Sunday, December 11, 2016

pulling misused images of a child off the Internet

How would you react if you learned that pictures of your kids were available on child porn websites? Most of us would be desperate to stop the abuse, desperate to find out who the abuser is, and desperate to pull those photos from the Internet.

Here is the story of a mother chasing down photos of her daughter, photos that were not pornographic. The little girl was photographed with Hillary Clinton and Clinton opponents turned the photo into a meme that included statements the mother didn't want associated with her daughter. The mother fought back against what she saw as offensive use of her daughter's image.
...more than a year later — the day after Clinton lost the election and as Jones was processing her own grief over the loss — their treasured photo was turned into something sinister. Someone had taken the photo, originally uploaded to the Clinton campaign Flickr page, and turned it into a meme that was then shared thousands of times across social media. 
Bold white type across the top of the image read, “I AM FOR WOMEN’S RIGHTS!” Then halfway down, text covering the lower half of Sullivan’s body accused Clinton of accepting money and refugees from countries “that would mutilate this girl’s genitals, marry her to a Muslim pedophile, and stone her to death if she doesn’t wear a bedsheet.”
The message turned the little girl's picture into something ugly and by the time her mother realized how it had been used, much time had passed.
...she searched for the photo online and found thousands of blogs and feeds on Instagram and Pinterest and Facebook that shared the image. She believed what she’d always been told: Once something is on the Internet, it’s there forever.
“I felt like I failed her,” Jones said. “As a mother, your job is to protect and fix things, and I wasn’t able to fix it. I’ve never felt so low in my life with this image being out there that I had no control over.”
Parents who learn that a pornographic image of their child is available on the Internet surely feel a similar helplessness.
She traced one photo to a Facebook page, “Men for Donald Trump,” which has more than 200,000 followers. She implored them to take it down. At first they resisted, but after dozens of her friends bombarded them with messages, they obliged. It was a victory, but a small one. That was only one site. There were countless more. Was it even possible to go to each one and make the same request?
If a parent tried to search out pornographic images of his or her child, the parent would be committing the crime of downloading child pornography.
Several days later, she posted about it on Pantsuit Nation, the Facebook group of more than 3 million that started as a secret pro-Clinton page and has morphed into a massive online community where people share stories and seek support. Jones asked if they could help her report the image one-by-one. 
Imagine asking millions of people to help you find images of your child on child porn websites. How quickly do you think law enforcement would be at your door?
Soon messages poured into her inbox offering help. This person knew someone at Pinterest who could help; another had a contact at the Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Then she got a message from Shaun Kozolchyk, the San Francisco director of development for the Anti-Defamation League. 
“I am a mother of my own two daughters. I was so horrified and deeply affected by that post and knew the work we do at ADL could be a space that could be helpful,” Kozolchyk said. 
She contacted a colleague who works on cyber-hate response issues, who immediately verified that the Clinton campaign held the copyright to that photo. Any unauthorized use of it was against the law. The ADL sent a take-down notice to the originating sites and, soon after, it disappeared from the Internet.
What a relief that must be--a relief that parents of children in child porn images will not feel. After a child porn user is arrested, the child porn images are still available. When child porn sites are discovered, law enforcement may not shut it down immediately, allowing users to continue downloading images.
“When I got all this response from all these people from all over the country, it’s going to sound cheesy, but it felt like this giant blue blanket of love wrapped over me, and I didn’t feel alone anymore,” Jones said. “There were so many people, who said, ‘we got you.’” 
But what happened next gives Jones reason to believe her fight had a wider cause. When she shared again on Pantsuit Nation what the ADL had been able to do, others started coming forward saying their child’s image had been used in a meme. They just didn’t think there was anything they could do about it.
This mom is spreading hope to other parents who want to fight back against those who misuse images of their children. Parents who want to do the same with pornographic images of their child are out of luck. No hope for them.

Child porn laws prevent parents from stopping the dissemination of images of their children. The images, which may be the only evidence of child sex abuse crimes, are driven underground, making it harder to find them and harder to identify who created the images. Children who are abused for porn production are left with no protection, no giant blue blanket of love, no one who says we got you.

