas of restrictions to those on the registry, is flawed at the core. It makes assumptions that are untrue. One is that those who abuse children are strangers seeking out places where children congregate. This is true of the tiniest fraction, less than 1% most data shows. Virtually all child sexual abuse is committed by those close to the children in their lives, specifically their family members, their peers, and their authority figures.

Using what empirical evidence tells us then, a true "child-safe zone," one that would separate children from those most likely to do them sexual harm, would separate children from their family members and closest friends and associates.

This flawed concept also assumes that registered offenders frequently re-offend, and that too is false. The majority of registrants, whether on the registry for a youthful, foolish act or for a serious crime, will not sexually re-offend and are seeking only to rebuild their lives, support their families, and live law-abiding lives.

An additional falsehood is that any registrant seeking employment in a place such as a children's hospital is there for nefarious reasons. The public registry makes registrants getting any job very difficult. If they have the opportunity for a job, no matter where it is, they are highly unlikely to turn it down.

These false assumptions, these lies, result in ludicrous situations, such as registrants being banned from entering a public library or scanning paraphernalia being installed in public schools, paraphernalia that is programmed to sync with only one thing--the sex offender registry.

Some schools disallow the presence of a sex offender altogether regardless of the circumstances. A few allow a visiting parent who is a registrant in the building--so long as he has a school personnel escort with him. In addition to the fact that schools probably have more surveillance cameras per square foot than banks do, registrants are considered so dangerous that they need special supervision. Imagine the humiliation to the child or teenager when he is quizzed by his peers about why his dad had an assistant principal walking around with him. That isn't just ludicrous; it is cruel.

I beg any who are considering implementing any of these restrictions or procedures to spend some time looking at the empirical evidence and following it. We have enough laws based on foolish whims, false assumptions, and deliberate lies. We don't need more.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Sometimes I Just Hate Being Right

I thought I was through with Halloween; it seems that Halloween is not through with me.

For several weeks now, this has been my message wherever I could possibly find a place to put it:
Increased risk from sex offenders on Halloween: NONE. No instance can be found of a child being molested or bothered by a registered offender in connection with Halloween. Studies find zero increased risk.
Risk from poisoned or tampered-with candy or fruit: NONE. The only instance of poisoned Halloween candy was in the '70's when a father poisoned his own children's Halloween candy in order to collect their insurance. 
Increased risk from auto/pedestrian accidents: TWO TO FOUR TIMES. Children are two to four times more likely to be killed by such accidents on Halloween than any other day of the year.
So law enforcement, if any are reading this: We don't want you checking whether registrants have their lights on or not or x-raying candy. We want you on traffic patrol.

 From the 50 or 60 headlines that responded to my search engine Friday morning, no one paid attention. Almost every one was a variant of, "Police protect trick or treaters; keep registered sex offenders at bay."

But a few carried a darker and more tragic message.

Five children were killed by vehicles while trick or treating Thursday evening.

According to a report covering five years summarized in USA Today, "...an average of 2.2 children are killed in pedestrian accidents from 4 to 10 p.m. on Halloween, compared with one child every other evening at the same time."

And this year five were killed.

I thought long and hard about writing this. I am still thinking long and hard about posting it, but I am almost sure that I will. I asked myself, "If five children had been assaulted by someone on the registry on Halloween, would it be in the news?" We all know the answer to that. If one child had been assaulted by someone on the registry, it would be all over the news. But, apparently, just as in every previous year, no registrant took advantage of Halloween to stalk and molest a child trick or treating. The results are the same in the many jurisdictions and the states where no restrictions are placed against registered offenders regarding Halloween as well as the places where restrictions were in place.

And for the lives of five precious children lost, we mourn, and we pray for comfort for their families, and we say, "Rest in peace, Erica (SC), Autumn (GA), and Shane (TN). " We say, "Rest in peace, little ones from Texas and from Nevada whose names are not yet publicized."

Rest in peace.

Friday, October 25, 2013

No More

It's still a week away, and I am already beyond sick of it.

I've already blogged twice about it; this makes three times.

Every day brings another two or three articles about the "precautions" being taken to "safeguard" children on this one day of the year on which they are the most "vulnerable" to assault from registered sex offenders.

I tried to comment on every article, but I grew weary--not to mention repetitive.

I also grew disgusted at reading the same rhetoric over and over. This is being done for the children. No precaution is too great if it protects them. We just can't be too careful when it comes to our children.Whether it was from Ohio or South Carolina, from California or Louisiana, the headlines all started to sound the same. "Halloween safety includes avoiding sex offenders." "Amherst councilman seeks trick-or-treat ban for registered sex offenders." "Sheriff urges parents to check sex offender registry before Halloween."

I quit at 33, and that was yesterday with a full week to go. Who knows how many jurisdictions in how many states will feel compelled to chime in and announce to the world their plans to keep children from being assaulted by registered sex offenders who most assuredly will use this opportunity to don a mask and grab a little trick-or-treater or lure one into his home with the promise of candy.

I mean, it has happened so many times before, hasn't it? Well, actually, no. As far as rather thorough searches by multiple people can tell, it has never happened before.

