Shame as Punishment

When I first read at Lowering the Bar that some judge in Ohio offered defendants who were convicted of soliciting prostitution the option of jail time or walking about in a chicken suit with a sign, I blew it off as another stupid gimmick.  But after considering this “joke” in light of Florida’s new requirement that sex offender status be listed on drivers licenses, the joke may be on us.

The return to the Scarlet Letter may be much closer than we think.  It’s closing in on both ends, with actual laws (albeit from Florida, the “Hanging Chad” state) and goofy chicken suits from Ohio (what’s the capital of Cleveland?).   From a deterrent point of view, public humiliation is a time honored and, frankly, successful method of punishment.  Remember the stocks?  Putting the miscreant in the public square is a time honored Puritan tradition.

To many, we thought we had progressed beyond public humiliation as a method of punishment.  Not that it wasn’t necessarily effective as both a general and specific deterrent, but that’s where it stopped.  Drawing and quartering were pretty effective too.  I tad cruel, but nobody ever committed the same offense against.

While the rationale for putting “sex offender” on drivers licenses spans some additional interests, such as providing police with a ready means of identifying sex offenders (itself a major issue, but not the subject of this post), it clearly goes beyond that and into the realm of public humiliation.  After all, when you have to give your drivers license to get a refund a Wal-Mart, then the cashier will gasp as she sees that you’re a “gasp” SEX OFFENDER.   Is that necessary?  Is that the purpose?  Is that what we want, or do we just not care because we hate sex offenders so much that there is nothing that can happen to them that would bother us?

Before you go there, remember that “sex offender” doesn’t just mean rapist or child molester, but also 17 year old kid who got caught fooling around with his 16 year old girlfriend.  Does that change the equation?  What about 39 year old man who picked up a pros on the street?  A little more iffy?

Well, that’s the guy who is now wearing the chicken suit.  And that’s why public humiliation needs to be taken seriously.  It’s not just a joke anymore.

2 comments on “Shame as Punishment

  1. amathias

    shame is nothin more than a symbol of judgement who are we to judge anyone shame is not an effective punishment

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