Aug 17, 2007

On Sexual Offenders, Collective Paranoia, and Debts to Society

Left: Some guy who committed a despicable crime that I am supposed to demonize and watch closely

Occasionally I use the search functions on the Ohio sex offender registration and notification (eSORN) website to see what types of deviants have moved into my neighborhood. I never actively go out of my way to keep virtual tabs on known sexual offenders and predators, but if I stumble across one of the links to these sites, my curiosity gets piqued.

So I see that a new sexual offender has moved in a block away from my home, and this particular piece of work is a 58-year-old white male convicted of sexual battery (ORC 2907.03) against a female child. As a parent, knowing this individual lives in the neighborhood makes my skin crawl.

Yet I cannot find out any particulars beyond the fact that the crime occurred in 1994. No newspaper articles show up in databases, since the crime occurred before the rise of the Internet as an information tool par excellence, and I am too cheap to pay for an archive search. I do know that this individual has been classified as a "Sexually Oriented Offender," the lowest rung on the ladder of sick SOBs, so I suppose I should take some comfort from that fact, right?

Why, though, have we collectively decided to stigmatize these particular criminals? I think murderers are just as repulsive to upstanding, caring citizens, but we do not go out of our way to mark this or any other class of criminal in such a manner. No, it is the sexual predators and offenders who must carry with them the state-mandated special categorizations, even after they have served their time.

A new bill before the Ohio Legislature would even create fluorescent green license plates for sex offenders. Will we return to the days of physically marking criminals, like branding them with a giant letter "P" on their foreheads? Admittedly, I get suspicious whenever a government official promotes a law for the benefit of children, but this slippery slope of post-prison punishment seems to be getting slicker.

There is something particularly disturbing in this retributive trend, something that offends me almost as much (albeit in a different fashion) as an adult who would prey upon a child. What is next? Will we start creating categories for burglars, car thieves, and drug addicts? How about tax cheats: why not create a special database of everyone who has screwed the government out of more than $50?

Do not misunderstand me - if I came across an adult attacking one of my children, he or she had better pray that the police arrive before I find my Louisville Slugger, because I would swing the mighty ashen Axe of Justice with wild abandon. But at one point do we stop punishing criminals, even hard-to-love freaks like sexual predators?


Anonymous said...

Aww, let's have a national Hug-a-Pedo Week!


Anonymous said...

Drug addicts do damage to themselves.
Robbery although bad, doesn't physically hurt anyone. Pedos hurt children. They take advantage of those who can't defend themselves and, unlike murders, they are set back into society rather quickly even though many will commit the crime again. That is why they are labeled and communities alerted.

We could just keep them in prison longer.

microdot said...

Wow, the posts here show how hard it is for society to come to grips with the problem of pedophilia.

Like all sexual crimes, the line between actual criminal intent and mental illness is blurred, but in the case of child molesters, even more so.

Many sexual predators are one time offenders and many are cured of their obsession,but it is the small perdentage of redicivists who commit the most insane crimes because it is a desparate cycle of hopeless obsessive mental illness.

The big news story here in France is the abduction and abuse of a 5 year old boy from a town festival in Rennes on Wednesday.
Here when a child is abducted there are national television alerts and this time the alerts resulted in the apprehension of the criminal and the rescue of the child before anything worse occurred.
The defendant had been out of jail for 5 days from a 5 year sentence for an attempted abduction.....

Good question, Mike. Is it the failure of psychiatric medicine in the identification and monitoring of potential repeaters?
Do you just lock them up?
How about the Brits who use chemical "castration"? A drug administered regularly to supress sexual urges...get your shot, or else!

We have a problemn with sexual predators in France just like every where else. It would be interesting to see the percentages per population and then try to identify the things that make one population more apt to spawn sex predators thatn another.

-Sepp said...

I'll disagree with microdot in his saying that a small percentage will repeat their crimes. The 18 -25 year olds who were nailed for screwing around with jailbait usually don't repeat the offense. The guys who go after small children usually do.

I think a clockwork orange style remedy is called for in these cases.

MP said...

"Why, though, have we collectively decided to stigmatize these particular criminals?"

Because we're a nation of prudes, plain and simple.

Yeah, I'd be upset if someone sexually offended against a family member of mine. I'd want a punishment for that person, and then plenty of continued psychological counseling.