And academic studies have been done examining the increased risk to children for sexual assault from any quarter on Halloween. And they have found a most interesting thing. They have found that the risk of sexual harm to children on Halloween is exactly as it is the other 364 days of the year. There is zero increased risk on Halloween. Hmmm. I wonder if they know that in Ohio and South Carolina and California...in all the many other places where towns and cities and entire states are spending money and wasting resources preventing a problem that doesn't exist...that never existed.

There have been a couple of bright spots in this dismal scene. The first came from a journalist named Emily Horowitz, an associate professor of sociology at St. Francis College in Brooklyn, NY. She wrote "Manufacturing Fear: Halloween Laws for Sex Offenders," a brilliant piece that presents the truth and the evidence supporting it with clarity and literary skill.

And then today appeared "Fear the Bogeyman: Sex Offender Panic on Halloween." Written by Andrew Extein, a psychotherapist who does sex offender therapy in private practice, this scholarly piece explores a culture's need for monsters and bogeymen as it has evolved through the years.

And there have been a few others that speak the truth, that question the necessity for scaring parents with the need to guard against a risk that does not exist, but they are few and scant and, much like this, will not be read by many, while the headlines that scream for the need to "Protect the children" will be heard and tweeted and shared by, it seems, everyone in North America.

But I will read no more, not this year. I have had enough. I may read Emily's and Andrew's pieces again, but if a town in Alabama or New Mexico or Minnesota decides that it needs to enact a ban before next Thursday against those on the registry carving a pumpkin or taking a son or daughter trick or treating, they will just have to do it without me.

Friday, October 18, 2013

"But....it's okay to bully sex offenders, isn't it?"

Bullying is very much in the news right now. My friend Marie over at Notes from the Handbasket posted a brilliantly done piece today.

And someone called Scoot at wwl.com wrote a most thought provoking piece about bullying.

These are the jewels gleaned from his piece.

"It is imperative for every parent to teach their children the coping skills to deal with bullying. The first simple lesson is that nothing anyone else says to you, or about you, can actually change who you are."

"We now live in a society that has developed the collective belief that we have a right to go through life and not be offended by anything or anyone. There will always be things that offend us in life and no one should expect, or demand, a world that is free of things we find offensive."

"Our quest to achieve a politically correct society has contributed greatly to the idea that we have this right not to be offended. Younger generations have been protected and coddled by their parents’ generations to the point where they are no longer taught the emotional survival skills we learned."

These are tidbits that may more appropriately fit with the philosophy, with which I totally agree, of another blogger friend, Lenore, over at Range Free Kids.

But I started with the Handbasket Notes, and there I will return.

Those who are registered sex offenders, their children, and their families, know first hand about bullying. It has been an element in the suicide of many a person who is accused of a sexual crime or who was on the public registry and found life intolerable. It has been the cause of misery, torment, property damage, and actual physical assault up to and including murder for many, many more. Research done by Jill Levenson and Lynn University in Florida documents the extent to which bullying of registrants and their families has gone.

In the arena of cyber-bullying, that against registered sex offenders as a class exceeds any other. Any article about a sex offender issue draws comments that are vile and vicious. The Internet offers anonymity, and that is when our true natures come out. I cannot judge the condition of another's soul, but if what they write when no one knows who they are is any indication, their souls must be as black as the jaws of Hell.

"Too bad the shooter was such a poor shot!" This was posted on an article about a registrant being shot, barely escaping death, just because his name was on the public registry.

On an article about legislation to forcefully castrate sex offenders at their own expense, we have, "Make them pay for it? I would cut their balls off for free," and, "I would vote for this in a heart beat. In fact, I think these pricks needs to be stripped naked, marched through city streets to a public area where he will be on a high platform for everyone to see...." What follows turned my stomach and made me wonder if all humans really come from the same beginning.

And finally, on an article about a man who was just accused of sexual misconduct being beaten within an inch of his life by a mob, a poster nailed it: "If the government didn't want the registered sex offenders assaulted and beaten, they wouldn't have them register so the public can find them and beat them. I say every one registered should get same treatment as this offender got, if not worse!"

Out of the mouths of vigilantes.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

A Death That Should Not Be

Remember a song from the '70s by Ray Stephens called "The Streak"? It was a humorous, musical tribute to a fad that had become popular mostly on college campuses but occasionally showed up in other places.

I suppose there were some sort of charges brought against those young men who chose to discard their clothing and dash across football fields or through farmers' markets--at least the ones they could catch. It would have had something to do with public nuisance or public indecency and would have involved a fine and possibly a few days in jail. The boys involved would undoubtedly have faced more grief once they got home than they did at the police station.

Had we been told then that in a few decades, young men who engaged in such behavior would have been charged with a criminal act, a sexual crime, and would have been forced to be listed as a sexual criminal on something called a sex offense registry, we would have laughed in disbelief.

This is what happened to a young man, only 15, really still a child, named Christian Adamek. Christian lived in Huntsville, Alabama, and was apparently a popular and well-loved boy with many, many friends in his high school. Scarcely two weeks ago, the last week in September, during a Sparkman High School football game, Christian streaked across the field.

Christian faced immediate and serious consequences. He would be subject to school disciplinary action, something that would be expected. It may have included expulsion. However, school authorities decided that this was not sufficient.

