Monday, November 30, 2015

Freezing weather, shelters, and sex offenders; it's deja vu all over again

A month shy of a year ago, I posted a long and bitter post about the policy of at least one homeless shelter regarding sex offenders. That place, as part of its general policy, excluded anyone
on the sex offender registry from, literally, coming in from the cold.

Parts of California, it seems, are having uncharacteristically cold weather this year--and it isn't even winter yet. A shelter in Sacramento with the Biblically-referenced name of Loaves and Fishes has teamed up with area churches from late November to the beginning of next April with a program called Winter Sanctuary. This service offers a meal and a place to sleep out of the elements for the cities' homeless. It unquestionably is doing good work, needed work, and I read the article about it with equal amounts of increasing admiration for what they are doing and guilt for not doing more myself for those less fortunate.

And then, close to the bottom, there it was. After a short digression about the behavior of someone who was obviously suffering a mental or emotional problem was the statement, "The screening process is intended to weed out sex offenders or those who are intoxicated or agitated."

Weed out sex offenders. Does this mean those who are actively offending as they are applying for admission to the shelter? Could it be that someone on the screening committee had personal knowledge that certain individuals had just committed sexual offenses and intended to do so again?

Of course not. It means that part of the screening process involves running each applicant's name against the public sex offender registry, that unwieldy and unreliable list containing the names of people who broke the law--or in come cases were falsely accused of doing so--by committing an offense ranging somewhere on the scale between a stupid misdemeanor to a serious felony, some of them with a single offense committed over twenty years ago.

There is no murderers' registry to check and exclude the murderers. There is no drug dealers' registry to consult in order to keep out those who might sell illegal drugs to other shelter-seekers. There is no thieves' registry to enable the exclusion of those who might steal the meager possessions of other residents. Those who are drinkers are only excluded if they are drunk at the time of admission, and those who tend toward agitation must be visibly agitated at the time to be turned away.

But someone on the registry? All that is needed here to turn these men and women into the freezing cold is their names on a list, a list that no more tells anyone who they are now than their eye color predicts how tall they will grow.

If this discrimination were done on the basis of race or ethnicity, gender or sexual preference, religious preference--or lack of--, political persuasion, handicap or deformity, or any of the myriad other characteristics that set us apart from each other, all it would take would be a phone call to the local newspaper to have the place swarming with media and civil rights advocates and specialized lobby groups, and the shelter and the churches and everyone involved would be knocking each other down to get to the microphone to apologize.

But registrants? Those whose names are on a public sex offender registry?

The question answers itself.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The sex offender industry

Follow the money.

How often has this advice been given, and how often has the heeding of it led to the unraveling of an enigma or a crime.

The sex offender industry is both, and following the money trail reveals what lies at the heart and continues to drive this occasionally well-meaning but more often self-serving complexity of businesses, individuals, and motivations that comprise this billion dollar industry.

The industry is well diversified. It has three well-developed branches and a fourth smaller but highly important one.

The first, and certainly the lynch pin that holds it all together, is the appeal to the public for security and protection, especially for the need to protect our children. This branch encompasses, first and foremost, the public sex offender registries; it includes varied screening, monitoring, and alert products, from systems in schools and libraries to cell phone and email alerts that notify instantly if someone on the registry enters the building or moves into the neighborhood. It includes GPS bracelets and private sex offender registry
sites, many of which run a lucrative side business as blackmail sites, charging fees to remove people who are there “accidentally” or who have been removed from the Megan’s list registries. Like any successful product, these businesses employ those who sell and market them as well as those who design, manufacture, and create them.

The second, and even larger, branch of this industry is the management of those on the registry. Many of these are applicable to registered offenders living in the community, especially when they are on parole or probation. The first and most insidious is an industry unto itself, and that is the sex offender treatment industry. The polygraph runs a close second, and the demand for the polygraph creates a need for the polygrapher, and of course polygraphs must be manufactured and marketed. Many states found the day to day management of their sex offender databases, aka registries, too onerous and demanding for them to keep up with, and a new industry was born, the sex offender database management companies, who, for a fee, take care of all the day to day work of keeping the state online registry updated. 

Law enforcement has benefited as their budgets were increased to allow the hiring of new personnel to do parole compliance checks, take care of the constantly ongoing registration process, do home visits, and check on compliance with residence restrictions; in some cases entire sex offender task forces were created. Their image and public approval are enhanced with every “sex offender” they report violated for a parole infraction or arrested for failure to register. 

The management of sex offenders not yet released has spawned another group of
businesses. Civil commitment “hospitals” are among the most controversial, but in the states that allow civil commitment, they thrive. Other enterprising investors saw an opportunity, not limited to those with sex offenses but certainly aided by their numbers, and private prisons--prisons for profit—are on the increase. Not to be outdone, private probation companies appeared on the scene. Those who provide telephone and medical services to the incarcerated are finding those areas lucrative.