I could've sworn that part of the criminal process was to rehabilitate the offender. Sex offender registries and green license plates chip away at that function, besides being violative of Equal Protection. It says to a mentally weak person, "Go about your business trying to cure this nasty sex habit of yours, but we're going to basically make your life a living hell, even though we don't do the same for other criminals." Oh, good. That'll help.

Sex offenders aren't necessarily any worse than murderers, and to harass them mercilessly once they're out of prison is stupid. Have we ever stopped to think that perhaps the reason that sex offenders are a greater risk to re-offend is because they are constantly badgered and reminded about their crime so that they can never get past it?

But our society doesn't care. We say throw them in prison, brand them as sex offenders against children automatically (even if they're not), and don't ever stop to reconsider the way we teach sex education in this country in the first place so that we might actually create more of an open dialogue about sex and catch these "problems" before they become bigger problems.

Anonymous said...

You can't "cure" a pedophile of his/her attraction to children any more than you can cure my attraction to men (nor do I want you to cure me of that). All we can hope for is instilling self-control in offenders so they don't offend again, but that's easier said than done.

Of course we make a big deal of crimes against children. They are among the most vulnerable among us -- along with the elderly and disabled. A civilized society does what it can to protect the vulnerable, and if that means warning people a pedophile has moved into the neighborhood, so be it.

Rather than not hounding pedophiles, I'd like to see all felons register so we can check our neighborhood maps for all manner of criminals. I'd like to know where the drug dealers, prostitutes, burglars, etc. are in relation to my home. If people don't like being on such lists, fine. They can decide not to break the law.

microdot said...

Well, Sepp, there are more cases of pedophiles who never commit crimes after treatment than redicivists, but it is the repeaters who make the news and also cause the entire system to breakdown.
Sepp, you know, the treatment for pedophiles is a lot like clockwork orange...a lot of drug and aversion conditioning work.
The latest development in the Rennes case is bizarre. The perpetrator was actually given a prescription for Viagra! He had it filled in the prison pharmacy right before he was released!
The newscasts are all filled with people scratching their heads.

Interesting, I don't know what the percentages or rate of these type of crimes in America, but one case like this can dominate the news for 3 days here.

historymike said...

(laughing, hollowly, at JD's comment)

historymike said...

Anonymous #1:

Agreed that longer sentences might be a help. I disagree with your logic on why we stigmatize this group after they have served their time, as the end result of your logic would be that all criminals who target children should get a special "branding."

Would that also apply to, say, a thief who steals a kid's bike?

historymike said...


There are a lot of statistics on the recidivism of those convicted of sex crimes, especially against children.

I agree with Sepp that it is important to separate out the one-time offenders who are not likely to re-offend (such as 18-year-olds who have sex with 16-year-olds).

Agreed that there are some hardcore pedophiles who are likely to re-offend.

historymike said...


I think you are on to something with your perception that American prudishness and squeamishness about sex gets in the way of our ability to create appropriate punishments for sex offenders.

historymike said...

Anonymous #2:

If we map out all criminals, there would be quite a few dots around your house. I also think that this would be both a bureaucratic nightmare and an exercise in creating a totalitarian state.

Anonymous said...

Here are some statistics from the Department of Justice on recidivism rates for those who commit sexual crimes against children.

The rates of re-arrest are not nearly as high as one would think.

I wonder if some of the "progress" is because of the laws requiring registration and community notification for those who commit these kinds of crimes ...


if it simply because the young victims of these crimes rarely disclose the crimes committed against them until years and years later . . .

I used to counsel child sexual crime victims and the impact of the abuse was devastating.

I'm all for registration which came about as a result of Megan Laws being passed in the mid 1990s.

The Screaming Nutcase said...

It's all politics. If a politician needs a few points, all he/she has to do is pick out a group no one particularly cares about and no one will speak up for, then pick on them.

For extra points, you can broaden your scope. Which is why the Megan's Law registries include not only true pedophiles, but 19-y/o guys who picked up 17-y/o girls, and in some states, even regular rapists.

Most people also don't understand the difference between a true pedophile (a real disease, involving attraction to prepubescent kids) and an adult taking advantage of a post-pubescent kid (twisted and wrong IMO, but not actually sick: there are still many cultures where 14-year-olds are married off...and that could still happen in NH with parental permission, though most states require 16).

And now with some municipalities not allowing registered sex offenders to live within x yards of places where kids congregate (even in the face of evidence that most people abuse kids that they were already close to, relatives being the #1 victim), it's just pushing them to not register, so you have no idea where they are. Great job, there, politicians.