Friday, December 30, 2016

Sex offenders and the YMCA

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

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

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

Ms. Helen Flores
Executive Director, West Essex YMCA

Dear Ms. Flores,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you for your time.

A very concerned father who is NOT a sexual offender.

Shelly here – I have nothing to add.

Monday, December 5, 2016

What does it take to activate a vigilante?

Obviously, not much.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 19, 2016

What drives Ron Book?

 I watched the film Untouchable through live streaming as it was shown at the RSOL National Conference that has just concluded in Atlanta, Georgia.

This film could well have been named, “Portrait of a bitter, angry man.”

Ron Book’s daughter Lauren was sexually assaulted by a nanny the family had hired for Lauren. The abuse went on for many years. She kept Lauren from revealing the truth to her parents through threats and intimidation.

Of course he was angry to learn the truth – devastated, actually. Any parent would be. Of course he is bitter that his little girl suffered pain and horror for so many years.

Rob Book, as an outlet for his anger and his bitterness, has made himself a juggernaut whose purpose is to destroy every sex offender in the state. Involved even then in Florida’s political scene, he has become arguably one of the most powerful men in the state.

He is responsible for legislation that created the Julia Tuttle Bridge scandal. He is almost single-handedly responsible for law after law whose sole purposes are to punish everyone on the Florida sex offer registry to the furthest degree possible. He openly and proudly announced that Florida was
“scorched earth” to any registered sex offender.

He revealed that he is closely watching the progress of Lauren’s abuser toward a release date and that he will be there to hound her every second he can.

He cites unrealistically high sexual recidivism rates and makes outlandish statements about the surety of registrants to commit new crimes and their extreme danger to society. When questioned about research study after research study all showing the opposite of everything he has said, he brushes it aside like an annoying gnat. All lies, he said, trumped up figures, nonsense.

It is not until the last few minutes of the film that another motive for all of his actions, all of his hatred, emerges. He is seated behind his desk, and an off-camera interviewer asks him which, if any, of all the laws on Florida’s books today, laws whose existence he is responsible for, would have, had they existed years ago, saved Lauren.

He stumbles only a little when he says no, most likely none of them would have made a difference. None would have protected Lauren from her abuser. And then he says something remarkable.

He says, stumbling a bit more, that the only thing that would have saved her is if he and her mother had, when she was young, educated her about what to do in such a situation. Told her that she could tell them anything. Told her that secrets are not forever. Told her what to say to them, her parents, if anyone hurt her or scared her. He said that she might not have told them the first time it happened, or maybe not even the second, but that he is sure she would have told them soon -- if only they had taught her that she could.

And with those words, the truth about what motivates Ron Book was revealed. Yes, he is angry. And bitter. And vengeful. But that is not what drives him.

What drives him is guilt.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Picketing and threats for Brock: Is there a better way?

In the wake of Brock Turner’s stint in jail and subsequent release, America has not behaved very well. Like the cluster of schoolboys ganging up to neutralize the playground bully, their actions are understandable but not helpful to the ultimate goal of ending the violence.

What is the ultimate goal in regard to Brock Turner? Surely it is that he has learned his lesson and will not commit another sexual offense.

What is the broader goal in regard to the community and society? Surely it is that public safety is enhanced.

Groups of armed vigilantes outside his home and hate messages scrawled on his sidewalk fall far short of contributing to either goal, and many of those not close enough to strap on their weapons and descend on the Turner home are cheering on those who are. Additionally, some media reports all but encourage and applaud such behavior.

What will contribute to both goals? Culling from studies and experts who have worked for years toward these goals, who have made the choice to be part of the solution, it is this: successfully integrating the offender back into the community. And what works toward this? That is best answered by looking at what destroys it: isolation; shaming; rejection; ostracization; hatred; vilification.

Neighbors with guns, reminiscent of lynch mobs several decades ago.

Brock’s neighbors are not expected to welcome him with apple pies and invitations to backyard barbecues – at least not now.

But if they too want to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem, they will leave him and his family alone.

They will look within themselves and find the grace to consider the greater good of society rather than reacting out of a media-whipped, frenzied belief that he wasn’t punished enough – a judgment call that was not theirs to make in the first place.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Dealing with monsters -- uh -- sex offenders

If things really come in threes, then I have a monster story yet to come my way.

The first one was when an editor wrote a "Pokemon warning" to his readers and chose to call registrants living in the area "the real monsters." I took exception to that verbiage and, after contacting him, sent my rebuttal, which he, in decency, printed.

Now, this morning, when I opened my usual collection of daily alerts, one shouted at me, "Monsters among us site provides digital vigilance to help you keep track of sexual predators..." The thing turned out to be nothing more than an advertisement for Family Watchdog masquerading as a site review, but my initial reaction was, again, my radar going on high alert at the word "monsters" being used to describe those on the registry.

At the end of the piece was a request for readers to share their favorite sites for him to review. I took him up on it, sending him the following. Time will tell if I get a response.