The laws concentrate on punishing those who would use child porn; the lawmakers ignore the dangerous consequences of driving the images underground.

Which is more offensive? The knowledge that someone is using the images for sexual gratification or the knowledge that someone is abusing a child?

What awful helplessness is caused by well-meaning laws.


Related, a post from October 2013: when embarrassing pictures go viral

Friday, November 25, 2016

what's the harm in a background check?

A church runs background checks on all volunteers who have anything to do with children in an effort to protect the kids. Everyone does it. Liability issues, you know.

Seems reasonable, you say.

Is it?

Children are in no greater danger at church than any other place. Going to church in a car is the most dangerous part of going to church and we accept that danger without blinking.

But, you say, by keeping sex offenders away from children, a background check will prevent sexual abuse.

Does it?

Arrests for sexual abuse of a child are nearly always a first-time arrest, not of someone on the sex offender registry and not of someone who would be caught in a background check. Background checks do not identify those who are abusing children; background checks identify those who stopped abusing children.

There are good reasons to use background checks but eliminating sex offenders from the volunteer pool is not one of them. The assumption that registered sex offenders are a clear and present danger to children is not correct.

But, you say, background checks are harmless.

Are they?

When you use background checks to eliminate registered sex offenders from your world for reasons that do not stand up to scrutiny, you are perpetuating untruths about sex offenders.

You encourage others to think sex offenders are acceptable targets:
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.
You encourage prosecutors to use the registry to force an outcome:
An Iowa prosecutor is threatening to bring a sexual exploitation charge against a teenage girl who sent two photos of herself to a high school classmate, even though the pictures contain no nudity, according to a lawsuit filed Wednesday. 
Marion County Attorney Ed Bull has said the teenager could have to register as a sex offender if a juvenile court judge found her delinquent for sending the Snapchat photos, according to the lawsuit.... 
As recently as Sept. 20, Bull has threatened through a lawyer to prosecute the teenager in juvenile court unless she participates in a diversion program that was completed by other students who were caught in the investigation. The program includes a class about the dangers of sexting, community service, restrictions on the teenager's cellphone and computer use, and a written admission of guilt, according to the lawsuit.
 You encourage people to think that sex offenders are forever dangerous:
A Palm Beach County court petition filed Aug. 31 claims Jack Ehrhart, a hospice patient with end-stage Alzheimer's disease, has been threatened with arrest if he does not move out of Heartland of Boynton Beach, a nursing home near a local preschool. 
The City of Boynton Beach purportedly issued a notice to Ehrhart and the hospice accusing them of violating an ordinance that prohibits sex offenders from living within 2,500 feet of a school, daycare center or playground.
When you act as if a registered sex offender is a monster, people around you may think you are right, even if you are not. That is how someone thinks it is acceptable to indulge in vigilante actions against registrants and that is how three men in Alaska came to be attacked.

When you act as if registration is a fine way to separate good people from the bad, people around you may think you are right, even if you are not. That is how prosecutors get the power to use the registry as a lever against people seen as immoral, and that is how an Iowa teen ends up fighting criminal charges when she did nothing criminal.

When you act as if registered citizens are dangerous no matter how long they have been living a law-abiding life, people around you may think you are right, even if you are not. That is how the 2500 foot residence restrictions and presence restrictions came about, and that is why an elderly Florida man is being kicked out of hospice care.

Yes, when you say you will protect children in your care by taking measures that will not protect children, there is a connection between you and those who misuse the registry.

