Wednesday, July 1, 2015

love and hope redeem

Something we must remember: We have no reason to be ashamed of the sex offenders in our families.

Some of them have done things they ought to be and probably are ashamed of doing. Repentance and atonement can alleviate that shame but harsh sentences that include a lifetime on the public shaming registry make it difficult for offenders ever to feel that relief.

Other offenders have done nothing that should result in cruel public shaming. I'm thinking of a young man who had sex with a fifteen-year-old girl when he was seventeen. When a mandated reporter heard that the young woman had had sex with a young man, he called law enforcement. The young man is awaiting sentencing on multiple felony charges, one of which is rape. His unwise but natural choice about sex--a choice made by countless others--should not leave him shadowed by shame for years to come.

Families of sex offenders have nothing to be ashamed of. Carrying love and hope in our hearts for troubled friends and family members is good. Could we be wrong in thinking that the offender deserves all the love and hope we offer? Of course, just we can be wrong offering our love to those who aren't sex offenders.

When family members carry the burden of shame for someone else's crimes and misdeeds, it is difficult for them to reach out for the help they may need desperately. When family members are treated as if they are supposed to carry that shame, the family suffers in cruel isolation.

I urge families and friends to stand tall and remember they did nothing to deserve the public shaming that comes with sex offenses. Do not let the imposed shame stop you from asking for the help you need. Tell your story and ask for help.

Shake off those who want you to feel shame for what someone else did. Shake off their certainty that you deserve what you are getting. Tell your story and ask for support.

Give someone the chance to do the right thing. Give them the information they need to understand what is the right thing. Remind them that they can do good by loving and hoping. Tell your story and ask them to stand with you.

Your story is different from the offender's story. Your story doesn't include wrongdoing. I hope it doesn't include the painful remorse and self-loathing so often part of the offender's struggle to return to society.

You have chosen to love someone who is or has been in terrible trouble.

Tell your story.

Registered citizens reoffend only rarely, even when love and hope are withheld. Even when housing is difficult to find, even when employment is elusive, even when families have abandoned them...yes, even then the rate of reoffense remains low. Sex offenders can be redeemed.
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Love and hope redeem. Pile it on.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

driving public policy with personal grief

Reacting to events that happened to SOME as if those events happened to ALL is what has driven sex offender policy. News spreads instantly, details are broadcast endlessly. We are encouraged to react with the same outrage those close to terrible events must feel.

As unthinkably horrible as what happened to Megan Kanka, Adam Walsh, and Jacob Wetterling was, it was a bad idea to look at those individual events and write laws in reaction to them. Those laws would not have stopped the bad things from happening to those children--or to other children--but those laws continue to ruin lives and wreck families all across the country. And most of the laws wrecking lives and families are for crimes not even close to what happened to Megan, Adam, and Jacob.

So...Charleston. Maybe the guy shouldn't have had a gun...but let's not write gun laws as if we can stop the next awful shooting from happening. We won't. Maybe the guy hated black people...but let's not decide policy as if we can control what happens in people's hearts and minds. We can't.

Let's not leverage the grief of the affected community to further our own political aims.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

knee-jerk response serves our sense of outrage, not victims

When people think of children who are victims of sex abuse, imaginations run wild and thoughts turn to the horrific stories we've heard. Criminal actions that are labeled sex abuse cover a wide range, though. Not all sex abuse--no matter how wrong--leaves the victims damaged for life.

Most child sex abuse is perpetrated by a family member or by a trusted friend or acquaintance, circumstances that must surely complicate family situations.

We often assume that the victims share the revulsion we feel toward the perpetrator but some victims know that the abuser is more than an abuser. Not all victims want the perpetrators to be removed from the family. Getting the abuse to stop would be enough.

If a child understands that exposing Dad's criminal behavior will result in Dad being removed from the family for years, the victim may be less likely to ask for help. If a child understands that telling someone about what happens at home will break up the family, the victim may be more likely to keep the dirty secret.

Not every victim, not every family, not every instance of child sex abuse is like this, of course, but we ought not ignore those victims who feel different from how we expect them to feel.
We don’t support or acknowledge victims grappling with shame, confusion, love for the perpetrator and guilt. We don’t want to view this through the eyes of children who are afraid they will break up their families if they take action to make the abuse to stop. 
We don’t want to accept the real human actors and emotions that accompany these situations; we seem only capable of labeling them as inhuman crimes committed by inhumane people. 
That label can also stick to the victim, a monumental injustice. When Grandpa is on the registry for abusing a child and when his crimes were already the subject of salacious news coverage, there is very little protection for the child who would rather not be known forever as Grandpa's victim.
Society has created an expectation that once someone has committed a sex offense he or she should be hated, but this attitude leaves little room for victims to come forward. 
Sometimes, a victim’s experience is, “I want the abuse to stop, I want the abuser to be accountable for his actions, but I care for this person, and I’m afraid people will try to make me hate him.”
Outrage on behalf of the victims can steamroll right over the child's needs. Authorities whose job it is to protect the child sometimes do not know the best course, no matter how sure they are. How can they, if they ignore the child's response to the situation?
Victims of sexual abuse need us to make room for their emotions, even when they include love, concern or confusion about the offender. Until we do, we are contributing to an environment that unintentionally silences them. 
Our outrage does not offer support to the many thousands of victims who love the person who has harmed them and simply want the abuse to stop.
Removing the abuser from the family may be necessary. Instead of knee-jerk reactions, though, careful consideration is due before destroying a family to protect a child--a child who needs that family.

Friday, May 29, 2015

producing child pornography; you'll be surprised how easy it is

A lower court threw out charges of child porn production against a 17-year-old Michigan boy who downloaded child porn. Circuit Court Judge Mark Trusock reinstated those charges.