Dear Mr. O'Neill,
Thank you for the invitation to share a favorite site. The one I would like to share is It is the site of National Reform Sex Offender Laws, Inc., and it is dedicated to the advocacy of laws and policies based on facts and evidence that support
the successful rehabilitation and reintegration of law abiding, former sex offenders into society. This is our goal because this is what research shows will help create a safer society.
Unlike the site you most recently recommended, we do not call people "monsters." Research indicates that pejorative language of that type is counter-productive in furthering the rehabilitation initiatives approved by our criminal justice system.
Additionally, we find the type of site touted in your article "Monsters among us site..." contradictory to empirical evidence, and we find companies such as Family Watchdog extremely unethical as they are using deceit to play on the fears of parents. An exhaustive look at the research and scholarly literature on the subject will reveal that evidence does not support the use of public notification such as public sex offender registries. These popular but wasteful schemes do not further public safety, reduce sexual re-offending, nor offer any protection to children or other potential victims. They are predicated on misconceptions and myths and are denounced by academics and scientists alike.
I will be happy to dialogue with you further on this subject. Thank you for considering the site I have recommended for your column.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

But you can't do that -- I'm not a sex offender

A horrible thing has been happening in a town in Texas. A family has, for the past month or so, been subject to a barrage of harassment. Strangers have been driving slowly past their home in this Dallas suburb and yelling horrible things at them.

The family has expressed fear for their lives, and of course the police are taking this very seriously. They got to the root of the problem quickly and are taking action to rectify it.

Apparently a month or so ago, the DPS mailed postcards to each home in the community within four blocks in every direction from this family’s home. The post cards gave the address where the family resides along with the information that a registered sex offender lives there.

Except he doesn’t.

It was a mistake. The registrant in question once lived there but then moved away. Apparently his moving back into the area triggered the postcards to be mailed and gave his prior address, thus marking this family, who have no registrants living with them and no connection to the registrant, to be targeted as sex offenders and subjected them to a taste of the harassment, vandalism, and physical assault that hundreds of thousands of registrants, along with their children and family members, are subject to as a matter of course.

The police in the area are trying to determine how to better assure that registered citizens are living where they should be.

A better task would be for them to determine how to prevent vigilantes from using the public registry as a hit list.

If the registrant had been living in the house, is there any reason at all to believe that the same incidents would not have occurred? No, none.

And if they had, and he notified police and asked for protection, is there any reason to believe that the story would have made headlines in the local media, spurred law enforcement to immediate action, and produced 18 hits when entered into an online search engine? No, none.

The message is clear: Incidents like this one, so shocking and urgent when they affect "normal" people, are acceptable in the eyes of law enforcement and the public when carried out upon those on the registry. They are everyday occurrences; they create scarcely a ripple in the fabric of society.

In spite of the ordeal the innocent family has suffered, they can at least be thankful there is no one living in their area of the mind set and inclinations as Jeremy and Christine Moody of South Carolina.

They can also be thankful their ordeal is over. They need no longer fear for their lives. That cannot be said for the several million American citizens whose addresses are listed on public sex offense registries throughout the United States.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

This week in the sex offender world

Re the current Pokemon Go craze and concern this could put children and youth in "proximity" to registrants:

This is shaping up to be the new "Halloween boogie-man" scare. Now that enough people have said often enough and loudly enough that there is no statistical increased sexual risk to children in connection with Halloween and trick-or-treat activities, along comes Pokemon Go to keep the fear-pot boiling. And of course the sensationalism-creators and fear-mongers can point to an actual
incident: a registered citizen was "caught" playing Pokemon with a 16 year old teenager--outside of a downtown courthouse, a location that probably boasts as many law enforcement officers per square foot as any other in town. Television anchors, a-la-weather map style, are displaying maps of local areas with Pokemon stops marked in one color and the homes of registered citizens marked in another and pointing out, with horrified faces but barely concealed glee, the places where one is within proximity to the other. Well, that does it! Put a kid on the same block with someone on the registry, and Katie, bar the door. I wonder what the statistical risk of harm is to a minor while playing Pokemon Go within shouting distance of where a registrant lives?

Re online "stings" and headlines shouting that parents are terrified over the potential risk of harm to their children:

Of course parents are terrified; that is the purpose; terrify the parents and assure future funding for continued stings and special forces. It has very little to do with actually protecting children. There were no children. Those men were idiots as well as potential criminals. Virtually everyone arrested for being online child predators are arrested in these kinds of made-up situations. Where are the cases
of real children being lured from their homes by some stranger online? Surely there are police reports...parents whose children have just disappeared? Where are the real ads from parents offering up their children like items on a menu? If this were the problem that law enforcement and the media make it out to be, there would be enough real cases to keep law enforcement busy. There would be no need to resort to entrapment and 50 year old cops pretending to be 12 year old kids.

