About Those Past Two Decades

A clarion call is sounded by the New York Times editorial declaring that the banishment of “sex offenders” is pointless.

It’s a chilling image: the sex predator skulking in the shadows of a swing set, waiting to snatch a vulnerable child.

Every call to action begins with a horrifying scenario that just cannot be allowed to continue anymore.

Over the past two decades, that scenario has led to a wave of laws around the country restricting where people convicted of sex offenses may live — in many cases, no closer than 2,500 feet from schools, playgrounds, parks or other areas where children gather. In some places, these “predator-free zones” put an entire town or county off limits, sometimes for life, even for those whose offenses had nothing to do with children.

Why, yes. That’s kinda right, as is this.

Protecting children from sexual abuse is, of course, a paramount concern. But there is not a single piece of evidence that these laws actually do that. For one thing, the vast majority of child sexual abuse is committed not by strangers but by acquaintances or relatives. And residency laws drive tens of thousands of people to the fringes of society, forcing them to live in motels, out of cars or under bridges. The laws apply to many and sometimes all sex offenders, regardless of whether they were convicted for molesting a child or for public urination.

Did you think this old criminal defense lawyer was just screwing with you when I warned of the permanent underclass that sex offender registries and the related oppressive laws created? Or that Lenore Skenazy was just the world’s worst mom when she did all the heavy lifting to show that stranger danger was a nonsensical fear?

Of course not. Why would the Paper of Record pay any attention to the likes of us?  The New York Times is serious business, and what it says matters.

Well, thank you for coming around and penning an editorial that debunks the fears that have driven public perception, empowered politicians to write laws, then more laws, then yet more laws, all in the name of protecting the child.  Indeed, even now, you can’t bring yourself to not Gertrude the point.

Protecting children from sexual abuse is, of course, a paramount concern.

But then, if it’s a paramount concern, more important than anything else, then even if these restrictions save only one child, just one, they are justified.  And it’s this perpetuation of the notion that protecting one child is worth destroying the lives of tens of thousands of others, undermining the Constitution, ignoring the facts and hyperbole, the appeals to emotion, the myths we hold so dear, that brought us to this point.

It is understandable to want to do everything possible to protect children from being abused. But not all people who have been convicted of sex offenses pose a risk to children, if they pose any risk at all. Blanket residency-restriction laws disregard that reality — and the merits of an individualized approach to risk assessment — in favor of a comforting mirage of safety.

But damn, two decades later, by your own admission?  What do you imagine has been happening to those heinous public urinators for the past 20 years?  What has happened to their children?  What about the children, New York Times?

You turned a nice phrase in there, the “comforting mirage of safety.”  It captures the image very well. But then it also brings a deep sadness, because it took you 20 years to grasp it, and now that you own the phrase, it applies to so many things that your editorial board otherwise holds dear.

Every initiative in the name of safety, every single one, must be viewed through the prism of the “comforting mirage of safety.”  The “do it for the children” excuse has been extremely effective in driving society to name a law after every poor child who died, usually having nothing to with the actual cause of death and almost invariably already covered by other laws.

But the opportunity to create more laws to create the perfectly safe world shouldn’t be squandered, and the Times has been at the forefront of tears and hand-wringing over stopping the nightmare of harm coming to children. Every time the Gray Lady gave its blessing to a law to save the children, without bothering to concern itself with any need for the law or harm the law would do, you gave the “comforting mirage of safety” a gloss that blinded people from seeing that it was nothing more than a mirage.

And now, you’ve come to realize that, in this one instance at least, you’ve been on the wrong side.  And for two decades, people, children, suffered for your blindness and arrogance.

So thank you for coming around to a realization that the rest of us have known for a very long time.  We welcome your editorial, condemning the pointlessness, the needless harm, done in the name of protecting children but which instead serves to destroy lives and save no one.  Hooray, New York Times!

Now, maybe you can apply this same degree of thought and scrutiny to the thousands of other fears you whipped up?  Maybe you can do so before two decades of misery go by?  Better late than never may be true, but really doesn’t help those who spent the last two decades seeing the real world rather than the “comforting mirage of safety.”

8 thoughts on “About Those Past Two Decades

  1. Bartleby the Scrivener

    I detest offender registries. This gets back to the the idea of ‘they have paid their debt to society’ that seems to have fallen rather grossly out of fashion. The scarlet letter of F (felon) is bad enough, but to be a sex offender is treated as being worse than a murderer.