Friday, November 18, 2016

private prisons vs. government-run prisons

Writing at the California Political Review, Katie Modisitt shows us that a focus on private prison problems is too narrow.
In mid-August, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that it would start phasing out its contracts with companies that run private prisons in light of disturbing reports of poor medical care, overcrowding and other abuses in their facilities. Although the issue has taken center stage in the debate over mass incarceration, it overshadows and distracts from the actual problem: the prison-industrial complex, which affects government-run prisons in a much more troubling way, and for many more inmates.
Government-run prisons are not inherently better than private prisons. 
Government-run, public prisons operate off the same perverse and monetary incentives to lock up human beings, but do so for more inmates and with much more at stake. ...
We don’t even have to leave California to get a glimpse of the perverse incentives at work in filling government prisons. The California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA) represents approximately 30,000 California prison guards and parole officers. The union wields tremendous power over criminal justice policy, much more than private prison companies, and for nearly 20 times the inmates. While we are worried about private companies’ profit incentive to increase prison populations, shouldn’t we be infuriated about an organization that has job security, salaries and political influence hanging in the balance?
 Political influence.
Over the last 20 years, the CCPOA has contributed over $24 million to lobbying efforts and candidates. For comparison, GEO Group, a leading private prison company criticized for their role in increasing prison populations, spent only $5 million over the same time period. 
And, the activities of the CCPOA are aimed squarely on tougher sentencing laws, therefore preserving the prison-industrial complex that allows them to exist. The union, for example, spent over $100,000 to implement the original Three Strikes Law. More recently, it spent $1 million to defeat Proposition 5, which would have reduced sentences for nonviolent crimes, shifting the focus to rehabilitation for nonviolent drug offenders.
Rehabilitation for inmates who have to be there is one thing. Keeping them incarcerated for longer than necessary is another and yet that is what the correctional officers' union wanted.

Yes, private prisons can be bad. Not because they are private but because they are prisons.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

calling inmates something other than 'offenders'

The Washington Department of Corrections wants to stop using the word 'offender' when referring to those who are incarcerated.
Acting Corrections Secretary Dick Morgan told agency employees in a memo Tuesday the word will be replaced in policies and programs with terms such as “individuals,” “students” or “patients” depending on the circumstances.

And he encouraged corrections officers to call those serving time by their names and “practice replacing or removing the word ‘offenders’ from your communication and presentations to others.”

“Unfortunately, what starts as a technical term, used to generically describe the people in our care, becomes and is enforced as a stereotype,” he wrote. “As a stereotype, ‘offender’ is a label that impacts more than the person to whom it is applied.

“This label has now been so broadly used that it is not uncommon to see it used to describe others such as ‘offender families’ and ‘offender employers or services,’ ” he wrote.
His decision comes amid a national conversation among correction officials on how the use of certain terms can make it difficult for a person to reintegrate in society upon completing their prison term.

U.S. Assistant Attorney General Karol Mason announced in May the federal Office of Justice Programs would no longer refer to released prisoners as “felon” or “convict.” Instead, terms like “person who committed a crime” or “individual who was incarcerated” would be used. ...
“Rather than use a term that could be offensive or could lead to a stereotype, let’s use a term that can point to a different future for that person who is working to rehabilitate,” Barclay said. “Ninety-five percent of these individuals will be people living next to other people in the community.” [My emphasis.]
A freshening breeze! Let's not label people in a way that will feed stereotypes that make their lives more difficult at a time when we should be encouraging them to improve their circumstances.

And then the hammer comes down.
The term won’t disappear completely as registered sex offenders will still be identified in that manner. 
“That won’t change. They will be known as a registered sex offender,” Barclay said. “That is codified in law.”
He is right. State and federal laws apply the sex offender label. Even if prisons are able to stop using the term, those convicted of sex offenses will face the cold wind of reality on the outside.

Sex offenders will also be living in the community, trying to become a productive member of society again. The language in sex offender laws works against them.

That is the way labels work.

What do victim advocates think of this change in wording?
Marge Fairweather is executive director of the Everett-based Victim Support Services. Founded in 1975, the nonprofit is the oldest victim advocacy agency in the state.

She takes exception to language in the memo in which the corrections secretary used the term “people in our care” to describe inmates.

“Are they really in your care or are they in your custody?” she said. “It seems they are trying to soften the impact of what the individual has done.”
Trying to soften the impact? She ignores the impact incarceration itself has, no matter which words are used. Being separated from loved ones is the punishment.

