Saturday, February 23, 2013

once again: if it weren't your husband...

Upon hearing about a man convicted on child pornography charges, many women declare that if it were their husband, they know exactly what they would do. They would turn him in themselves, they would hold him at gunpoint, they would hate him forever, they would kick him out of the house, they would damage or remove his testicles, they would abandon him without thinking twice, they would never let him see the children again. He would be so gone.

Perhaps these women know themselves very well and this is exactly what they would do. I will take them at their sometimes bloodthirsty word. 

My favorites, though, are the ones who say they are glad they will never have to worry about their husbands looking at child porn. They are just that sure. For their sake, I hope they are right. I wouldn't wish this on anyone, not even those who think CPS should come take my kids because I didn't leave my husband. 

Those of us who have husbands in trouble for child pornography, well, we were caught off guard. We didn't have time to concoct elaborate plans. And if we had elaborate plans for such an unthinkable day, the unthinkable day trashed our plans. Seeing our husbands in trouble, seeing our husbands facing the worst trouble imaginable--facing unimaginable trouble!--we reacted as if these men truly were our husbands. These were the men we promised to love and cherish. How could we abandon them? These are the men we do love and cherish.

How could we tell our children that the father they love--the father who taught them to ride a bike, who takes them fishing, who reads bedtime stories, who knows how to explain math, who never once touched them inappropriately--is just so much mud to be wiped off their shoes?

Here's the thing: It isn't always your husband who gets caught

What if your brother were going to prison? Would you abandon him? What about your father? Love isn't a garden hose. You cannot simply turn a spigot and stop the love.

What if it were your son? Could you leave your son to deal with the justice system on his own?

It isn't always the husband. Life is funny that way.

Thursday, February 21, 2013


When the ICE agents left the house after they searched it, they left something behind. Fear.

For months after, I wondered if they had bugged our house. I waited until we were out of the house to discuss my husband's case, just in case. I especially disliked saying anything too personal in our bedroom because I felt as if someone were listening. I checked under the kitchen table to see if they had left a bug there. Does this sound crazy? At the time, it made sense to me.

When I left my office for lunch, I contemplated leaving by another door just in case police were waiting to arrest me. I had done nothing wrong but seeing how easily they could crash into our lives and leave wreckage behind, I felt none of us was safe. Does that sound crazy? At the time, it made sense to me.

When I was stopped for speeding, my hands shook as I talked to the police officer. When I pick up my kids at school and I see the police officer who hangs around there, I recoil. Seeing uniformed officers brings all the terror back to me; the anger, too.

Using my computer to type in my journal, I worried that the agents had installed a key logger on my computer and could see what I was typing, read my mind. They had access to all of our computers that morning and could have installed anything on it. Why did they leave mine behind for me? It isn't as if they were nice people. Does that sound crazy? At the time, it made sense to me.

I used to walk the dog early in the morning but stopped doing that. The idea of leaving my family behind in the house without me was frightening. If I were walking the dog, who would protect them against agents who invade the house again? The morning of the search, an agent had sat in his car on our street, watching our house; a neighbor had seen him and talked to him. The agent had watched me pick up the newspaper from my driveway. I still look up and down the street for unfamiliar cars when I get the newspaper.

Locking the doors and closing the blinds is still almost obsessive for me. The fear that someone could come into my house, that someone could even look into my windows is still there.

The agents ran through my house with their guns drawn. To get my husband to talk, they threatened to come back and take our children away.

This, and worse, much worse, happens every day across the country. The vast majority of crimes being investigated when law enforcement executes search warrants this way are for non-violent crimes. I cannot be the only person left with fear whispering in the back of my mind.

Monday, February 18, 2013

child porn sentences now included on FAMM site

Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) has done good work focusing on the problems presented by mandatory minimum sentencing. When I first found FAMM, there was no mention of child pornography charges on their site. Evidently I wasn't the only one asking them to change that: FAMM now has a page about mandatory minimum sentencing for child porn charges.
Penalties for child pornography offenses have skyrocketed in recent years. Congress has increased statutory penalties and issued directives to the U.S. Sentencing Commission to increase the guideline sentences.  The result? In 1997, child pornography offenders received a mean sentence of 20.59 months. In 2010, the mean sentence grew to 118 months. This change represents a 500 percent increase in the mean sentence imposed for this class of offenders in just 14 years. 
The rapid increase in sentence length, driven mostly by Congress and not empirical evidence, has led judges to depart form the guidelines at an increasing rate. Some judges have also expressed concern that not all offenders are equally culpable and therefore do not deserve the harsh one-size-fits-all penalties that usually apply. (My emphasis.) 
Thank you, FAMM, for including families like mine in your cause. 

Update: Changed "child porn charges" to "child porn sentences" in the heading.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

reasonable measure?

Legislators and law enforcement officers must be much like the rest of us and truly want to do what they think is best. That's where the sex offender registry came from: good intentions.

