Against A Minor

Their passports will be revoked until new ones are issued that contain the statutorily required notice to the world, ironically called their “unique identifier”:

The bearer was convicted of a sex offense against a minor, and is a covered sex offender pursuant to (U.S. law).

To read the lede, a warm feeling of justice will wash over every well-intended person.

America’s registered child sex offenders will now have to use passports identifying them for their past crimes when traveling overseas.

Of all the hated, who is more hated than a child sex offender? But those words that evoke such hatred conceal a problem. The words give rise to an image of some disgusting pervert who preys upon innocent children, and such miscreants are certainly included within these words.

But because we just can’t help ourselves, the words have strayed far from the image in our heads, not that the forces of virtue feel any need to get too detailed and tell you the story of Darth Plagueis, the Wise. Initially, this is a feel-good solution in search of a problem.

Although the warning is supposedly aimed at stopping sexual predators from abusing children in other countries, it will mark the passports of many people who pose no such threat.

The “unique identifier” is mandated by the International Megan’s Law (IML), which purports to prevent “child sex tourism,” a crime that seems to be pretty rare. From 2003 through 2009, according to an earlier version of the bill, the Justice Department “obtained 73 convictions of individuals from the United States charged with committing sexual crimes against minors in other countries”—an average of about 10 per year.

This isn’t to make light of ten crimes, or one crime, but to juxtapose the extent of the threat with the number of people affected by this new Scarlet Letter. But that’s only one aspect of the abuse of language to evoke hatred in lieu of thought.

Instead of focusing on people who have demonstrated a propensity to commit such crimes, the IML casts a wide net that covers offenders who have never assaulted a child, let alone traveled to another country for that purpose.

The Americans whose passports will brand them as international child molesters include people convicted of misdemeanors as well as felonies, people who committed their offenses as minors, people who were convicted decades ago and have never reoffended, people who as teenagers had consensual sex with other teenagers, and people who committed noncontact offenses such as sexting, streaking, public urination, and looking at child pornography.

The breadth of laws that fall within the rubric of “child sex offender” is, well, breathtaking. Kids sexting each other? Peeing against that wall in the alley? Or, god forbid, teen sex? This is where the confusion begins. “But these aren’t the horrible pervs who molest children I hate so very much?” Why no, no they’re not.

At a party 15 years ago, when she was 19, Shawna Clouatre hooked up with a boy who turned out to be 14. As a result, she was forced to register as a sex offender for life, which among other things means she has trouble keeping jobs and is not allowed to take her own children to the park.

In a heartbreaking interview with documentarian David Feige, the young Oklahoma mother talks wistfully about her dreams of traveling the world, rendered impractical by the lifetime probation imposed after her youthful mistake. Even if she managed to overcome that obstacle, the passport notation required by the IML would ensure that she was viewed with unjustified fear and suspicion wherever she might go.

Tough nuggies, Shawna. Better that you be branded than some kid who peed against a wall be allowed to do so in Paris.

And lest anyone think this is the only facile phrase used to manipulate our hatred so as to conflate our inner vision with actual facts, consider also the phrase “sex trafficking,” which has become ubiquitous so as to conflate the world’s oldest profession with wild fears. No reasonably sentient person would be good with girls being kidnapped and forced into sex slavery, but is that the same as a voluntary choice of sex work by adults? And yet, the Puritans have figured out that if you call it sex trafficking, they can do anything they want and you will applaud without thinking too hard, because who doesn’t hate sex trafficking?

And even worse, the Scarlet Letter on passports is a precursor to the shame being proposed to protect the children and girls. There are the proposals for guys found responsible in the kangaroo college courts to be similarly branded, because destroying their lives, forfeiting their years of tuition payments, denying them an education, is hardly severe enough to sate the blood lust of the unduly passionate.

The questions are never about whether child molesting isn’t horrible, but about how people are manipulated by a phrase into imagining one terrible evil while punishing the undeserving. But it would require thought to realize you’re being played, and everyone knows that thinking can give people a headache.

18 thoughts on “Against A Minor

  1. B. McLeod

    Bearers of these passports will likely learn to favor destinations where sex with children is considered no big deal.

  2. PDB

    If, as a 14-year-old, I had a chance to hook up with a 19-year-old who looked like Shawna, I would have considered my life complete. Not only that, I would have bragged about it to all of my friends and classmates until they got so sick of it they would have punched me in the face.

  3. J

    Presumably, while merely *looking* at child porn may technically be considered non-contact, by virtue of supply & demand, it’s that very aspect which drives the manufacturing of child porn, & we know that *is* the real deal.

    Guilt by association? Accessory to a crime? Something like that, in the opinion of this not-a-lawyer who otherwise agrees with you on the non-contact stuff that needs to be culled out of the blanket coverage.

    1. SHG Post author

      I’m going to try to be gentle. Yes, that’s the chaos theory behind criminalizing watching child porn. Now, what conceivable connection does that provide to why a person convicted of it poses a personal threat to any child by traveling to a foreign nation?

  4. Ahaz

    We do enjoy lists don’t we. Lists keep us safe. Gang lists, terrorist list, sex offender lists, extremists lists…I wonder what new one we can come up with.

  5. KP

    I wonder if this will stretch to include people buying sex dolls that look underage??

    The $1200 worth of plastic and silicon earned a Norwegian guy 6months jail this month, and I’m sure he’ll be noted as a child sex offender. Strange, becasue there was no child in sight… Just this lump of plastic that could be anything you imagine it to be, never mind what age it was meant to represent.

    Its a queer world alright.

  6. Bryan Burroughs

    I don’t understand how this could be applied retroactively and manage to pass ex-post-facto muster. It’s plainly being done after the fact.

    1. SHG Post author

      Obviously, it’s after the fact, but the prohibition on ex post facto applies only to criminal, and this is civil.

    2. Alex Stalker

      Court across the country, in all their wisdom, have decided the government can do almost anything it wants to sex offenders once they complete their sentences, including indefinitely incarcerating them for the rest of their lives for “treatment” as long as it is referred to as a civil procedure. There has to be some purported reason for it being a civil process that don’t cause judges who hate sex offenders to laugh out loud. Once that happens… presto! It isn’t a criminal punishment any more, so no ex post facto violation.

        1. Alex Stalker

          I’m still waiting for judges in Washington, the 9th Circuit, or the Supremes to grow some balls and call a duck a duck. Sorry; I’m a little grumpy that the status quo has been allowed to continue for so long.

          We in Washington have been on the cutting edge of screwing sex offenders, you know.

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