And yes, inmates are people in our care. When someone is removed from the community and any chance to care for him or herself, they are in our care. The fact of being incarcerated does not mean it is moral to treat inmates poorly.
To Fairweather, they are still serving time for an offense they have committed. That makes them offenders while they are in the prison system.

“At the end of the day, they have victimized someone and they have offended someone’s rights,” Fairweather said. “Why not call it what it is?”
What it is?

Here is what it is: Most inmates will return to the community. Do you want them to come back having had no encouragement that they can change? Treating them--and referring to them--as human beings is encouraging them.

Instead of sending an inmate back to family and employers as someone constantly reminded of something he surely cannot forget, let's send him back as someone who was constantly reminded that he is a person, capable of bettering himself.

Saying that he is in our care will not erase his memory.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

ideas from inmates on improving prisons

Everyone has ideas about what prisons should be like. Some want them to be tougher -- no TVs, hard labor, solitary confinement with no books. Hang 'em high. Others want more programs, more education. No death penalty.

What do inmates want? They live there; they ought to have some ideas about how to improve prisons.

And so they do. Five Texas inmates produced a report about their ideas.

They include thoughtful ideas like this one:
Notification of family deaths should be made uniform. Death notices should be verifiable. P olicy should be written to require the person notifying an inmate of a death to sign and date the form and also have the inmate being notified sign and date the form. If for some reason security has to do the death notice, they should be required to fill out this paperwork as well. If the responsible party fails to notify the inmate of the death, they should be held administratively responsible with proper administrative disciplinary action taken.
Good idea. Delivering the news of a death in the family should always be treated with care and sensitivity. If prison employees bungle that task, they should face consequences.

More:
DCJ should encourage chaplains and re-entry departments to coordinate with churches in various communities to welcome inmates into their congregations as part of the reintegration process. This would encourage inmates to surround themselves with positive influences and not return to a life of crime or the criminal environment. 
Some kind of hotline should be made available for inmates' loved ones to file complaints about unit chaplains. Repeated complaints should result in administrative disciplinary action against the chaplain. This would serve as an incentive for the chaplain to maintain professional behavior that will most likely influence rehabilitation among the inmate population and therefore reduce recidivism.
Reducing the chance for re-offending is a thread that runs throughout the 65-page report. Inmates know what will help them stay out of trouble; we should listen to their ideas.

Reducing the burden on the families of inmates is another theme. Families send money to inmates so they can purchase goods to make them more comfortable. Limited commissary selections drive inmates to the black market, costing families (and taxpayers) more.
Commissary is one of the most cherished privileges inmates have. Approximately 40% of TDCJ's population is indigent, yet they still benefit from commissary, either by friends who provide them with things or as payment for some kind of 'hustle,' such as artwork. Most prison chow halls serve food that is poorly prepared, that tastes bad, and that most of the inmates do not want to eat. Commissary provides the ability to buy alternative foods to supplement or replace prison chow.

Unfortunately, commissary also preserves the black market because of its limited selection. For example, since the prison commissaries do not sell any kind of chlorinated powder, such as Tide or Ajax as they used to, inmates turn to the black market and buy stolen bleach and powder detergent from people who work in the laundry. Likewise, commissary will not sell food seasonings such as onion powder, garlic, dehydrated onions and bell peppers, etc, so inmates buy these stolen goods from the kitchen. As a result, the stolen goods do not get put into the general population's laundry or food, and negative behavior (theft and the purchase of stolen goods) continues among the prison population. Another factor to consider is that these goods are stolen at the expense of the taxpayer. ...
TDCJ commissaries should sale [sic] goods that are regularly stolen from unit kitchens and laundry departments. DCJ recently stopped selling a decent powder detergent called Heritage, and immediately black market sales for laundry detergent and bleach increased in the inmate population.
...inmates overwhelmingly agree that if fruits and vegetables were sold in commissary, they would buy them regularly. DCJ will object that inmates would make wine if fruit were sold in commissary. However; inmates make wine without fruit by using fruit juice, mint sticks, raisins stolen from the kitchen, and other black-market items procured in prison. Trying to eliminate the exceptional activities of a few by prohibiting healthy items for all serves no purpose. The wine is still being made! Raw or pre-packaged vegetables and fresh fruit--not the fruit saturated in sugary syrup--should be sold in commissary. Inmates would buy apples, oranges, onions, salads, pre-packaged sandwiches (similar to vending machines), etc., by the sack load if they were available. [My emphasis.]
Prisons work against their own interests when they prohibit commonly used goods. Prohibition has little effect on the availability of those goods; it only changes the market where inmates can buy them. It also creates opportunity for inmates to break the rules. If buying fruit were allowed, inmates would no longer risk additional punishment for buying fruit.

