Thursday, October 6, 2016

who does Jesus look like?

In When Jesus Looks like a Sex Offender, Hugh Hollowell writes about a conversation he had with a deacon from another church.
“What do y’all do about sex offenders in church?” he asked. 
A man named Andy had been coming to their church – a nice, successful, red brick, steeple church – for the last few months. He had attended their adult Sunday School, and everyone liked him.  Andy was an older man, in his late fifties, with a short beard and horn rimmed glasses. He was well read, knew his Bible and listened with rapt attention in the service. He was thinking about joining the church, so he scheduled a meeting with the pastor. 
“That was when it went south. He told the preacher he was a sex offender, and he wanted to join the church,” the deacon said. 
The pastor told him he would have to do some research. He had then called the denomination’s regional office, who said that it was a no-go because of their “safe-child” policy. The pastor then called a meeting of the deacons to let them know what was going on, and my friend said he would talk to me, since I probably had had this come up before. 
“I don’t know what to do. What would you do if a sex offender showed up at your church,” he asked.

What would you do if an adulterer showed up at your church? Or a gambler? Or someone who is currently sexually abusing a child? What would you do if someone who committed armed robbery showed up at your church? What would you do if someone who perpetrated fraud showed up at your church?

Would you know?

The truth is that we sit side-by-side with people with lurid pasts and people who hide a lurid present every day. A co-worker cheats on her husband. A neighbor spends money at the casino instead of putting it away for the kids' college expenses. The neighborhood mechanic sells a little weed. The middle school teacher shoplifts at Victoria's Secret.

Hollowell continues:
“Well, it happens almost every week. I would say, ‘I’m so glad you are here’, and then probably ask him if he wanted to help me serve communion, or lead us in prayer.” 
He looked like he had swallowed something distasteful, so I went on. 
I told him that the sex offender registry as it is currently doesn’t really tell us anything about the person. Getting caught peeing in the bushes near a school, being 21 and having consensual sex with a 17 year old, and molesting a 4 year old are all things that will get you on the registry, but not all of those people are of equal risk to others. 
I also said that all relationships have boundaries, and that it was a great sign that Andy wanted the pastor to know that he needed boundaries. I also told him that a lot of the research shows that recidivism rates for sex offenders are pretty low anyway, and even lower when the perpetrator has a support network, like, you know, a church family.
Hollowell is well-educated about sex offenders. It is true that the recidivism rate for registered citizens is very low. It is true that registered citizens present varying risk levels.

It is also true that people not on the registry present varying risk levels. After all, most arrests--by far--for sex offenses are of someone not on the registry. We accept those varying risk levels without much thought.

Family and community support help offenders of every kind stay out of trouble. Can we all agree that helping someone stay out of trouble is a good thing?

What better way to help someone than to encourage them to come together regularly with like-minded people, whether it is a church or a quilting club?

A church, though, has a history to live up to.
... the Church was allegedly founded by a guy who tended to stick up for people who others had written off, and welcomed those others said were unwelcome because they were unclean. So there is some precedent. 
Yes. There is that.
He thanked me, and as he was walking toward the door, stopped, turned back and said, “So he could come to church with you guys, right? It wouldn’t be a problem?” 
One wonders if the word pusillanimous echoes in that deacon's mind.
I assure him it wouldn’t. He said he would talk to the pastor and let me know if there were more questions.
Think about this. A deacon doesn't want a sex offender in his congregation but he has no objection to the sex offender joining a different congregation. If the deacon genuinely believes the sex offender poses a danger to his congregation, then he has just foisted that danger on the more accepting congregation. That says safety concerns are only a good cover.

If safety is not the concern, then perhaps the deacon thinks sex offenders are something distasteful.
The easiest thing in the world to do is to confuse your comfort with your safety, and it is easy to be scared of what we do not know. And the work of relationship and accountability is much harder than telling a man like Andy he has to go worship elsewhere. After all, no one in your church is going to fault you for trying to “keep them safe”. 
The problem is, the gospels tell us nothing about our safety, but do say that people like Andy – the underdogs, the pariahs, the unclean and the forgotten – are actually Jesus in disguise, and that when we reject them, we reject Jesus himself.
So by all means, pray to God, and sing your organ music and pass the plate and preach about Jesus. But if you do that, you have to be prepared for what to do when he shows up, looking like a sex offender.
What does Jesus look like in your congregation?