Principal Michael Cambell said, "There's the legal complications. Public lewdness and court consequences outside of school with the legal system, as well as the school consequences that the school system has set up."

Indecent exposure in Alabama, as it is in many, probably most, of our states, is linked to the state's sex offender laws, meaning that had he been convicted of that offense, he would be required to be on the sex offender registry.

One week later, on October 2, Christian hanged himself. He died two days later. His mother, his brother and sister, his boy scout troop, and his many friends, teachers, and neighbors all mourn his death.

I did not know him, but I am choked with fury and grief and despair at his death. My heart actually hurts.

If his high school administrators had any choice, as it appears they did, in turning this over to legal authorities, then damn them. And most of all damn a system that equates a silly, stupid, schoolboy stunt with an actual sexual crime. Damn a system that grows stronger and stronger by touting claims that it is all about protecting children when what it does is destroy children.

How many more children will be destroyed, sacrificed on the alter of the sex offender registry, before we decide we have had enough?

God keep you in His care, Christian, and may He give comfort to your family and friends. Rest in peace, Christian, rest in peace.





This is the official "It's Almost Halloween; What Do We Do About Sex Offenders?" article

Two months ago I posted Is August Too Early to Write About Sex Offenders and Halloween? in response to yet another legislator looking to make hay by writing an ordinance making it a crime for anyone on the sex offender registry to participate in Halloween-related activities.                                

Now it is time to address the full topic. Why, you ask? Why advocate for not monitoring registered offenders on Halloween? What's the harm? I'm so glad you asked.

  • Most Halloween restrictions apply to everyone on the registry, whether or not their offense had anything to do with a child. This broad-brush application is bumping up against constitutional protections. Many registrants are forced to gather in one place for special "therapy sessions" or "pep-talks" or movies shown by law enforcement. If the registrant is not under community supervision, this sounds a lot like unlawful detention to me.
  • It is an unconscionable waste of taxpayer money. There are so many other areas in which law enforcement could be gainfully occupied on Halloween other than checking that registrants have no lights on and no jack-o-lanterns on the porch or showing movies to a roomful of registrants. One of these areas is traffic duty since the only increased risk to children on Halloween is not assault by registered sex offenders but car-child accidents.
  • Many, probably even most, registrants are family men. They have children. Under these restrictions, they cannot decorate their houses with or for their children; they cannot attend the carnival at the school with their children; they cannot take their children trick-or-treating.  

Now it's time for the experts to weigh in:

This is from an academic research study:
“There were no significant increases in sex crimes on or around Halloween, and Halloween incidents did not evidence unusual case characteristics. Findings did not vary across years prior to and after these policies became popular.

“In order to contextualize sex crimes against children we examined over 5 million victimizations that took place in 30 states on or around Halloween in 2005. The most common types of crime from among the incidents reported on Halloween and adjacent days were theft (32%), destruction or vandalism of property (21%), assault (19%) and burglary (9%). Vandalism and property destruction accounted for a greater proportion of crime around Halloween compared to other days of the year (21% vs. 14% of all reports). Sex crimes of all types accounted for slightly over 1% of all Halloween crime. Non-familial sex crimes against children age 12 and under accounted for less than .2% of all Halloween crime incidents.

“Other risks to children are more salient on Halloween. According to the Center for Disease Control, children ages 5 to 14 are four times more likely to be killed by a pedestrian/motor-vehicle accident on Halloween than on any other day of the year. Regarding criminal activity on Halloween, theft and vandalism are particularly common. Sex crimes against children by non- family members account for two out of every thousand Halloween crimes, calling into question the justification for diverting law enforcement resources on that day away from more prevalent public safety concerns.”

This is from non-academic commentary:
 “The intimidation campaign is a silly diversion of manpower and a waste of your tax dollars. Police and the politicians who are in search of tough-on-crime votes will tell you otherwise, but don’t believe the myth that Halloween is the night child sexual predators wait all year for. The facts tell a different story... Over the past several decades, there has not been one reported instance that I can find of a convicted sex offender molesting a child on Halloween night.”

And finally, this is a Halloween safety research and resource guide for parents published October, 2011, by a highly regarded world wide organization called safekids.com. There is nothing to quote from them. There is only the fact that they have researched every element of harm to children in connection with Halloween; their guide covers every possible eventuality and tells parents how to guard against it. It has many graphs, charts, and results of studies. Not one time within its 8 pages do the words “sex offenders” or “registry” appear. I believe that is called an argument from silence.

So please, enjoy Halloween; help your kids enjoy Halloween. And please spare a moment to think about the children whose Halloween enjoyment is curtailed because one of their parents is a registered sex offender and they are unfortunate enough to live in one of the jurisdictions where unneeded laws and restrictions make Halloween all trick and no treat for them.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Getting Sex Offender Management Right

Every once in a while, someone will get it right. These three articles, all just out, give accurate, fact-based information and opinions regarding sex offender management and treatment.

"Sex Offenders Aren't all Monsters," written by Dianne Frazee-Walker, appears in a blog titled Prison Law News. Referring often to Nicole Pitman's Human Rights Watch report on juvenile offenders, this article addresses the damage done to youth when they are publicly labeled as beyond redemption.