Families of inmates will nod as they read the report. They will see that these five inmates know how families are affected by prison policies and how inmates in general want to lead good lives.

The full report is worth reading.

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.
Hmm.

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...
...to 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?

Monday, July 4, 2016

complicated grief and ambiguous loss

A friend sent me a link to the June 23 episode of the NPR program, On Being. Krista Tippett interviewed Pauline Boss, who wrote Ambiguous Loss: Learning to Live with Unresolved Grief.

Boss uses "ambiguous loss" to refer to the loss of people we lose without being able to say "They are gone." Families of Alzheimer's patients, for example, or families of soldiers missing in action mourn the loss of someone before the person is gone or without knowing if that person is gone.

Because of a natural disaster like a tsunami or because of an event like 9/11, people mourn the loss of someone who is dead--but without a body to identify.

Krista Tippett called it that trauma of people not being able to say goodbye, not being able to bury their dead.

From the interview:
MS. TIPPETT: One thing that you say is that the kind of grief that's involved in ambiguous loss is distinct from traditional grief. So how is it different? 
DR. BOSS: Yes. Well, with ambiguous loss, there's really no possibility of closure. ...
Not even, in fact, resolution, whichever word you prefer to use. And therefore, it ends up looking like what the psychiatrists now call “complicated grief.” 
MS. TIPPETT: Right. 
DR. BOSS: And that is, in fact, a diagnosis, complicated grief. And it's believed that it requires some kind of psychiatric intervention. My point is very different, that ambiguous loss is a complicated loss, which causes, therefore, complicated grief, but it is not pathological. Individually, that is. It's not a pathological psyche; it's a pathological situation. And as clients frequently say back to me, “Oh, you mean the situation is crazy, not me,” that's what exactly what I mean. 
It's an illogical, chaotic, unbelievably painful situation that these people go through who have missing loved ones, either physically or psychologically. And if they have some symptoms of grief that carry on, let's say even for five or ten years, if it's a caregiver of an Alzheimer's patient or the parent of a missing child, there is nothing wrong with them. That is typical. That is to be expected, that they would grieve along the way for the various things that they are missing. For example, if a child is kidnapped, they may have an extra grief when this child's friends are graduating. 
Complicated grief. Families of inmates will recognize this. How to mourn the  absence of someone when people around you will not talk about him?

If you know someone who has a family member in prison, recognize that what you see in them could be complicated grief.
DR. BOSS: And in order to understand this, though, we have to make a difference between depression and sadness. 
MS. TIPPETT: Right, right. To say that sadness is not depression. 
DR. BOSS: And so far, that hasn't been made. [laughs] 
MS. TIPPETT: Right. 
DR. BOSS: Yes. Depression is an illness that requires a medical intervention. It's the minority of people who have depression. And yet, with the ambiguous loss of let's say Alzheimer's disease and 50-some other dementias, caregivers are said to be depressed. Most of the caregivers I have met and studied and treated are not depressed; they're sad. They're grieving. And this should be normalized. And sadness is treated with human connection. 
MS. TIPPETT: Mm. So, one of the things that you say — and this makes so much sense, but it's the kind of thing that makes sense — we have to say it — that people can't cope with the problem until they know what the problem is. 
DR. BOSS: Yes. 
MS. TIPPETT: You've said with ambiguous loss that once people have a name for it, just that... 
DR. BOSS: That helps. 
MS. TIPPETT: ...that the stress level goes down a bit.
Like those who lose loved ones to  illness, accident, or age, those who lose someone to prison will appreciate a friend who recognizes that their lives have been turned upside down, that they are experiencing a complicated grief.