Re the necessity of residency restrictions for protection of property values among other reasons:

Many millions in public resources are spent in the U.S. on keeping and maintaining a public registry. Research has shown little to no public safety value in public notification and most definitely no reduction in child molestation. Little to nothing in public resources is spent on education,
prevention, victim services, and meaningful reentry initiatives for former offenders. Research shows that all of these enhance public safety and work toward reduction of child molestation. Property values, which do not come close to importance in comparison with child molestation and general public safety, are reduced only due to public notification. If no one knew that the guy next door who committed a crime 20 years ago, has led an exemplary life since, is raising his kids and supporting his family, had committed a sexual crime, there would be no increased risk to anyone and no loss of surrounding property value. If his crime had been murder or arson or armed robbery or killing someone while driving intoxicated or any other offense, all with higher reoffense rates than sexual crimes, no one would know. As far as the disproportionate number of registrants "clustering" in areas without restrictions, registrants of necessity live where they are allowed rather than where they are not. If there were no residency restrictions anywhere--and nothing is so devoid of any proof of effectiveness or public safety value as residency restrictions--the disbursement would be even-handed, driven primarily by what the individuals could afford. Nothing supports the efficacy of a public registry. The many millions would be much better spent on the things are are shown to work. A law-enforcement only registry under the conditions supported by empirical data is the only logical answer.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

A good man's life ruined due to the public sex offender registry

My readers know that I do not often use someone else's words in my posts. I seem to have too many of my own bubbling over to need borrowed ones.

However, I recently read a comment on the RSOL website that will not get out of my head. I could never write what this man has written, for I have not had his life's experiences, and after obtaining RSOL's permission to use it, I hope I can do it justice.

John had written a comment to Steve Yoder's article "What’s the Real Rate of Sex-Crime Recidivism?" that was posted on the website blog. Another reader replied to him with a commiseration and comment about the waste of taxpayer money to track someone who doesn't seem to have been a threat to re-offend for thirty years.

This was John's response.
Commit another sex crime? Absolutely not!
I finished my probation in Jan. 1991. Between 1991 and 2007, I was called to jury service 4 times and actually sat on a trial, even though I told the judge and both the plaintiff and defense attorneys of my conviction. I have been to 8 other countries, including Can., Mex., and the UK. I traveled all over the US, worked for the government on military bases that required security clearances, and handled some of the most expensive military defense systems in the world. I’ve been invited to a Presidential Fund Raiser; I have met US senators, a couple of state governors, and one state supreme court justice.
There have been a countless number of laws passed after the dragnet of SORNA pulled me in. Those laws not only had a stifling affect on me but also on my wife, my children, and my grandchildren; we all have been affected in negative ways.
I took advantage of the break I received from the justice system and turned my life around. I raised well behaved, career oriented, college educated, civic-minded children. But then came the destruction of SORNA. Anything that I had done that was good, right, or proper had become irrelevant. In fact, I just read the other day that I won’t be able to be buried in a National Cemetery because my Registered Sex Offender status has cancelled out my Vietnam War Military Service.
He then asked questions that I would like to have answered.
My question is this. If after my conviction, it was okay for me to do the things that I mentioned earlier, than why can’t I now do some of the little things in life? Such as, attend my granddaughter's school function and not have her be embarrassed because I need to be escorted?
Why is it illegal to go to a family reunion just because of playground equipment in the park?
Why did I have to report to the CLEO and have my mother's home address listed on an on-line sex offender registry because I was in her home for more than 3 nights in one year while she was in hospice care?
Why is it that I can bob for apples at a Halloween party with my grandchildren on Oct. 30th or Nov. 1st, but I will be arrested and sent to jail if I do that on Oct 31st between 5 pm and 8 pm? (That one proves legislatures are imbeciles, and because the police actually drive around to RSO’s homes to enforce it, they look like the Keystone Cops.)
He ends with reminding us that he is not the exception and hearkens back to Mr. Yoder's explanation of how this got started.
I’m sure 850,000 RSO’s could fill volumes of books with questions of why. But as of today we learned that Justice Kennedy may have violated a common rule of interpretation: “A text, out of context, is a pretext." Due to this misinterpretation, from the kid in the back seat mooning the car behind the school bus to the most dangerous re-offender, there is no difference between them. He assigned that pretext to all. 
For once, I have nothing to add.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Punishment does not equal prevention

How wonderful that Mr. Gary Greenburg, a wealthy New York businessman, is concerned about the young victims of child sexual abuse and wants to help. He has offered $100, 000 dollars toward that end.

That is a lot of money.

The first thing that comes to mind when reading this is an appeal made many months ago by a coalition that includes sexual assault prevention and victims’ groups. The National Coalition to Prevent Child Abuse and Exploitation called for the creation of a stable funding stream dedicated to preventing child sexual abuse and exploitation. The group asked for that funding to equal at least one percent of the millions currently spent on “after-the-fact” responses like sex registries and civil commitment. As far as I know, the group is still waiting for a response. Mr. Greenburg’s pledge would surely be a healthy beginning toward that.

A second real possibility is using the money to help establish a Circles of Support and Accountability program in New York. First begun in Canada in 1994 in the Mennonite community, these programs have gained great credibility in England and in parts of the United States. The most recent success story comes from Vermont, where preliminary results of a Circles program begun there in 2005 is seeing a reduction of 86% in the recidivism of convicted sex offenders.  

While the Circles programs are invaluable in aiding the rehabilitation and reentry of former offenders, which also serves public safety, to actually make inroads against child sexual abuse requires addressing the problem where it is occurring.