I blogged earlier about churches and their treatment of sex offenders here (and maybe some other posts I have forgotten):

Monday, September 5, 2016

background checks required for school volunteers

Lenore Skenazy at Free Range Kids passes along a story about requirements for parents who want to volunteer at a Maryland school.
All schools volunteers, including those who come in for 45 minutes to help with parties or the classroom, etc., must complete mandatory online training in identifying child neglect and abuse. I can only imagine how the # of completely unfounded calls is going to skyrocket after this! (Kid’s hair isn’t combed? Doesn’t have the right clothes? Hungry because s/he skipped breakfast? Call CPS!)

But the best part is that anyone who might have “unsupervised access” to kids – including in the hallways – must undergo fingerprinting and background checks. Has there been a rash of abuse by unsupervised adults in the recent past? Of course not, but you can NEVER BE TOO SAFE.
What problem were the new requirements supposed to solve? Does the school have a history of volunteers abusing children? No.

Is there reason to believe that there is a new trend where volunteers abuse children at the school? Nope. Only a feeling.

But if someone wanted to abuse children? He or she would not need a school full of children to accomplish that. A family dinner would suffice. Dance class or Sunday school.

Child abuse is largely a crime of opportunity. Someone who abuses a child is far more likely to abuse a child already nearby, a child who already trusts the abuser. A family member. A teacher. A coach.

Someone who would pass the background check. 

Why would anyone argue against the background check if there is nothing to hide? Lenore says:
This normalization of background checks for any and every adult interacting with kids is based on the assumption that everyone is a child molester until proven otherwise. And yet, what is that “proving” worth? The vast majority of the 850,000 people on the Sex Offender List will not commit a new sex crime...  At the same time, Jerry Sandusky would have passed any background check with flying colors.
Consider that your child's excellent Sunday school teacher could have committed armed robbery in another state twenty years ago and the background check will not discover that because background checks often do not go back that far or examine records in other states. Because the registry is online and because nothing available online can be completely erased, a former sex offender can always be identified as a sex offender, no matter how exemplary his life in the intervening years.

Knowing that someone is listed on the sex offender registry tells us nothing about whether he is dangerous. Even the risk levels that some states assign to registrants tell us nothing. Since the vast majority of registered sex offenders will not offend again, any risk assessment is a weak attempt to distinguish between someone who is almost certainly not going to offend again and someone who is extremely unlikely to offend again.

At Free Range Kids, commenter SKL says:
I think that even if someone has made a mistake in the past, it is probably still better on a macro basis to have that person active in the community. Policies that make people hide in their homes and take their kids out of activities are not better IMO. Kids who are most at risk should be out in the community where they can see how normal people behave, they can talk to someone if they need to, and others can notice if something isn’t right. When you look at the cases of kids most failed by adults, these kids have been isolated and thus denied help. Policies that isolate families are generally bad. [My emphasis.]
A blanket policy for background checks can isolate a family. When someone has spent years or decades overcoming a troubled past, digging it up again in a background check can do great harm. We risk children learning about a parent's past crimes before children are able to understand what that means.

A background check will tell us about someone's crimes but it will say nothing about how his or her life has turned around.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

assessment of danger may depend on level of outrage

Researchers looked at this fact...
In the United States today, leaving children unsupervised is grounds for moral outrage and can lead to criminal charges.
...and decided to learn why people blame parents for putting their children in danger even when the risk of danger is objectively very low.