Let them grieve. Keep them company.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

open letter season on Brock Turner

The story of the sexual assault at Stanford has generated one news story after another and innumerable Facebook rants. The story, with a perpetrator who was an athlete almost certainly headed to the Olympics and a victim who wrote a heartwrenching letter to her attacker, easily draws an audience.

We have seen not only the statement the victim addressed to Brock Turner and the letter from his dad to the judge and the letter from an old friend to the judge but we have seen open letters to Brock's dad from another dad, to Brock's dad from a pastor, to the victim from the Vice President, to Brock's mom from a blogger, to Brock's dad from Bust.com...the list goes on and on.

The open-letter-writers, all vying for the title of Most Meaningful, are much the same: Brock committed a terrible crime, the parents either raised him wrong or need to teach him better lessons now, how dare he blame his crime on booze, and the victim is terribly, terribly brave. The number of people who feel compelled to tell the world how they feel about this particular assault is truly astonishing.

The attack on her is unfathomable...but aren't they all? Do any sexual assaults seem rational to you?

This is not the only--and certainly not the worst--sexual assault that has happened nor is it the only unjust sentence handed down. What happens in less publicized cases?

What happens to a victim who does not receive the outpouring of support this woman has received? What happens to a victim who feels worse when the press and Facebook insist on detailing and rehashing her particular trauma? What happens when a victim hears again and again that she will never recover from sexual assault?

What happens to defendants whose dads don't care enough to write to the judge, whose family cannot afford to pay for a good attorney or who are assigned an already-overloaded public defender?

The emotional shouters and open letter-writers have convinced the world that Brock Turner is the worst kind of rapist even though he was not convicted of rape.

When we let a victim statement or public outrage on behalf of the victim influence a sentence or lead to recalling a judge, we do an injustice to victims who are less articulate or whose attacks fail to draw public notice. We do not arrive at justice when punishment is meted out according to the amount of public outrage generated by the press.

But, you cry, this six-month sentence was egregious! Surely the world can see that, in this particular case, something must be done!

Here is a question for you: Is your yearning for justice confined to cases with sympathetic victims? Are you just as outraged when false allegations of sexual assault are made? When the accused says, "I didn't do it," do you assume he (or she) is lying? Do you assume that accusations mean certain guilt?

Brock Turner's six-month sentence got a lot of people riled up. Who gets riled up when someone is wrongly convicted and sentenced to years or decades in prison?

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Nevada about to blunder forward with a wrong-headed law

To comply with the federal Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act, Nevada will be adding hundreds of names to the sex offender registry, starting July 1.

Not only will hundreds of names be added but the method of categorizing offenders will change. Currently, each offender is assessed to determine the risk of reoffense and categorized accordingly. Those in Tier 1 have been assessed as low risk and do not appear on the online registry.

Now, all sex offenders will be on the website.
Under the new law, tier levels are based on a conviction and age of the victim.
There will be no attempt to look at each offender to determine how likely it is that he will reoffend.
Because the law is retroactive to 1956, many offenders already deemed by a judge to be no threat to the community will have to register and have their names, photos and addresses available for public scrutiny.
Retroactive to 1956! Sixty years ago. Long enough to prove risk of reoffense by not reoffending. How much clearer can it be?

People who have lived law-abiding lives for decades will now be exposed on the registry. Families will need to explain crimes committed ages ago, long before children and grandchildren were born.

Registered sex offenders will lose jobs, lose housing, and almost certainly lose relationships because of the changes to the registry.