The research is very clear on this subject. First time offenders, not those already registered for a previous offense, commit the vast majority of all sexual crime. This is even truer for the sexual abuse of children and minors. Except for a tiny percentage – and an even more minute percentage are repeat offenders -- they are victimized by those in their lives, i.e., their family members, their peers, and their authority figures. Any attempts to effect a change in this scenario with a focus on those who have already committed offenses will fail; indeed, it is failing every day.

Dedicated and comprehensive programs of education and prevention are a large part of the answer. A bill called Erin’s Law is one such program that holds promise. Begun by a young woman, Erin Merryn, who, like Mr. Greenburg, was sexually abused as a child, the bill requires an age appropriate curriculum in public schools for both faculty and students. Its focus is recognizing child sexual abuse and the appropriate measures to be taken. It has already been adopted in 26 states. 

Other valuable programs, such as Stop It Now and SAEN – Sexual Abuse Ends Now -- focus on utilizing what research and science tell us about sexual offending to confront the problem of child sexual abuse.

Mr. Greenburg’s many dollars would almost certainly be welcomed by any of these programs and would certainly meet his goal of helping child sexual assault victims and preventing new ones.

What will not help is his intended campaign against legislators in New York who are questioning the efficacy of harsher and stricter laws and punishments against those who commit sexual offenses. Recent years have seen ever-increasing harshness in penalties and sentencing. Children are still being molested. While sentences appropriate to the crime committed are necessary, we should not fool ourselves. These do very little to deter the continuing sexual abuse of children committed overwhelmingly by those never arrested or charged with a sex crime.

Punishment is not prevention, and overly harsh punishment is not focused on victims or prevention but rather on vengeance.

Like Mr. Greenburg, all decent people want an end to the sexual abuse of children. To attain that goal, we must focus on the children and the situations in which they are being abused.



Friday, May 20, 2016

Why the public sex offender registry?

We had Untouchable. And now we have Pervert Park. These films are important. They are heartbreaking and poignant and very, very worthwhile. They open doors to conversations and to realizations and to minds.

But they are not the reality of most of America’s registered citizens.

The majority of registrants living in communities across America are living lives that much more closely resemble the lives of non-registered citizens than they do the registrants living in Pervert Park.

Once no longer on community supervision, many registrants are in places where there are no restrictions on where they live. They live in mobile home parks and apartments and houses just like their neighbors. Many have children and are raising their families just like their neighbors. Were it not for their listing on a public sex offender registry and the fallout from that, their neighbors would not know they bore the distinctive title of “sex offender.” Many do deal with extensive fallout from the public registry listing. Many have gone through turmoil to get where they are. But they are there.

For those who live under the burden of residency restrictions, finding a home is more challenging, more difficult, and probably less conveniently located to needed services and things like schools for their children. However, most of them manage, and they too raise their families and live their lives much like their neighbors – except for everyone knowing that it is a “sex offender” house or apartment or mobile home and the rest of the consequences – the fallout -- of being listed publicly as a sex criminal.

The income and socio-economic level of America’s registered citizens varies widely, just as does that of America’s non-registered citizens. Some are dependent on government assistance to feed themselves and their families. Most are making it to varying degrees. Some are well-off, and a few are wealthy.

Just as with all Americans, the standard of living tends to be higher commensurate with the level of education attained. Many are finding that going into business for oneself eliminates many of the barriers to earning a decent living.

And some, just like their neighbors, regardless of their circumstances, cannot and do not deal with it. They are broken and destroyed. They end their lives.

For a few registrants, in a few places, life is unimaginable, and stories, documentaries, and even fictionalized accounts put a public face on the private horrors that to these registered citizens are their lives.

But for most, once the sentence is served completely, the only thing setting them apart from their neighbors, from the other members of their community, is the public sex offender registry – and the fallout from it. Were there no public listing, they would be the same people, continuing to live their lives in their communities, just like everybody else.

And so once again, the question must be asked.

The public sex offender registry -- what purpose does it serve?

Monday, May 9, 2016

Sex offenders, transgender folk, and public toilets

I thought I was through writing about this transgender/bathroom issue when I wrote “Is Target’s bathroom policy an open door to sex offenders?” I’m really sick of the whole silly thing. The expression “tempest in a teapot” surely was penned for situations such as this. However, two recurring themes in pieces written on the issue are driving me to the keyboard again.

One is the identification of many who are protesting the loudest about the matter as “devout Christians” or “fundamentalist Christians.” I myself am a devout Christian, by some standards meeting the criteria for the fundamentalist label, and I am almost embarrassed to admit it in light of the ignorance, vitriol, and downright silliness displayed by these protesters.

My strongest ire, however, centers around statements such as this one from – what else – the Christian Post:

“…with one of the protesters, a mother of four, warning that there are as many as 209 registered sex offenders within a 5 mile radius of that particular [Target] store. ‘With Target's new policy, it's unverifiable. You cannot verify a person's intent, so these sexual predators will use these policies to gain access into the women's restroom, making it a dangerous place for women and children,’ said Carrie Peterson.”