Why are people outraged when they see--or read about--a parent who leaves a child unattended even when the child is in no danger?
The odds that a child will be abducted by a stranger — one of the fears that motivates constant supervision — are tiny in comparison with the odds that a child will be injured in a car accident. Yet parents aren't under investigation for choosing to drive their kids to school. 
So here's another possibility. It's not that risks to children have increased, provoking an increase in moral outrage when children are left unattended. Instead, it could be that moral attitudes toward parenting have changed, such that leaving children unsupervised is now judged morally wrong. And because it's judged morally wrong, people overestimate the risk. 
This may seem to get things the wrong way around, but it's supported by new research available Monday in the open access journal Collabra. In a series of clever experiments, authors Ashley Thomas, Kyle Stanford and Barbara Sarnecka find evidence that shifting people's moral attitudes toward a parent influences the perceived risk to that parent's unattended child.
In essence, the more immoral people think the parent was in leaving the child alone, the greater the perception of risk for the child.
...would you feel differently about this risk if the circumstances were otherwise the same, but the parents had left the child unattended by accident, or to go to work? In other words, would decreasing the moral outrage one feels toward the parents decrease the perception of risk to the child? 
To get at this question experimentally, Thomas and her collaborators created a series of vignettes in which a parent left a child unattended for some period of time, and participants indicated the risk of harm to the child during that period. For example, in one vignette, a 10-month-old was left alone for 15 minutes, asleep in the car in a cool, underground parking garage. In another vignette, an 8-year-old was left for an hour at a Starbucks, one block away from her parent's location 
To experimentally manipulate participants' moral attitude toward the parent, the experimenters varied the reason the child was left unattended across a set of six experiments with over 1,300 online participants. In some cases, the child was left alone unintentionally (for example, in one case, a mother is hit by a car and knocked unconscious after buckling her child into her car seat, thereby leaving the child unattended in the car seat). In other cases, the child was left unattended so the parent could go to work, do some volunteering, relax or meet a lover. 
Not surprisingly, the parent's reason for leaving a child unattended affected participants' judgments of whether the parent had done something immoral: Ratings were over 3 on a 10-point scale even when the child was left unattended unintentionally, but they skyrocketed to nearly 8 when the parent left to meet a lover. [My emphasis.]
If people let their moral disapproval raise perceived risk beyond the actual risk--the child could be kidnapped!, even when kidnappings-by-stranger are exceptionally rare--imagine how unrealistic their risk assessments of sex offenders must be.

By far, registered citizens are non-violent offenders and--again--by far, will not commit another sex offense. Yet, a list of those offenders is maintained at great expense and communities are warned about sex offenders among them as if their presence puts everyone at risk of sexual assault.

The very existence of the registry encourages outrage toward all who are listed there.

The danger is very low and yet the moral disapproval of registrants leads people to exaggerate the danger. No matter the variation in crimes and levels of seriousness, all sex offenders are seen as dangerous.

Outrageously dangerous.

The registry has increased the opportunity to be outraged about sex offenders as the number of registrable offenses has grown. In some states, labeling public urination as a sex offense has taken what used to be risible and turned it into something deserving of public shame. Instead of telling funny stories (or singing a song!) about a young man streaking across a football field, a young man committed suicide because he faced a life of public shaming on the registry after his arrest for streaking.

Think of that. We are seeing moral outrage aimed at people who committed "crimes" that used to be hijinks. Those hijinks landed them on a list--a list that is used to gin up outrage. Labeling someone as a sex offender opens them up to out-sized moral outrage by people who see only the label.

The moral outrage is greater than some of the crimes deserve and the perception of danger grows right along with the outrage.

Just as moral outrage towards parents has increased, so has the moral outrage toward sex offenders. Just as the danger of leaving a child out of sight has been exaggerated, so has the danger of being near a registered sex offender.

The only way to cool down the unwarranted outrage--and the accompanying exaggeration of danger-- is to abolish the registry altogether.

Monday, August 8, 2016

porn addiction can lead to an interest in child pornography

Fight The New Drug tells the story of a teen in Mustang OK arrested on child pornography charges after cops found a large collection in his home. The article includes good information about the effects of addiction to pornography.
For some consistent porn viewers, after a while, “regular” porn just doesn’t do it for them anymore. Just like any other drug or behavioral addiction like gambling, research has shown that porn is a behavior that escalates. And for some people, porn use can eventually evolve into a curiosity or an appetite for violent porn or child pornography.
Someone who looks at child porn may have had a longtime interest in legal porn. The fact that he has looked at child porn does not mean that his sexual interest has changed from an interest in adults to an interest in children anymore than looking at gay porn means the viewer is now gay or looking at straight porn makes gays straight.
Every day, children are filmed while they’re sexually abused and the content is then distributed worldwide. It’s a booming underground industry that continues to grow year after year.
Driving child porn underground may seem like the best idea for something we wish were not available at all but if we care about the children in the images who have been abused, we should be making it more possible to see those images, to keep the evidence of those crimes visible. Abusers count on their crimes going undiscovered and that is no way to put an end to the abuse.