The third major branch of the sex offender industry is the role the federal government plays. Under the Adam Walsh Act, the Federal Marshals are empowered to track and capture “absconded” registrants, and they receive large grants each year with which to accomplish their work. Additionally, most investigation of electronic/computer sex crime, such as online solicitation, teen-age “sexting,” and viewing illegal images, falls under federal jurisdiction. Federally financed sting and “bait and switch” operations are infamous. Under some circumstances, the officers involved confiscate and keep the property of those they arrest. Special task forces have been created and well funded.  Some federal prisons are filled almost exclusively with those convicted of sexually related crimes.

Finally, rounding off the components of the sex offender industry are individuals who have and continue to benefit from their participation in the industry. Most notable, perhaps, is John Walsh. Certainly his involvement was thrust upon him in a way no one would ever choose, but it cannot be denied that he has built a career that has spanned two decades using his son’s murder. Other parents and some victims have to lesser degrees stayed in the limelight with activism, victim advocacy organizations— at least one of which has landed a contract as sex offender compliance monitors —and endorsement of harsher and harsher laws dealing with sex offenders. Additionally, political careers have been carved out of the
sex offender industry. One could not possibly count the number of those seeking political office or campaigning to be reelected who used some variation of, “I promise to crack down on those who sexually abuse our children.” Finally, as those charged with sexual crimes come to trial, the field of expert witnesses is proving quite profitable.

The offenses that require public registration run the gamut from the ridiculous to the heinous. Proper management of such a vast range of behaviors requires moving away from our “one size fits all” model and actually reading the research and listening to the experts in the field. Even more essential is focusing on the very real problem of child sexual abuse and those who really do sexually abuse our children and developing appropriate programs of education and prevention. But first we need to dismantle the sex offender industry; we need to remove the financial and personal incentives to keep the status quo; otherwise, nothing will change.

Friday, November 13, 2015

To seek the truth or not

This is not a political blog except insofar as political posturing affects legislation which affects policies which govern those on the registry.

The world of politics per se is something I stay away from....until....

Until a contender for our nation's highest office makes a statement that is blatantly untrue but will without question be accepted as truth by his followers.

During a CNN interview, in an attempt to discredit one of his opponents, Donald Trump refers to Ben Carson's admission of once having had a "pathological temper." Then, to show just how serious this is, Trump goes on to say, " 'That's a big problem because you don't cure that...That's like, you know, I could say, they say you don't cure — as an example, child molester. You don't cure these people. You don't cure the child molester.' "

Even through Trump's semi-incoherence, his meaning is clear. And if I had to bet, I would bet that he believes what he said. This puts Trump firmly in the company of so many other ignorant and uninformed individuals, persons who know what they think and have no intention of considering any other viewpoint. Trump even tries to bolster his statement by appealing to the ubiquitous "they"--"...they say...."

I have never found "they" to be a particularly reliable source of information.

We all know people like that. We quickly realize that reasoning with them or appealing to them to do some research is just wasted effort because they aren't interested in research or what it shows, and attempts at reason and logic go far over their heads.

However, this man wants to be our president.

Shouldn't the person seeking the presidency of the United States seek out some facts before making generalized statements that have no basis in truth?

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Manufactured Fear

It's a horrifying video. Children go up to a door trick-or-treating and then inside when the man who opens the door tells them the candy is "downstairs." After finding no candy, they are told by the man there is none, and as he advances on the kids, they start screaming and try to run, only to be stopped by masked accomplices coming out of a closet and down the stairs. They are screaming and crying when the parents reveal themselves and proceed to yell at the kids for putting themselves in danger.

But there was no danger. This is one of those vulgar, fear-mongering, words-cannot-describe-it things that have become the mode lately. There have been a dozen or more made, all showing up on you-tube. Masquerading as "social experiments" or "parental warnings," they posit situations that, when they happen, happen with such extreme rarity that those who want to profit from them have to manufacture the scenario.

They all revolve around a single premise: the danger and threat of a total stranger to a child, the danger almost always, implicitly or explicitly, of a sexual nature.

Why don't they make videos of Uncle Joey conniving to get Susie to sit on his lap while the rest of the family carries on their conversations? Or Bob's older brother's best friend holding Bob down and feeling him up while roughhousing in the back yard? Those situations would at least strike much closer to the reality of how child sexual abuse occurs.

I have a question that I wish someone would answer for me. WHY do not the parents and the makers of those videos--the ones where kids are scared to death by a fake kidnapping or a fake Halloween abduction--why does not everyone involved in those videos get arrested and charged with child abuse and unlawful restraint of a child? They have emotionally devastated their children, created a horror for them that far exceeds anything they are likely to experience the rest of their childhood.

I guess if you are a parent, it's okay to scare the living crap out of your child--just not okay to let them play outside for five minutes unless you are watching them--but then that's for another post.