Where do I begin? I guess first with this woman’s belief that all on the registry -- regardless of the offense committed, discounting that a few of them were wrongly accused and convicted, ignoring that the vast majority have been in the community, many for years, without committing a second sexual offense – are predators.

This is one of the most insidious dangers of the public registry. The mere presence of a name on it cries to the public, “Watch out; I am a menace; I will do you harm!” when very, very seldom is that accurate.

And as ignorant and as lacking in any evidence whatsoever is her assumption that registrants will put on dresses, wigs, lipstick, and heels and infiltrate women’s public toilets in order to molest those in there.

We all want to keep children safe, but there is no evidence whatsoever that trans people pose any sexual harm to children or that registered citizens dress up as the opposite sex in order to commit crimes in public bathrooms. Children are far, far more likely to be molested by those close to them in their everyday lives and in their own homes or other places they regularly frequent than by anyone they don’t know, regardless of their gender identity, in a public place.

So if you feel compelled by God to protest this or similar bathroom policies, please make it clear that you do not speak for all persons of faith, and for crying out loud, do a little research and learn a few facts.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Why are people afraid of truth and facts?

I have just had a lesson in how far those who are opposed to our advocacy are willing to go to suppress the truth.

This started exactly a month ago with this op/ed in the March 13 online edition of the Longview, WA Daily News. RSOL wrote a rebuttal, received assurance from the News' online editor that she would consider it, and sent it off. After a week of hearing nothing, receiving no response to inquiries, and not finding it online, it was posted on this blog and a link sent to the News' publisher. The online editor responded on March 23rd that it would be printed sometime that week. When I looked for it on the 24th, imagine my surprise when, instead of the rebuttal piece, I found another op/ed defending their first op/ed supporting public registration. I updated my blog entry, and she was immediately
contacted about the rebuttal piece; to the best of our knowledge, no response was received.

I looked every day; she was written again on the 29th, and, again, no reply was seen. March turned into April. On April 10th both she and the publisher were emailed with an inquiry. She responded the next day saying that she had replied on the 29th and that the piece had been printed on March 25th. She sent the link and, sure enough, there it was!

How could it have escaped our attention? We scoured the site every day looking for it. And how was the email of the 29th overlooked? We will never have an answer to the second question. The email has been searched repeatedly, and the searches have turned up no communication from her or anyone at the News on the 29th. If she did indeed send one, it has dissipated like the morning dew in mid-summer.

We can, however, answer the first question. It escaped our attention -- and our fervent hunting day after day -- because it appears to have been buried. It was not listed with other pieces printed in the Opinion section. If we had known what they named it, we could have searched on their site and found it. But no one else could have found it. No one else could have seen it. No one else could have determined that it existed in order to find it in order to read it.

When it was printed, all of the hyperlinks to the studies cited were removed. But then if no one will be reading it, no one will need any links to click, will they? Additionally, every op/ed printed there that we saw has a comment section. The rebuttal piece has none. But if no one will be reading something, they won't be commenting on it, will they?

Just out of curiosity, we looked at other types of articles on the site. Whether it was news or sports, opinion or entertainment, it has a comment section. Even the articles taken from AP have comment sections. Certainly we did not look at every article they have posted over a lengthy period of time, but we looked at many, and every one looked at has a place to leave a comment. Only one was found with no comment capabilities, and that is the one rebutting theirs.

So that leaves only one question for the Longview, Washington Daily News: Did you bury our op-ed? If so, what are you afraid of? What do you not want people thinking about if they read that article? What do you not want people seeing if they click the links and read a couple of research studies? What do you not want people saying if they left a comment on the article?

What are you afraid of?

Monday, March 21, 2016

With sex offender issues, many media outlets don't want both sides

UPDATE: After this was sent to the publisher and editor, and after W.A.R. contacted them, I received an email yesterday -- 23rd -- saying the rebuttal would run "later this week." Today, the 24th, they ran a reiteration of their position. That means that this one should see print tomorrow, the 25th, or Saturday the 26th. Watch this spot for updates.

A May 13 editorial in the Longview, WA News Online proclaimed, "Laws Help Keep Children Safe." The editorial was essentially an expression of outrage that the organization W.A.R. -- and by extension all such-minded advocacy organizations-- even existed. "It takes a moment to digest that such a group exists...." Apparently the news outlet had received a brochure and some factual information from W.A.R. after a vigilante incident occurred in Longview.

The editorial angered me as it included several references that are blatantly untrue. I wrote the online editor inquiring whether she would consider for publication a rebuttal piece that I had started working on. By the time she responded that I could send it to her, I had finished it and immediately did so as this was a time-sensitive issue. That was over a week ago. Two separate inquiries to her as to whether
she had made a decision yet went unacknowledged.

A week is enough time to decide to print or not print submitted material. Besides, I have experienced this too many times to count: journalism, which once long, long ago in a place far, far away, would almost always respond favorably to a request for "equal time," no longer feels the necessity to do that.

And so I print it here, and I will send a link to the publisher and online editor of the Daily News.