This excellent article by Lawrence Bench and Terry Allen summarizes the research done by the authors and their findings. They encountered, not surprisingly, opposition to their work, but they fought and won to have it published in a peer-reviewed journal from the Utah Department of Corrections. "Toward a strategic sex offender policy" should be required reading for every legislator who is writing or supporting any sex offender legislation now or in the future.

"To Spot a Predator," written by Josh Dooley, is a horse of a different color and what drove me here again after a too-long absence. While it generalizes and over-simplifies some things, it also makes some good points, and it makes one point extremely well; children are primarily at risk for sexual harm not from strangers, not from registered sex offenders, but from those they know and trust and often love.

This undeniable fact, supported  by every source out there, is in direct opposition to what our society, our media, and our government focuses on and expends virtually all resources on.

The structure in place to track and monitor every single person who has committed any type of offense that can be labeled a sex offense, and some that are not, is a multi-million dollar industry. Many of the elements are mandated by the federal government. The propaganda machine that created, supports and continues to drive this industry has done an excellent job. We are to the point where the announcement that a registered offender has moved to a town or a neighborhood sends  everyone into panic and hysteria over protecting the children.

Before we can even begin to address the undeniable truth of child sexual abuse, we will have to dismantle a large portion of the machinery that moves the public sex offender registry and all that it has spawned. Only then will we have the resources to build something in its place that will address the problem.

Comprehensive services for sexual crime victims, completely missing in what we currently have, are vital. Vastly improved rehabilitation, reentry, and support services for those who have offended, served their sentences, and want to build law-abiding lives are vital. And comprehensive and intensive programs of awareness, education, and prevention in every school and community are vital.

Isn't it time that what we have in place to address the problem at least knows what the problem is?

Friday, September 13, 2013

Is Forty-Plus Years Not Long Enough?

This one is for the old-timers. If you remember Peter, Paul, and Mary, you qualify, and this is for you. You should read the article first, but in brief, Peter Yarrow, in 1969, had a consensual but illegal relationship with a young lady below the age of consent. He served a three month jail sentence and has, for some, ever since been considered a sex offender. He has continued his music and combined his music career with involvement in political issues.

His alliance has been with those of the Democratic party. Those of the opposing party have not hesitated to dredge up Yarrow's past and use it against their political enemies, often with the results they desired.

It is happening again; Yarrow is featured in a fundraiser being held in Ithaca, New York, the end of this month for a Democratic candidate, and the Republican candidate is making as much hay as possible out of Yarrow's ancient record as a sex offender.

What is wrong with this scenario? Our criminal justice system is comprised of one part punishment and one part rehabilitation. The purpose of the punishment is to bring about rehabilitation.

Sometimes it works like it is supposed to. Mr. Yarrow committed a crime in 1969. That is over 40 years ago. He served his court ordered punishment, and in light of the fact that there has been no re-offense in over 40 years, I think we are safe in declaring him rehabilitated. Everything worked just like it is supposed to.

What then is the problem? Is rehabilitation not good enough for some? Is there some other standard of measure needed?

Those who keep throwing Mr. Yarrow's bad choice over 40 years ago in his face and using it to discredit their opponents are despicable hypocrites, and I would rather have Mr. Yarrow and an entire host of former felons who served their time, learned their lessons, and spent the rest of their lives as productive citizens as my political leaders than a bunch of mealy-mouthed hypocrites who are incapable of practicing what they preach.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Are We a Nation of Laws or a Nation of Vigilantes?

According to a press release titled “Vigilante Assaults on the Rise – A Return to a Lawless America?” and posted on the RSOL website, “In a span of only a few months' time, local and national media, fueled by the fires of social media, have documented an alarming rise in open, public vigilante attacks against citizens of this country.”

New Mexico is contributing to that trend. In Albuquerque on Thursday, the 5th, in the early morning hours, a man was assaulted by three others and beaten so severely he was not expected to survive.

The man who was beaten was engaged in an illegal and disturbing act, and he will be charged. He was peering in the bedroom window of two young sisters, ages 13 and 15. He was nude. According to the 911 dispatcher, “Three men from within the residence chased the alleged prowler away from the property and a physical fight ensued.”

The three men were the father, the brother, and a neighbor of the girls. What ensued was not so much a fight as it was a brutal attack that left the victim of the attack barely clinging to life. He was taken to the hospital in critical condition. His condition has since been upgraded to stable.

Comment boards on online articles covering this story praise the trio of men for “protecting family” and “doing what any man would do.”

Running the man off of their property would have been protecting family.

Holding him, forcefully if needed, until law enforcement could arrive would have been protecting family.

Chasing him from the property, assaulting him on the street, and beating him almost to death is not protecting family. It is committing a criminal act. It is a violent assault. It is vigilantism.

New Mexico has its own history of vigilantism going back to 2008. A man named Elton John Richard had been sentenced to two years after pleading to voluntary homicide. He had caught a man breaking into his car, chased him almost half a mile from his property, and shot him in the back and killed him while he was climbing over a fence.

