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.