The interest of public safety is better served by making it  more possible for RSOs to have a place to live, a job, and community support--not by passing laws that make it less possible.
Under the old system, 1,923 were considered Tier 1, or low-risk offenders. That number declines to 1,646 under the new assessment. Tier 1 offenders are required to register for 15 years and appear annually in person at a local law enforcement agency to update and verify their information. 
The number of Tier 2 offenders goes from 2,648 to 1,790. They must report every six months for 25 years. 
Tier 3 offenders jump to 3,014 from 239 under the old classification system, and are required to report in person every 90 days.
Nevada will go from having 239 on the high risk tier to over twelve times as many on the highest tier. Not because the 2775 people added to the highest tier are more dangerous than they used to be, remember, but because categorization no longer takes into account anything about them except their crimes.
Critics argue the law does not take into consideration the age of the offender or circumstances. A bill to try to fix some of the problems was passed by the 2015 Legislature but vetoed by Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval because it also eliminated a requirement that certain offenders stay at least 500 feet away from schools, parks and other places frequented by children.
When a legislature starts down the path toward bad law, it seems they can only make it worse.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Dear Amy: rethink your advice to sad grandma

A recent Dear Amy advice column was a heartbreaker. A sad grandmother wrote:
My son and daughter-in-law are separated. My son is in county jail awaiting sentencing. 
His wife has moved on and is in a relationship with someone else. She is currently living a great distance from us. There is a child. I love this child dearly, but now cannot see her due to the distance (and other considerations) 
The mom has served my son with papers for full custody. I am so sad. How do I deal with my profound disappointment at not having this child in my life? 
Amy's advice was good, though incomplete.
Dear Sad: Given that your son is in jail, the mother should have full custody of the child, and as the child’s grandparents, you should embrace whatever living situation is best for the girl.  
I do not know enough about the situation to know if the mother should have full custody or not. Being in prison is no reason to assume that the dad should lose legal custody, though. Plenty of people in prison were good parents before they went to prison, will be good parents when they are released, and will try their best to be good parents while in prison.
You don’t mention having any relationship with the child’s mother, but you should make a heroic effort to stay in touch with her. Tell the mother that you respect her choice and that you all want whatever is best for your grandchild. Ask her to email photos and videos from time to time and do your best to be supportive, long-distance grandparents to this child.
This is excellent. The mother, even if she has "moved on", surely needs loving support. Having a spouse in prison is incredibly stressful, even after choosing to leave the marriage. Leaving the marriage is one thing, leaving the father of your child is quite another. He will always be her father.
The child’s mother has an ethical obligation to try to honor your relationship with her child, but she has no legal obligation to do so. Given the extreme circumstances, she may blame you for some of your son’s choices. If your son’s crime is a violent one, then divorcing him and moving away might be best. You need to own and understand this, and always hold this child in your heart — even if she isn’t in your daily life.
Ah...extreme circumstances. Yes, families have a difficult time when someone goes to prison. The muck of blame and shame is stirred up and it takes time before love and forgiveness rises to the top.

The granddaughter has lost her dad, though, and Amy's advice misses a big opportunity to suggest a way to help the little girl. She will need to know that she has not been forgotten by those she loved before her life was turned inside out and that includes her dad.
The grandparents and the mother should be encouraged to make every effort to take the little girl to visit her dad. It may be an especially difficult task for the mother, since she is now in another relationship, but good mothers will recognize that the child needs her father. The whole family needs to remember this. The child needs her father. Perhaps the grandparents can take the granddaughter to visit him. I hope the grandparents will visit their son as often as their circumstances will allow.

It is easy to think that it is best for the child to move on as the mother did but it isn't that easy. Kids interpret events differently from adults. Adults can use logic and experience to understand. Children don't have the experience that helps to make sense of what happened, though that does not mean they stop trying to find an explanation. If they are not given one that makes sense, they will create their own. It can take years for kids to finally understand what happened and what role they played, if any.

Kids might blame themselves for what happened. They might understand the crime incorrectly and think it was worse than what really happened. Having heard all their short lives that they are just like their dad, they might think they will end up in prison, too. There is no way to predict their understanding; cutting off the relationship with the father cuts short the child's chance to work things out.

No matter what the father did, he is still the child's father. No matter what the father did, he can still be a good father--or a better father--when he is released.

The dad in prison, barring an exceptionally long sentence, will be released at some point. He will benefit from family relationships that have been nurtured while he was away. Support from family and friends, along with employment and a place to live, are essential for a former inmate who wants to be successful on the outside.