After being in prison for four months, he was freed by a state district judge who reduced his sentence to time served. He gave as his reason that Richard was no threat to the community. That may quite possibly have been true so long as no one else in the community tried to break into his car.

The pattern was set with this case that those who commit acts of vigilante violence in New Mexico will not be held accountable.

And now, five years later, the trend continues. The Albuquerque Journal reports that the father in the assault trio is facing charges of aggravated battery. We shall see. And what of the other two assailants? Will they be charged? We shall see. RSOL has issued a press release calling on the county district attorney to do the right thing and charge those involved appropriately.

There is not a one of us that at some point in life has not suffered an injustice, a harm, an assault, or an act of violence. If we each sought our own revenge, took the law into our own hands, and wreaked vigilante revenge upon out wrongdoers, the streets would run with blood from coast to coast.

We are a nation with a system of rules and laws; injustices, harms, assault, and acts of violence must be dealt with through our established justice system, which includes law enforcement, the legal and court system, and the prison system.

To not deal appropriately with vigilantes is to encourage them and to say that their illegal acts are somehow acceptable.

When crime is committed, it must be addressed by law enforcement.

And this includes crime that is committed by vigilantes under the guise of street justice.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

It's Obviously Not Too Soon to Talk About Sex Offenders and School Bus Stops

School is starting soon across our land, and parents of the type that Lenore Skenazy of Free-Range Kids refers to as “helicopter parents” are girding on their armor and preparing for battle with the massive number of potential threats to their children’s safety.

Not content to have residency restrictions in place that keep registered sex offenders often so far from schools, day-cares, and parks that they can live virtually nowhere, parents are now turning their eyes to bus stops.                                                          

When one mom in Virginia Beach, Virginia, did not get what she wanted from the school board—her daughter’s bus stop relocated due to a registrant in the neighborhood—she went to the media with her complaint and request.

This issue has been brought up as a concern not only in Virginia but also in Oklahoma, Florida, Georgia, Missouri, North Carolina, and California, to name only some. It is a jurisdictional issue, and many counties and districts include school bus stops as a “safe” area. What this means differs as well, depending on the jurisdiction. Some limit the exclusion to registrants who are on parole or probation or to those whose offenses were with children. Some go for a more shotgun approach and apply the restrictions to all on the registry for any purpose. Some do not include bus stops in the restricted areas.

With so many states—there are more than the ones named—and so many jurisdictions within states making this a priority, one would believe the problem must be significant. Just how many kids have been abducted from school bus stops by registered sex offenders—or by anyone, for that matter?

On the other hand, knowing that, according to the FBI, registered sex offenders were responsible for child abductions in less than 1% of the actual cases, and knowing that, according to several sources including the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the number of actual, real abductions of children and teens for nefarious purposes averages 115 a year, I didn’t see how it could be significant.

I was not overly surprised, then, when my search engine, in spite of being prompted with several different phrases having to do with children taken from school bus stops, refused to give me anything. The closest I came was the case of Jaycee Dugard, who was taken off the street walking to a school bus stop in 1991, Brittany Locklear in 1998, taken from her own front yard waiting for the bus, and this year's abduction of 15-year-old Kathlynn Shepard and her friend who accepted a ride in a pick-up after getting off of their school bus. There have been a few other reported attempts but no actual kidnappings that I could locate. And in two of these three cases, the perpetrators did not live close to where the abductions occurred. The identity of Brittany's killer is still unknown.

It would appear that the danger inherent in registrants living in proximity to a bus stop is minute, right up there with the danger to trick-or-treaters from registrants on Halloween.

Why do we keep trying to address problems that don’t exist? Are there no real ones that need addressing? Someone said, “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.” Isn’t it time we listened?

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Is August Too Early to Write About Sex Offenders and Halloween?

I really didn't expect to be writing about Halloween until mid to late September, but here it is a full month earlier, and here I am, writing about it.                                                                                                      

It seems that in the state of Michigan, one eager, young state senator has latched onto a tactic proven to endear her to her voting public--propose legislation that restricts registered sex offenders in some shape, form, or fashion. Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker (R) has introduced Senate Bill 454 which is designed "to prohibit convicted sex offenders whose crime involved a minor from participating in Halloween costumes and 'trick or treats,' children’s birthday parties, and similar non-holiday activities involving minors."  
Sen. Schuitmaker could have chosen better. Every year close to Halloween, a spate of "news" items are released about the towns and counties that will be enforcing bans on any sex offender participation in Halloween activities. Some brag about the elaborate plans they have devised to require all registrants to come to a central location for a "therapy" session. These will be followed by another spate of articles and studies about the waste of resources this involves and the fact that it is totally unneeded.

Prominant among the studies is one by Dr. Jill Levenson et al, prominent researchers and experts on the topic. After describing various studies that examined the issue over many years, the authors conclude, "These findings raise questions about the wisdom of diverting law enforcement resources to attend to a problem that does not appear to exist." The bottom line is that there is no recorded instance of an assault on a child by a registered sex offender under the guise of trick-or-treating or any Halloween activity.

Some counties in California in recent years have been especially zealous in this endeavor, so much so that they crossed the line into clear constitutional violations and came out on the short end of some of the legal action filed last year by California RSOL.

