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.”