In response to your editorial of March 13, "Laws help keep children safe," I would first like to thank you for your condemnation of vigilante activity. Fully agreeing with the title of your op-ed, I too want laws that help keep children safe, and there is nothing about vengeance-motivated activity that works toward that goal.
The organization you criticize, WAR, or Women Against Registry, is one of several organizations that advocate for laws that do just that -- keep children safe. Another is SOSEN, Sex Offender Solutions and Education Network. And yet another is RSOL, Reform Sex Offender Laws, Inc. These organizations agree with what research studies show: laws that keep children -- and indeed everyone -- safe must, in order to do that, be based on facts and empirical evidence.
The public registry system is not based on empirical evidence, and, in your defense of it, you say that the murder of Adam Walsh is "not uncommon." Actually, it is very rare. Whether or not Adam's kidnapping and subsequent murder were sexually motivated will never be known, but it was a heinous crime as was the murder of Megan Kanka and another handful of horrific child murders at the hands of murderers.
Your statement that WAR grew out of murders such as these is untrue. WAR, SOSEN, and RSOL grew out of a realization, based on research, that public registration of those who had previously committed a sexual offense -- not murdered, not decapitated, but committed an offense ranging from the trivial to the serious -- actually was not deterring sexual crimes against children at all. It was in some cases increasing the risk for re-offense, and it was and is creating conditions that seriously interfere with mandated rehabilitative efforts. 
It was and does negatively impact the lives of family members, especially the children of registrants. This is well documented through research studies. 
According to yet another study, "These policies have led to multiple collateral consequences, creating an ominous environment that inhibits successful reintegration and may contribute to an increasing risk for recidivism. In fact, evidence on the effectiveness of these laws suggests that they may not prevent recidivism or sexual violence and result in more harm than good." 
Reform organizations do not defend the actions that have triggered registration, and we recognize appropriate punishment as desirable and necessary, but it is difficult to claim that, in all cases, the children suffer through the actions of the registrant family members rather than the effects of public registration. Many situations exist where the offense was committed when the registrant was a child or juvenile himself. A number of cases involve premarital sex where the offender and "victim" later married and had a family, yet the offender remains on a public registry, often for life, and his children suffer greatly due to it. This continuation of punishment long after a sentence has been completed is but another form of vengeance and amounts to legalized, governmental vigilante action, exacting punishment far beyond what the courts assessed.
The impotency of the public registry to deter re-offense and to protect children is well documented also. Dr. Bill O'Leary is a forensic psychologist and longtime critic of  public notification and tracking. He notes, "95 percent of sexual abuse occurs between a victim and a known acquaintance, not a stranger living down the street. One of the most unethical pieces of the situation has been saying that we need to do this to prevent sexual abuse when we know statistically that this has nothing to do with preventing sexual abuse.”
According to the United States Department of Justice, from 1992 to 2010 there was a steep decline in all major crime. There is no evidence that a decrease in sexual crime is due to our current policies, and that theory is actually negated by research.  
Many people and organizations advocate every day for policies that will keep children safe, but we know that until the focus is put on the victims and the actual facts about child sexual abuse, that is highly unlikely to occur.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Predator panic -- it might get worse, but it couldn't get sillier

Imagine this. You are at a Monster Jam event, and you see a booth selling pink, fuzzy toy trucks. You buy one for your little girl, and then you find out -- how? -- that the heart pattern on the toy is a secret symbol to pedophiles, and that your purchase has just marked your child, according to channel 8 in Florida, as one "ready to be traded for sex" to a pedophile who has a preference for girls.


My mind was instantly flooded with questions: How do the pedophiles match up with the pink-truck-owning children? Scour neighborhoods looking for the trucks lying in a yard or clutched in the hands of the ill-fated child? And what if the parent isn't home and a baby-sitter is? Will the pedophile make an appointment to come  back when the parent is home to complete the sale, or is the baby-sitter authorized to do so? Or are they staked out at the venues that are selling the toys and swoop in right then to complete the transaction?  What if a parent unconcerned with the whole color-gender thing bought the pink truck with the heart for his son? Would the pedophile union sue for false representation when a member went to claim his girl-child and instead was given a boy?

In what I suppose is a desperate attempt to introduce some note of authenticity into this fantasy, channel 8 interviews a detective with the cyber crimes unit at the Pasco Sheriffs' Dept. He speaks of the pedophiles he "busts" and the horrors he sees of children raped and tortured on a daily basis and how what keeps him going is protecting children and putting the bad guys away.

And there goes my crazy mind again. What does anything he is saying have to do with heart symbols on stuffed toy trucks?

And then the company who makes the toys, the same company who owns the Monster Jam franchise, is asked about the symbol, and they freak out, avow all innocence in this nefarious plot -- give me time; I'll figure out how it works -- and recall the trucks.

Again -- whaaat???

Now I have a couple of serious questions. Did channel 8 ask anyone -- the cyber crimes detective, any other police department, the FBI, anyone -- approximately how many children have fallen victim to the pink truck caper and have been sold to pedophile rings? Surely the sale of the toys can be traced to the duplicitous parents; are any of their little girls "missing"? Has an investigation been launched? The toy manufacturer said they haven't been contacted by anyone in law enforcement. Huh? They are serving as a conduit between those who want to buy children and those who are selling them, and law enforcement doesn't even contact them?