A paragraph in an article published last year after Halloween shows the folly of focusing on registrants as an increased risk factor on Halloween.
... jurisdictions across the nation are making headlines for their efforts in keeping children safe from registered sex offenders on Halloween. Halloween has come and gone, and no children anywhere were harmed or, as far as anyone knows, even approached by such an offender. This includes the thirteen states in which there are no mandates in place regarding sex offenders and Halloween; it includes the many jurisdictions and counties where no such mandates exist even though others in the same state have them. And it includes going back as many years as records have been kept. Even though there is no police report of a child being attacked on Halloween by a registrant, ever, some states and counties choose to dedicate great resources to protecting children at Halloween from them. And the result is their success rate is exactly the same as it is in the counties and states that spent not a penny: 100 percent success rate for all.
Our country has many problems. We need to focus our resources on the actual problems, and we need to frame legislation and laws so that they reflect what empirical evidence shows. We do not need any more laws on the books that address issues that do not even exist.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Passports--the Latest Weapon in the War Against Sex Offenders

A bill has been introduced in Congress by Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey. HR 898, "Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2013," has as its stated intent: "To authorize appropriations for fiscal years 2014 through 2017 for the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, and for other purposes."

In brief, a portion of the bill would require  persons who are registered sex offenders to renew an American passport annually rather than the standard ten years. It would subject the holders of "sex offender passports" to increased scrutiny. It would create standards regarding the right to have an American passport that are applicable only to a single group, the vast majority of whom have never and will never use the passport for any nefarious purpose.

As one critic of the bill wrote, "Nothing like seeing the 'And for other purposes,' the governmental catch-all-do-all phrase. While the intent is 'Sex Trafficking,' the wording is such that it can affect any registered sex offender traveling to other countries." He continues, "... in reality -reading his bill HR-898- ANY and ALL persons registered will be affected if they apply for a passport, or if they currently have a passport (Passports being good for 10 years)."

Even disregarding the ambiguous "for other purposes" and going with the language used in media reports and press releases, we have, "A new amendment to Megan’s Law that restricts the passports of U.S. citizens convicted of sex crimes against children...."

This is nonsense. "Crimes against children" sounds awful but is every bit as much a catch-phrase for almost anything as is "for other purposes." It is by no means limited to those who have engaged in trafficking of children.

For the purposes of sexual charges, a child is anyone under the age of consent. Therefore, the man who twenty years ago was registered while in high school for consensual sex with his underage girlfriend, the man whose said girlfriend has been his wife for the past eighteen years, the man who is raising four children with that wife, the man whose charge on the Texas sex offender registry is "sexual assault of a child," the man who will be on that registry for life, would fall under this legislation and be subjected to its requirements and restrictions.

Likewise the man or woman who, as a child, engaged in playful or exploratory touching with a younger sibling or cousin and has been on the registry ever since and will be for life in spite of no repeat offenses and living a law abiding lifestyle will be subject to this legislation should it pass.

The boy and girl in Utah in 2004, ages 12 and 13 respectively, who, when she became pregnant and their sexual involvement became public knowledge, were each charged with sexual assault of a child under the age of 14 and each named as the victim in the other's case, would fall under what this legislation will demand should either or both ever apply for a passport.

Anyone and everyone whose victim was a child—in some states 17—regardless of whether the offense was serious or not, regardless of how long ago or how offense-free since, regardless of whether or not the person has even ever gone abroad, regardless of anything, if that person is still on the registry and desires to obtain or to keep a current passport, he will pay ten times more in ten years for that right and be subject to the restrictions of this legislation.

If the supporters of this bill want it to pass constitutional muster, they need to, at the very least, tailor it much more narrowly so that it applies only to those who have engaged in actual child trafficking or to those who have used their passports to go abroad and commit actual crimes against actual children there.

Otherwise, it is what  virtually everything else is when the target group is registered sex offenders--another means by which discrimination is legitimized against an entire class of people who vary in every respect except being on a sex offender registry.

Friday, August 2, 2013

The Predator Test? In My Opinion, It Fails

I just finished watching a program on the CNN/Headline News Channel program Raising America with
Kyra Phillips, a segment titled “The Predator Test."  It utilized a “sting-like” format, with an adult stranger complete with dog approaching children at a park and asking the children to go with him to his car to get more treats for the dog.  Parents were nearby watching; they had, of course, all agreed for their children to be unknowing guinea pigs in the "test."

I did not find the test very realistic or credible. The "predator" gathered up several children at a time, and the ones that would go with him trooped along together in a procession that included some other adult with another dog whose function was never explained. Some of the children waved to their mothers sitting nearby as they left. Somehow I don't think a true predator targeting a victim in a park, which is a very rare occurrence, would take children en masse and in view of their parents.