The kid did not photograph or record sexual images of children so how did the judge decide that the kid should be charged with production?

The judge bought the prosecution's argument that...
...because [the boy] moved the images from his screen delivered by an Internet server onto his hard drive, he was guilty of producing child porn.
Think what that means.

It means that by reading this blog post--which downloads it to your hard drive--you have produced it.

This blogger begs to differ.

The rest of the story is that the boy is also in trouble for making violent threats against people at his school. For the sake of argument, let's say that the kid was making actual plans to hurt people at his school.

His sentence for actual threats of physical violence against people within his reach could possibly be shorter than his sentence for downloading illegal images if he spends any time on the sex offender registry.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

sentencing for violent offenders is key to easing prison overcrowding

Legislators everywhere are wrestling with the problem of prison overcrowding. How to reduce our astoundingly high prison population without risking public safety?
Today, nearly everyone acknowledges that our criminal justice system needs fixing, and politicians across the spectrum call for reducing prison sentences for low-level drug crimes and other nonviolent offenses. But this consensus glosses over the real challenges to ending mass incarceration. Even if we released everyone imprisoned for drugs tomorrow, the United States would still have 1.7 million people behind bars, and an incarceration rate four times that of many Western European nations.
Lighter sentences for non-violent offenders will not be enough to make the difference we need. We need to look at how we punish those convicted of violent crimes. 
We could cut sentences for violent crimes by half in most instances without significantly undermining deterrence or increasing the threat of repeat offending. Studies have found that longer sentences do not have appreciably greater deterrent effects; many serious crimes are committed by people under the influence of alcohol or drugs, who are not necessarily thinking of the consequences of their actions, and certainly are not affected by the difference between a 15-year and a 30-year sentence.
Legislators have unnecessarily burdened our judges by eliminating their ability to judge.
...as a result of mandatory sentencing laws, judges often cannot make reasonable distinctions between drug kingpins and street-corner pawns. We ought to empower judges to recognize the difference, and to reduce punishment for run-of-the-mill offenders...
For sex offenders and their families, here is the meat and potatoes of this opinion piece:
Recidivism is also a serious obstacle to reform. Two-thirds of released prisoners are rearrested within three years, and half are reincarcerated. But many of the returns to prison are for conduct that violates technical parole requirements, but does not harm others. And much of the problem is that the scale and cost of prison construction have left limited resources for rehabilitation, making it difficult for offenders to find the employment that is necessary to staying straight. So we need to lock up fewer people on the front end as well as enhance reintegration and reduce collateral consequences that impede rehabilitation on the back end. [My emphasis.]
Sex offenders are not mentioned at all but, for those who study sex offender issues, the absence is big and loud. Sex offenders have an exceptionally low recidivism rate. Those who do return to prison are far more likely to return because of a parole violation that does not harm others.

An honest examination of prison overcrowding will acknowledge this.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

polygraphs serve law enforcement, not therapy

Registered sex offenders on parole, probation, or supervised release are regularly subjected to polygraph testing.
Under Pennsylvania law, polygraph results are not admissible at trial because of their unreliability. 
Despite that, the tests are now being used by probation officers across the state to supervise sex offenders.
“It’s really the gold standard,” said Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Jill E. Rangos, who presides over sex offender court. “It is the most accurate way to gauge if treatment is working.”
"Accurate" is an odd word to use when talking about polygraphs. "Treatment" is an odd word to use when talking about probation officers supervising sex offenders.
The tests, advocates say, are designed to help guide an offender’s treatment, to ensure that the offender is following the rules of probation and to reduce recidivism.
Well, no. If there is one thing polygraphs are not meant to do, it is to guide treatment plans. That is what the therapist does. Why therapists don't rise up in protest at having their skills second-guessed by electrodes in the hands of law enforcement, I do not know, unless it is that having a steady stream of paying clients fed to them is more attractive than ethical treatment.

Using polygraphs to reduce recidivism is particularly bizarre. The recidivism rate of sex offenders is already extremely low. 
David Gentile, a psychologist and approved treatment provider in sex offender court, said the polygraph examinations hold defendants accountable for their behavior while on probation. 
As an approved treatment provider, Gentile benefits from the stream of clients mandated to engage in therapy.
Jane Campbell Moriarty, a law professor at Duquesne University, said allowing the use of polygraph evidence in some court proceedings but not in others is illogical.  
“I would disagree with any court letting it in for any reason.”  ...
She is critical of polygraph exams, primarily because they are so subjective, and there are not yet any scientifically accepted methods and standards for administration. 
Among her concerns, Ms. Moriarty has asked examiners if others who administer polygraph tests could interpret their results, and the answer she’s received is no.   
They have come into accepted use in probation cases, she said, because, “I think we’re just terrified of sexual offenders. 
Fear of sex offenders is driven by the sex offender registry. If there were no registry and its label, we would be talking about specific offenders and their specific offenses. Rape, not sex offenders. Public urination, not sex offenders. Sexting teenagers, not sex offenders. Without the registry, we would not be terrified of sex offenders.
“It seems inappropriate to me that their liberties should be taken away because of a test that we find neither sufficiently valid nor reliable to be used at trial,” Ms. Moriarty said. 
Polygraphs are clearly unreliable. Polygraphs are clearly not about therapy. Polygraphs used to monitor sex offenders are clearly about taking away their liberties.

It is appalling that treatment providers allow law enforcement to use them as snitches and enforcers instead of providing effective therapy--uncoupled from law enforcement--for those who need it.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

happy mother's day

It is not easy to handle all the day-to-day business when so much energy goes toward dealing with grief and fear.

It is not easy to wonder who knows our story and how they feel about it.

It is not easy to look and feel like a normal family.

Happy Mother's Day to those doing double duty on the outside while they wait for their partner to come home.