We cannot let our distaste--our horror--of those images stand in the way of stopping the abuse.
While some child-porn viewers can be classified with a diagnosable disorder of pedophilia, others find themselves attracted to children after years of legal porn use.
Attracted to children or drawn to illegal images of children? The distinction is important and usually ignored.
Not only is child pornography damaging to the viewer, it creates a demand and when there is a demand there will always be a supplier ready to make money off of it.
There may be some sites that charge fees but most child porn available through the Internet is free.
Child porn viewers do not appear out of thin air, they develop with a history of “regular” pornography use. Porn use is a slippery slope to ideas and behavior that negatively affect the individual and our society as a whole.
Fight the New Drug is a non-profit whose mission is... raise awareness on the harmful effects of pornography through creative mediums.
Their website is full of information about the effects of pornography. It is worth spending some time there.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

legislators cause crime

My heading is only slightly tongue-in-cheek because the sex offender registry does lead directly to crimes like this.
A man charged with using a hammer to attack a registered sex offender in Anchorage last month now faces additional charges for assaulting two other men listed on the public sex-offender registry.
According to a recent bail memorandum, Jason Vukovich, a self-styled "avenging angel" according to one of the victims, carried a notebook with a list of names, including Charles Albee, Andres Barbosa and Wesley Demarest. Over five days in June, he entered the homes of the three men, uninvited, and hit them, sometimes with his fists and sometimes with a hammer. He also stole from them, said the bail memorandum signed by assistant district attorney Patrick McKay. 
Vukovich told police that he targeted his victims based on their listings on Alaska's sex-offender registry, the memo says. The online registry includes their home addresses, employer addresses and convictions. 
A question for legislators who worked to put the registry in place: How do you feel about assaults aided by your handiwork?

Sunday, July 10, 2016

NCMEC: now 851,870 registered sex offenders in U.S.

We now have 851,870 registered sex offenders in the United States and its territories, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, NCMEC. See this map for state-by-state information.

California has the largest number of registrants at 103,534. That's what happens when all sex offenders in the state must register for life: only the dead drop off the list. That is, if we can believe that the list is up to date and names are cleared near the time of death.

Texas has the next-highest number of registrants at 87,189 and Florida follows at 68,845.

Those three states are the most populous, so maybe those large numbers make sense. However, if those numbers make sense, how can New York, only half a million short of Florida's total population, have less than a third of Florida's registrants?

What's wrong with Florida? Why does the Sunshine State convict its citizens of sex crimes at the rate of 340 per 100,000 Floridians but New York maintains decorum with only 150 per 100,000?

Even California--the land of nuts and flakes and Hollywood where we all expect crazy stuff to happen--convicts at the rate of only 240 per 100,000.

Does it make sense that Arkansas (515/100,000) or Delaware (503/100,000) has that many more people committing sex crimes? Is there something that makes sex crimes much less likely in Connecticut (149/100,000) or in Oklahoma (160/100,000)?

Oregon is shocking. Quiet Oregon--where tree-huggers occur naturally, like rain--convicts for sex offenses at the rate of 713 per 100,000. What the heck are those lumberjacks and fishermen up to out there on the west coast?

People are people. The laws, though, differ far more than human nature does.

If Americans are supposed to be able to use the registry to decide who the dangerous people are, this map may help them understand that they have been sold snake oil. Cures all ailments! Protects children! Except, no, it does not. Sex crimes still happen though they are committed by people not on the registry.

If the registry were necessary because sex offenders reoffend so frequently, at some point its growth would slow down because the new crimes would be committed by someone already on the list. That is not happening.

New first-time offenders all the time but the laws do not recognize this reality.

Watching the registrant across the street means missing the sex offenses committed by someone not on the registry.

Preventing registrants from living near a school does nothing to prevent first-time offenders from committing sexual assaults inside the school.

If we could advertise how many people are on state registries, who would visit Oregon, knowing that the state has the highest rate of sex offense arrests? Perhaps then, state legislatures would begin to look at the kinds of crimes and the number of crimes that require someone to register.

851,870 registrants, unlikely to commit another sex crime, yet likely to be looked at with suspicion.

It is past time to abolish the registry.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

legislating can be easy; legislating wisely requires more thought

Rachel Marshall, a public defender in Oakland CA, talks about how awful sex offender laws are
... many of my clients would choose to take on more jail time, more fees — anything to avoid being labeled a sex offender for life. That's because our current sex offender registration laws apply an unbending and inhumane one-size-fits-all approach that does not prevent future sex crimes and in fact makes us all less safe.
Imagine. Anything to avoid registration. We have so much evidence to show the registry does not prevent sex crimes or increase community safety that it is next to impossible to understand why registration is still required of anyone.