The promo for the show included some of the footage as well as written text, and based on that, I put this comment on the comment board before the program aired.
My quarrel isn't with addressing the issue of "stranger danger" but with the skewed proportions with which the entire situation is addressed. The greatest focus and use of resources is on the registered sex offender, and that is who has the tiniest risk of harming a child--less than 1%. The next focus is "stranger danger," and that too is very small. According to the office of Juvenile Justice, it is 2-6 %. 
The only way to address the overwhelmingly greatest risk is through structured programs of awareness, education, and prevention, and, as far as I know, our government spends zero effort and money on that. The only thing that is done is by private agencies and is so limited as to be virtually ineffective in addressing the issue. More simply put, our nation spends 100% of its resources dedicated to this issue on 5% of potential victims and nothing on the other 95%.
Then I watched the program. And I took notes.

I was even more disturbed at some of the misleading inferences and missed opportunities for some facts. For example, one parent asked how prevalent a problem it was that children were taken by strangers, and the "expert" indicated it was a serious problem, even saying at one point, “Families need to practice for that moment when a predator comes,” as though it were inevitable. In reality, according to federal statistics, about 115 children are taken by strangers each year; as a basis for comparison, 250,000 are injured in auto accidents.

One of the program "experts" talked about school starting and the dangers of children waiting for the school bus due to the prevalence of kidnappings from bus stops and how an adult must always, always be with them. I Googled several different phrases having to do with children taken from bus stops, and I was stunned when I couldn't find any. The closest I came was the case of Jaycee Dugard, who was taken off the street walking to a school bus stop in 1991, Brittany Locklear in 1998, taken from her own front yard waiting for the bus, and this year's abduction of 15-year-old Kathlynn Shepard and her friend who accepted a ride in a pick-up after getting off of their school bus. There have been a few other reported attempts but no actual kidnappings that I could locate.

There is nothing whatsoever wrong with teaching children not to go anywhere with someone they do not know; parents would be negligent not to teach their kids that. However, until we are willing to expend a significant amount of resources on education and prevention programs in schools and communities that address the vast majority of child sexual abuse, that at the hands of people already in the lives of the children, we will not make a dint in the problem of sexual crime committed against children.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Killing Sex Offenders--It Just Makes--SENSE??

By now the news of registered sex offender Charles Parker and his wife Gretchen being brutally slain in their home in rural South Carolina has spread beyond the boundaries of that state, although barely. A search for "sex offender" on a national database yields story after story about misconduct by registrants--parole violations, failure to register, a sexual assault, even a bank robbery in which the headlines loudly announce that the captured robber was also a sex offender--but, except for the affected counties in South Carolina, few seem to care that a husband and wife team, two crazed, skinhead vigilantes--self-proclaimed by words and tattoos--used the state's online registry as a hit list and road map to the Parkers' home and slaughtered them and, when apprehended, announced that they already had tomorrow's target picked out, another registrant chosen from the registry.

But that isn't what this post is about. That was covered in this press release that went across the state of South Carolina and to all other states as well.

This post is about something a psychologist said in an interview about the crime and the motive behind it.

" 'Parallel that to the prison system,' said psychologist Dr. Roger Rhoades. 'Are there a lot of sex offenders hurt or killed (there)? Yeah.'

Rhoades said that if you want to see some sense in what happened in Jonesville, you have to take a 'prison mindset,' and suddenly the case becomes clear.

'The bottom line is if this happened in a prison, there wouldn't even be a glitch, it would just be another day in prison life,' he said."

Did everyone get that? See some sense? The assault and murder of those in prison for a sexual offense is a commonplace, every-day event that makes sense within the prison context? And what makes this so horrible is...he is correct.

Violence in prison has always been accepted as just part of the penalty one pays for going there, especially for those with sexually-related offenses.

This is unacceptable. America imprisons more citizens per capita than any other civilized nation. America imprisons more citizens for sexual offenses than any other nation, period. It is totally unacceptable that men, women, and juveniles are thrown in prison for offenses ranging from trivial to serious, anything that can have the word "sex" attached to it, and then have those responsible for their safety turn their backs and shrug their shoulders and say, "Oh, well..." when they are raped, assaulted, and murdered.

To stop vigilantes from using sex offender registries as hit lists of their victims, registrants' addresses, at the very least,  must be removed from public view, but a responsible governor can do this; it was done in Maine immediately following a vigilante murder there of two registrants.

But what will it take to stop those with sexual offenses from being brutalized and murdered in prison? What will it take for the public to stop seeing that as just something that happens, something that makes sense? What will it take?

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Sex Offender Battle

There is a battle going on. It is exemplified perfectly in these two opposing headlines that were right next to each other in a list of subject-related articles: “Prevent Rape and Kidnapping With a Sex Offender Map Online” and “Nature of sex crimes limits registry's effectiveness.”

The first is an advertisement posing as an article: it is touting the necessity of subscribing to an alert system that provides information about registered sex offenders via your computer. It is mysteriously lacking any reference to factual information. In fact, it includes false information, such as saying that no one on the registry is allowed to live close to schools, parks, daycare facilities, or other similar places. Since some jurisdictions have such restrictions and some do not, the implication that any registrant living there is breaking the law is erroneous.

It goes on to offer “advice” as to how to respond if one is unfortunate enough to actually spot someone on the registry in a--gasp--public place. “Once you’ve become familiar with the sex offenders that are living in your area it’s important to keep in mind that if one is recognized by you, do not confront them as they may be dangerous and unstable. It’s important to notify your local police department immediately.” I would like to be a fly on the wall when the calls come flooding in to the local police precinct alerting them that Mr. XXX, a registered sex offender, is shopping at the corner store right NOW!