The intention was to protect society from sex offenders who will go on to commit new offenses. After all, there is no need to protect society from sex offenders who won't offend again and little need to protect society from sex offenders who are at little risk to re-offend.

People like to know who the bad guys are so they can avoid them and keep their families away from them. The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) says that makes sense.
“The courts have long held that the requirement that a convicted sex offender register with authorities is not punitive, it is regulatory” said Ernie Allen, president and CEO of NCMEC.  “It is a reasonable measure designed to provide important information to authorities and to help protect the public, particularly children.”
A reasonable measure.

California has had a sex offender registry since 1947. Sixty-five years is a long time. If a registry does protect the public, one would imagine that sex offenses in California must be reduced considerably because the dangerous people are on the registry, preventing new offenses. Yet, after all these years of keeping a registry, California still has new offenders and so many new offenders that California is the state with the highest number of registered sex offenders. California, as of January 2012, had 106,216 registered sex offenders. Who could claim that the registry has protected Californians from sex offenders? Clearly, the registry does not act as a deterrent.

Who are the bad guys? Ninety percent of sex offenses are committed by first-time offenders. A natural conclusion is that the registry is a good place to find a list of people unlikely to commit a sex offense.

If the registry is not a deterrent and does nothing to protect us from the ninety percent of offenders who are not on the registry yet...what good is it? Why are we regulating these people? The courts perhaps protest too much when they deny that the purpose is punitive...which, in turn, makes me question their good intentions.

Monday, February 11, 2013

fail to register; get your picture on the most-wanted wall

The number one most-wanted person (by a particular sheriff) is a man who didn't register as a sex offender. He may have done something bad to be labeled a sex offender; it is hard to say.

It is hard to say because prosecutors have the power to pile on with exaggerated--even false--charges against someone in order to force them to plead guilty to something. Faced with charges that will result in decades-long incarceration, the defendant usually pleads to a lesser charge that means a shorter sentence. So when I see that someone has been charged with something shocking, I tend not to believe everything I read. And since such a small percentage of cases actually go before a jury, the prosecutor never has to prove anything.

Back to the most-wanted list. Let's say this man did something awful to be labeled a sex offender. Is it right that failing to register can put him back in prison with an additional felony on his record? Felonies used to be serious crimes; failure to register amounts to incomplete paperwork.

Should failure to register be considered a serious crime that sends someone to prison? If registering as a sex offender has been shown to prevent an offender from committing new crimes, maybe it should be a serious crime. After all, we want to protect people.

That isn't true, though. The recidivism rate for sex offenders is the lowest of any type of crime except murder. We cannot simply assume that he will go crazy out there with new sexual offenses. If he is the type to do that, will registering prevent him from new offenses? No.

I decided not to link to the sheriff's site because I don't want to help them find and punish someone for something that should not be a crime. Check the most-wanted lists for your own area; I would bet this is not an isolated instance.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

accused and exonerated; a false accusation

Brian Banks was a promising football player dreaming of the NFL when he was accused of kidnapping and rape. He wasn't guilty but was pressured into pleading no contest. He was accused at 16 and incarcerated at 18. Listen to him tell his story to Dick Gordon at The Story (American Public Media).

Justice plays no role in his story. It is too easy to convict an innocent person.

More of his story here and here.

Monday, February 4, 2013

should home buyers be required to disclose their sex offender status to their real estate agent?

From Women Against Registry comes news of a bill proposed in the Missouri state legislature to require home buyers to reveal their status as sex offenders as part of the purchase process.
[This] newly introduced legislation, if enacted would require any registered sex offender who is looking to purchase real estate to disclose their registered status to his or her real estate agent and, in turn, require that the agent disclose the buyer's status to the seller. And then, if the deal goes through, to also notify specified neighboring residents.
A family moving into a new home would meet their new neighbors who know only one thing about them: they are a sex offender's family. Imagine being a child with that introduction to new neighbors...because yes, sex offenders do have families.

The legislation not only puts an additional burden on the home buyer; it would add a distasteful task to the responsibilities of real estate agents. The agents trying to sell a home would hear a sad story that could jeopardize the sale, and then be responsible for passing it on to the neighbors if the purchase goes through.

Do real estate agents really want to turn home sales into a treacherous transaction which includes humiliation of the buyer?

Without buyers, real estate agents need new jobs. We have about 750,000 sex offenders in the United States who buy and sell real estate like the rest of us.

Laws intended to track sex offenders have a funny way of affecting more than the sex offenders.
"It is NOT the responsibility of either the seller or the listing agent to acquire or report information about a potential buyer that is irrelevant to the buyer's legitimate qualifications to legally purchase or lease a home," W.A.R. proponent D. R. Madison concluded. "We oppose any legislation that humiliates, places individuals and families in harm’s way or shames the innocent children involved."

Poor Charlie Davis! He's the Missouri Representative (District 162) who introduced this bill. It must be difficult to think of new laws.

All the good laws are already taken.