    I can get behind a system wherein employers check to see if someone is eligible for a given profession (e.g. no child rapists working at a pre-school or insurance fraudsters working as claim adjusters), but our current system is absolutely ridiculous and subjects people to a level of punishment that I think exceeds the bounds we should allow as a society.

    I’m not a fan of sex criminals, but there are better solutions. Germany seems to have taken a rather pragmatic approach to the problem; they’re encouraging pedophiles to step forward and seek treatment before they commit crimes and do not seem to be applying stigma or hatred to the act of seeking help, but instead treat it as a problem that needs to be addressed before it becomes a colossally bigger problem that involves other people as well.

    Side note: Contrary to what seems to be popular belief, pedophiles are human beings with all the unalienable rights [sic] appurtenant thereto. While sex criminals have done terrible things that hurt the most innocent, vulnerable, and under-represented among us, it does not mean they have somehow stopped being people. It seems to me that the act of trying to act as if those one dislikes (or even hates) are no longer human is a very dangerous pattern of thought, and that type of thinking has been used to justify horrors that far exceed those of sexual violence. It surprises me that the people who claim pedophiles are not human and that such even calls for inhuman punishments to be levied against them for their crimes do not see how the desire for such inhumanity illustrates their own problematical thinking.

    1. SHG Post author

      Careful about falling into the trap of things that are “understandable.” The problem isn’t the child molesters should work at day care, but that the easy-peasy fix is that we need an offender registry to know who is a child molester, and then anyone on the list, even if for public urination, is a presumed child molester, and a few baby steps and we’re right back where we started.

      All for perfectly nice reasons that continue to fail.

  2. mb

    I’m not sure this line of argument will ever be effective with the right people. I don’t have any proper data set, but my informal observation is that most people are quite ready to accept characterizations of behaviors they don’t do as criminal or pathological. All the wives and girlfriends I know endlessly complain of their partners’ “addictions” to jobs, hobbies, etc. and yet these “addicts” seem to function in society quite well. Teachers recommend pumping their own students full of Ritalin over mild behavioral problems. The common use of the term “pedophilia” seems to include any attraction to anyone younger than oneself.

    I could go on, but the point is that when we point to public urinating as something that isn’t a big deal, we may be in the minority. He peed? With his penis? Not into a toilet? He’s got to be out of his mind! Probably a drug addict, too! Who cares what happens to him? He should never be around children!

    1. SHG Post author

      A rule of thumb is that nobody gives a shit until it touches their lives. This isn’t changed by any argument, good or bad. But hysteria creates the appearance of bad things coming too close for comfort, and it’s disingenuous to be party to creating the hysteria, then two decades later, decrying the natural consequences of the hysteria created.

      If the New York Times is going take a stand, best they think it through first rather than 20 years after the problems they caused have come home to roost.

      1. mb

        I’m sure it is disingenuous, but twenty years ago I was playing with Ninja Turtles. I only have a general idea where to point fingers, and I lack standing to relitigate the issue. My interest is in putting toothpaste back into a tube. But nobody’s gonna listen to me coz I work at Dairy Queen.

        1. SHG Post author

          Institutional memory puts things in a different light. It’s one of the great failures of the internet. Even though it’s all there to be found, people give little thought to how we got where we are, but only where we are.

  3. SamS

    Using US Census and Texas Department of Public Safety figures, I calculate that nearly 1 percent of men over 18 in Texas are registered sex offenders (actually 1 in 125) and the number is increasing by about one tenth of one percent a year. In other words, registered sex offenders will soon be common place.

    One reason for the increase is that local district attorneys have been running internet sting operations trying to lure lonely men into meeting police officers pretending to be teenage girls. Such operations do not make our children safer but only damage the men and their families.

  4. John Barleycorn

    Could be the editors are just wanting to flank Tonya Craft. She just came out with her book. Remember her?

    Anyway, the editors at that newspaper, you still seem to be reading everyday, might have figured it would be a good idea to deflect some attention away from the “I wonder how many of them “molesters” were fucking innocent and got caught up in the witch burning? Perhaps we should start wondering aloud, if the release conditions whiped up in the witch hunts might have been a wee bit harsh?

    Either way. Better late than never, as you said. Take the win esteemed one. They read you, they are just a wee bit nervous to go all  Amano Amano with you and whip out their cocks and stack it up for all to see.

    Good of you to remind them of how much of a fan boy of theirs you are though. Even if you do have a bigger cock. It’s nice of you to never loose your temper or patience with their indisputably “whatever”.

    And…I guess, I just can’t refuse an opertunity to speculate about their motives or take a piss in their alley. Must keep my mind off grand jury mother posts or something….

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