The second article includes references to many studies. It includes quotes from law enforcement and from experts in the field. The essence of its message is captured here: ”But while sex offender registries do inform the public about who might be living nearby, they don't (and can't) warn people against the more likely threat — the potential offender who is already in their lives….Incidents of sexual assault where the perpetrator was a stranger to the victim certainly do occur, but in the overwhelming majority of cases, the perpetrator is someone the victim knows.”

In the words of a prosecuting attorney when asked about the effectiveness of the registry in preventing sexual assaults, " ‘The registry does not prevent that….The registry would be more appropriate to the stranger situation, but at least 95 percent (of incidents) are not the stranger variety….I very rarely have what I'd term a stranger rape where the victim does not know the defendant.’…”

And the battle continues—myth versus reality, opinion versus fact, emotional appeal versus documented research, the words of those making a buck from the sex offender industry versus the words of experts and those actually in the field.

The battle continues.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Having Sex Is Fine; Talking About It Is a Crime

A bill that purports to address human sex trafficking, HB 130, has passed unanimously in the Ohio House of Representatives this past week.

One section, Section 2907.07 B (2), states:

No person shall solicit another, not the spouse of the offender, to engage
        in sexual conduct with the offender, when the offender is eighteen years 
        of age or older and four or more years older than the other person, and 
        the other person is sixteen or seventeen years of age whether or not the 
        offender knows of the age of the other person….

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Teresa Fedor (D., Toledo), has gone on record as saying, “The buying and selling of people is big business, folks…now we must finish what we started. Ending demand makes sense.”

The situations to which Section 2907.07 B (2) would be applied have nothing to do with buying and selling people or with supply and demand. This section does not address human trafficking. It does not address any issue that falls within the purview of the criminal justice system. With the legal age of consent in Ohio being sixteen, this does not address any behavior that is illegal or is the concern of anyone beyond two persons who are both of legal age to decide with whom they wish to have sexual contact.

Human trafficking is already defined in such a way that consensual sex is included provided that money is part of the exchange. This section makes no such requirement. This section does not make the act of sex with someone sixteen or seventeen illegal; that would remain legal. This section makes discussing it prior to the act illegal.

This section will require that a 21-year-old individual be charged and punished as a sexual criminal, including a requirement to register, for asking a 17 year old if she—or he—would be interested in having sex.

Any young man today is aware of the potential for allegations of rape or sexual assault. One way to minimize that risk is to engage in conversation prior to initiating sexual contact, conversation that makes clear that the other person equally desires the contact. This section of HB 130 makes that conversation illegal and punishable by law.

The entire bill, complete with Section 2907.07 B (2) has passed the Ohio House unanimously. It will be taken up by the Senate after summer break.

Section 2907.07 B (2) must be struck from the bill. To place individuals at risk of becoming felons because they wish to determine that a prospective sexual partner is fully willing is nonsensical at the highest level.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

We aren't forgetting about sex offenders--we are forgetting about children

In 1992, a little boy was sexually assaulted by a 19-year-old young man who, as far as I can determine, had no previous arrests for sexual offenses. The episode was life altering for the young victim and even more so for his mother, Judy Cornett. She embarked on a personal vendetta to track out-of-compliance registrants and turn them in. She became a very vocal voice, and still is, earning her both praise and criticism from those who recognize that her persecution of those who had sexually offended is contrary to what research shows as most helpful in lowering future risks.

Others who have been through such an experience have used it as an impetus to action and advocacy. However, such an experience also produces tunnel vision. It isn’t sex offenders who have been forgotten, as the title of the Fox news item suggests. Every media source that can throw the term into a headline does so. Every politician who wants to increase his chances for reelection writes a “get tougher on sex offenders” law.

No, it isn’t sex offenders that have been forgotten; it is children who have been forgotten. The vast majority of children who are victims of molestation or any type of abuse are not victims of registered sex offenders; they are victims of those who are close to them in their lives. And they are indeed forgotten and ignored in the mad frenzy to push former offenders further and further from society.

Cornett says, “…sex offenders are coming out of prison every day….We need to get back on track. We need to get out there. We need to start doing the neighborhood notifications. We need to bring this into the schools.”

This is tunnel vision at its worse. How will this focus on former offenders address these facts?

  • According to FBI statistics, less than 1% of abducted children are victims of a registered offender.
  • According to the Office of Juvenile Justice, stranger molestation of children—not even RSOs, just those not known to the child or family—comprise between 2 and 6% of the total with family and acquaintances making up the rest. 
  • According to all sources, sexual abuse of children comprises less than 10% of all abuse, and virtually all other abuse is at the hands of their caregivers, not registered sex offenders. 

Yes, we need to get on track. We need some portion—any portion—of the money and resources dedicated to tracking registered sex offenders diverted to awareness, education, and prevention programs that will help save children’s lives. What we are doing is criminal. What Ms. Cornett is doing is, possibly, well-intentioned, possibly even understandable, but criminal.

We aren’t ignoring sex offenders. We are ignoring virtually every child in America who is being abused and molested.