And, finally, how long will it be before the toy manufacturer / Monster Jam promoter realizes what insanity this is and sues everyone involved for slander, loss of income, and damage to their reputation?

Friday, March 4, 2016

No, Senator Grassley, the Adam Walsh Act does NOT need to be re-authorized

Mr. Grassley, like you, we grieve with families of children who are victimized and abused, and we especially grieve that virtually all of this type of crime is committed by the family members and others close to their young victims. Like you, we would like to see a strong commitment to keeping our nation’s children safe.

Unlike you, however, we have seen no evidence of this commitment for the past twenty-five years. Such a commitment must be based on solid research, on facts and evidence, and on the reality of both child sexual abuse and of those who are the abusers.

The Adam Walsh Act is ill-conceived legislation, contraindicated by empirical evidence, which fails to address the crime of child sexual abuse because it does not target those who commit child sexual abuse.

The rhetoric and the reality of the AWA are light years apart. The rhetoric says the AWA “was enacted in response to multiple, notorious cases involving children who had been targeted by adult criminals, many of them repeat sex offenders.” The reality is that the cases that drove the legislation are the rarest of rare crimes. They are crimes of murder. They are crimes that would not have been prevented by the AWA or by a thousand sex offender registries.

The reality is that the crime that set John Walsh upon his crusade, the murder of his son, was not committed by a person on the sex offender registry at all.

The reality is that the 800,000 persons on sex offender registries across the nation -- ranging in age, according to the various registries, from nine years old to well over a hundred – have not killed anyone. The reality is that the vast majority of them are not repeat offenders but one-time offenders who, after completion of their sentences, live in our communities without ever committing another offense.

The reality is that the many, many millions of dollars and many millions of law-enforcement hours expended in public notification and public registration of those who have committed sexual crimes do not advance public safety.  A huge and growing body of evidence attests that they do not affect the rate of first time sexual offenses, of repeat offenses, or of child sexual offenses. 

And so we grieve also, Mr. Grassley.

We grieve that our priorities have become focused on ineffective punishments rather than prevention programs. Last January, a coalition including both sexual assault prevention and victims’ groups called for the creation of a stable funding stream dedicated to preventing child sexual abuse and exploitation. The group asked for funding to equal at least one percent – ONE percent! -- of the millions currently spent on “after-the-fact” responses like sex registries and civil commitment. They are still waiting.

We, like you, grieve for Jetseta and Dru and Megan. We also grieve for other rare cases of children falling victims to repeat offenders, those in more recent years who were not “saved” by the registry or the AWA, those like Jaycee and Chelsea and Cherish.

And we grieve for the deaths of those who were murdered for no reason other than that they were on a public registry, targeted and slaughtered for an offense long ago paid for, such as were Gary and Jerry and Jeremy and his wife Christine, killed just because she was with him when vigilante murderers found him, and Hugh Edwards, who wasn’t even on the registry but was mistaken for someone who was.

We grieve for the registrants who have paid for their crimes and want nothing more than to be allowed to live law-abiding lives but cannot find a job or even a place to live. We grieve for their families, especially their children, who suffer ostracism and ridicule and abuse due to the crimes of their parents.

We grieve especially for the children of continuing and new sexual abuse who will grow up to know that their society chose to ignore their plight, invisible and easy to ignore, in favor of a very public and popular demand for policies and laws and legislation that wasted millions and accomplished nothing.

And we grieve for that society, which is OUR society, and for what it has become.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

New Rule: Those accused of sexual offenses should expect to act as their own counsel; no decent attorney would take the case

When something I write references something read elsewhere, especially when I use direct quotes, I always link to the other piece. Due to my refusal to give the other piece or its publisher any credence or recognition, this post will be the exception to that rule.

In a major election year, one expects nasty, attack campaign ads. The last few years the level of sleaze has deepened and this year threatens, like a spewing volcano, to engulf the entire political process in its roiling, broiling morass.

Interesting parallel — each year the level of sleaze leveled at the entire class of those who are required to be on a sex offender registry deepens, with the list of “cannots” against them growing and spreading, much like the deadly lava of a volcano.

They cannot live where they wish or, often, be where they wish.
They often cannot get/keep employment.
They cannot assume their normal rights as parents or as citizens.
They cannot assume the right to travel freely.
They cannot live free of fear and anxiety for their own and their family’s safety.
Some cannot hide their infamy from anyone viewing their drivers’ licenses or, soon and for all, their passports.
Most importantly, they cannot — ever — be forgiven.

And now, due to an interesting convergence of both political and sex offender sleaze, it seems a new cannot has been added.

In a political ad pretending to be actual journalism, one designed not to directly promote a specific candidate but to destroy one, a candidate was linked with an organization renowned for fighting for unpopular causes in matters of civil rights.

It seems that this organization is “an organization that has an appalling history of providing legal support for sex offenders throughout the nation.”

And the candidate? “Shockingly…like the ACLU, has a history of defending sex offenders as well.”