Registration sounds simple enough. All you have to do is to make sure the registry lists your current address. Marshall explains:
Registering itself is a cumbersome process. Oakland Police Department's current voicemail message for sex registration-related inquiries states that in order to register, one must make an appointment at least a month in advance. It is hard to understand how one can be expected to register within five days of changing addresses if an appointment takes a month to set up. 
And even if one secures an appointment, he must often wait many hours at the police station — jeopardizing any job he was lucky enough to find — to be seen for the appointment. And when the appointment begins, there are rarely interpreters around or people to assist with reading the technical language. So even if you are, like many of my clients — homeless, mentally ill, and too poor to own a phone — you are nonetheless expected to either call a police station or show up in person, make an appointment over 30 days in advance, wait for hours at the police station on your appointment day (hardly a comfortable place for most of us, let alone someone with a criminal record), read and understand legal jargon on lengthy documents, and continue to do so every few weeks for the rest of your life. 
The rest of your life can include getting old, which presents added difficulties that the law does not accommodate.
...I've had clients who continue to get arrested regularly for failing to register simply because they cannot remember to do it as frequently as they are required to and end up back in prison, where their health continues to deteriorate.
Our prisons are already overcrowded and overburdened by sick and elderly inmates, yet sex offender laws are set up to increase the number of sick and elderly inmates.

But public safety! Surely keeping an eye on convicted sex offenders makes our neighborhoods safer! Sadly, no. Emphatically, no.
Supporters of sex registration laws claim they promote public safety by ensuring that police can track offenders' whereabouts and keep them away from children. But no evidence supports the premise that public safety is thereby enhanced in any way; to the contrary, registration laws frequently lead to homelessness, instability, and more time in prison, all of which lead to a greater risk of future crimes. [My emphasis.]
If tracking these particular offenders is important, why write laws that lead so many to homelessness, a circumstance that makes tracking even more difficult?

Some jurisdictions have additional laws in place to prevent RSOs from living too near places that lawmakers imagine would lead them to re-offend. Such fevered imaginings crowd out any logic.
In Miami, Florida, local residency restrictions are so harsh — prohibiting sex offenders from living with 2,500 feet of any place children are likely to gather — they have rendered sex offenders homeless; because of the requirements, offenders have nowhere to live, other than remote, isolated places, like under a bridge or on train tracks. This doesn't exactly provide the support and stability research shows they need to avoid future sex offenses.
Again and again, we see that the registry gets in the way of employment, of housing, of a decent recovery from breaking the law.
Being deemed a sex offender for life carries with it other unwritten penalties. Not only is it infinitely more difficult to get a job or a place to live once one has been labeled a sex offender, but many mental health programs and drug or alcohol rehabilitation programs have policies banning sex offenders. Again, this lack of support and services only furthers the chances that these individuals will end up committing future crimes.
'Future crimes' rarely means sex crimes. Even faced with the difficulties caused by registration, registered sex offenders are still unlikely to commit another sex crime. When the registry shows a registrant who has more than one offense, remember that 'failure to register' can be categorized as a sex crime.

A registrant listed as having been convicted of three offenses on three different dates will certainly look like a dangerous neighbor (he just won't stop!) unless you know that the first offense was actually consensual sex with his younger girlfriend and the second and third offenses were failure to register.

Reading the whole thing will help you see why Marshall's clients would rather be incarcerated than to be on the registry.

To tempt you to read it all, I will tell you that Marshall discusses the Brock Turner case. You know the one. She says:
... the fury over the Brock Turner case has created a risk that we shift toward harsher penalties for sex offenses, without looking closely at what kinds of crimes are included in that category. We must avoid "one-size-fits-all" labels for those convicted of a broad range of offenses.
At a time when we are seeing the beginnings of bipartisan progress toward sentence reform that will reduce our incarceration rate and break up fewer families, do not let your legislators glom onto the emotional appeal of community safety or protecting the children in order to pass sex offender laws. Demand that they use evidence or data to back up proposed legislation.

As complicated and difficult as the registry is now, there is always the possibility that legislators can make it worse.

Do you know how to contact your state legislator?