Appalling history? Shocking? The inference here is that those facing charges for sexual offenses should not be provided legal support, and that anyone who dares provide it is doing something unconscionable and beyond the pale.

So a new cannot joins the others: Those accused of sexual offenses even though, like everyone accused of any crime, considered innocent until proven guilty, CANNOT be represented by counsel because no attorney worth the name would represent such a person.

Much about the public registry and all that it has spawned plays fast and loose with many of our constitutional protections. Now, with this, the Sixth Amendment is not just biting the dust but being stomped, ground, and broken upon the cold, hard earth.

Monday, February 1, 2016

This is how to pass a bill with no facts to support it

The discussion in the U.S. House pertinent to International Megan's Law has ended with a vote to pass the resolution under suspension of the rules. It will now go to the President for his signature.

Ten legislators spoke in favor of the bill. They all threw out a lot of numbers, sometimes in conflict with each other, all designed to draw conclusions that cannot be concluded with any degree of logic.

Remember that the bill is named International Megan's Law to Prevent Child Exploitation and Other Sexual Crimes Through Advanced Notification of Traveling Sex Offenders. Child exploitation and other sexual crimes. Sexual crimes. Traveling sex offenders. Keep that in mind.

One legislator said, "There are tens of millions of victims of human trafficking," and another said, with somewhat less hyperbole, "There have been more than twenty million victims of human trafficking."

These are the kinds of figures that are thrown out, totally unverified but never challenged, but the actual point is that the term "human trafficking" conflates individuals trafficked for the purpose of labor and those trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation. Examination into the issue suggests that the far greater number is for labor, and those individuals are more likely to be adults than children. Forced labor, amounting to slavery, is horrendous, but is that what those legislators hearing the impassioned speeches of their colleagues thought of? No. They thought of little girls being kidnapped, raped, and prostituted. They thought of little girls like Megan Kanka because Megan's tragedy was recounted for them, if not by every one of the ten speakers, certainly by the majority of them.

And that is another problem. Megan's killer was not a "traveling sex offender." Megan was not trafficked to the human sex trade industry. As horrific as Megan's death was, there is not one syllable or one comma in HR 515 that would have prevented what happened to her. There is no parallel to be made except--oh yeah--she was killed by someone on the registry, and that point was pushed by the speakers for the bill also.

Nothing was said to suggest that the individuals responsible for all of this raping and exploiting were on the registry. It did not need to be said. That was nevertheless the message received because, if the purpose of the bill is to stop these things from happening, and the bill targets those on the registry, then those committing the acts must be those on the registry, just as Megan's killer was.

One speaker said that, in a given time period, passports had been issued to 2,000 registered sex offenders. That may well be true. Another, also speaking of a specific time period, said, "4,500 registered sex offenders received passports; that is unacceptable." Unacceptable? Unacceptable that 4,500 American citizens, for a myriad of reasons, chose to apply for and receive an American passport? Nothing was said to suggest that any of those 2,000 or any of those 4,500 used the passport to facilitate a sexual crime against a child--or any crime against anyone. But is that the message sent and received? Of course it was. If the purpose of the bill is to prevent these things from happening....

And so it passed. If all that had gone before had not been enough to secure its passage, the last, closing remark would surely have done so. "This will save children's lives."

Again, totally lacking in evidence, but a statement that will be heartily embraced and received and repeated as though it were gospel truth.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Where the registry’s involved, there are no winners.

I’ve just finished watching an episode of Law and Order, SVU.

Basic story: High school couple on first date at a school dance; they are both a little socially awkward and inexperienced. She isn’t at all adverse to “making out,” and they end up in the dark room where
he gets more aggressive than she is comfortable with and doesn’t listen when she tells him to slow down. There is some sexual touching and fumbling around, and he ejaculates on her dress. He is driven as much by peer pressure to "snag a virgin" as by desire. She is distraught but more embarrassed and humiliated. Texting and “sexting,” both before and after the encounter, play a part.

Under her parents prodding, she accuses him of assault and attempted rape. He appears to be sincerely unaware that she felt she had been a victim of attempted rape. In court he had clearly been coached to say the “right” things—“I know my attitude was disrespectful to women.”

Lines from the program that got my attention are: (I’m probably not remembering them with total accuracy).

The registry is very harsh.
We need new rules (governing sexual behavior today).
The rules need to be clearer.
In California they have passed affirmative consent laws. 
Response: Yeah, we’ll see how that goes.

One good thing about the episode is the clear message that the young lady in question would have, without doubt, accepted the young man’s apology and been happy to let it go, but that once the police and the district attorney were involved, she did not have that option.

But by far the most compelling message is that the registry is a bad, bad thing. Hopefully, this episode will open up dialogue even more for the discussion of the inappropriateness of the registry being part of the equation when it comes to juvenile and teenage situations.

The end result is not guilty for attempted rape or assault but guilty for unwanted sexual behavior.

Oh, and yes, he would be required to register. His future is over; she is pulled from the courtroom in tears while trying to tell him she is sorry. Good drama; lousy ending.

Two kids, almost forced by the system into adversarial positions, but no winners. When the public registry is part of the equation, there never are.