Acting as if it is acceptable to separate children from parents in prison can do great damage to the child we think we are protecting.

Monday, May 2, 2016

must an inmate confess to a casual correspondent?

Former Subway spokesman Jared Fogle responded to a letter from a woman he used to know and she released his letter to the press. The press, in turn, asked a sex therapist to comment on it.
Indianapolis sex therapist Carol Juergensen Sheets says the letter shows Jared still has a long road to go. 
“He hasn’t figured out what he needs to do to get healthy,” said Sheets.“From that letter, he’s minimizing, and sex addicts or people that have sexual compulsivity tend to minimize, justify, and defend themselves, and that’s what I see in the letter. He’s obviously a man who hasn’t had enough recovery yet to be 100 percent responsible for his behavior.”
Perhaps the therapy community exchanges stories about their famous clients; I don't know. Without that kind of professional gossip,though, Sheets has no way to know anything about Fogle's story except for what the press told the rest of us. If she has ever evaluated him professionally, commenting on his state of mind is an ethical breach.

Her analysis of his letter means nothing. Fogle wrote a letter to a casual acquaintance who took the trouble of figuring out how to correspond with him. Who could blame him for wanting to leave a good impression with her?

Is Sheets under the impression that Fogle is receiving sex offender treatment in prison? While his facility offers an SOTP, (sex offender treatment program) inmates generally don't begin that program until they are near their release date. It would be extremely unusual for someone to be in SOTP after only nine months.

As for Fogle's "recovery time" prison is no place for recovery. Prison is a place to recover from.

Most important, Fogel does not owe his casual acquaintances a confession, let alone the rest of us.

Remember that name, Indianapolis: Carol Juergensen Sheets.

Might be wise to avoid a therapist who advertises her services by getting her name in articles about famous people.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

how does this distressing news affect our fight?

Known for his work on behalf of registered sex offenders, Galen Baughman is in trouble. Again.

At 19, Baughman went to prison for 6 1/2 years on charges that he had had sex with an underage boy.
After he completed his prison sentence, Baughman said, the state of Virginia refused to let him out. Instead, he was kept behind bars for more than two additional years because prosecutors believed he might fit the profile of a sexually violent predator. That meant Baughman could be held against his will under what’s known as “civil commitment,” a form of long-term psychiatric treatment that in practice amounts to indefinite detention. (Civil commitment is legal at the federal level and in 20 states. According to the New York Times, roughly 5,000 people convicted of sex crimes are now being held under civil commitment laws around the country.)  
 Baughman became a leader in the cause of reforming civil commitment laws.
About two months ago, Baughman’s work was abruptly interrupted when he found out that his probation officer suspected him of violating the terms of his release. There were allegations that Baughman had exchanged inappropriate text messages with a 16-year-old boy. On March 3, Baughman was ordered to hand over his cellphone and his laptop. A month later, a bench warrant was issued for his arrest.  
This news is rippling through the sex offender advocacy community. Reaction from fellow advocates and registrants run the gamut from sadness to anger.

How to explain that the likeable guy with a story easily understood as unfair might be having trouble staying on the straight and narrow? His sypmathetic story helped many people understand why the registry was so damaging.

The anti-registry world likes to use sympathetic victims to show why the laws need to change.
But injustices aren’t any less unjust when they happen to unsympathetic people. If you believe it’s wrong to make it almost impossible for sex offenders to find places to live; if you believe it’s deranged that people who have served their prison sentences can be “civilly committed” for years under the banner of treatment; if you believe it’s immoral to let a label like “sex offender” follow someone around for his entire life because of something he did when he was a child—if you believe all that, it shouldn’t make a difference what Galen Baughman did or did not do. Insofar as the United States treats sex offenders with shameful cruelty, it treats them all that way, including the ones who are hard to feel sorry for.  [My emphasis.]
Roger Lancaster, the George Mason anthropologist, believes reform movements would be better off if they leaned less heavily on “perfect victims.” As he sees it, the tactic of using individual stories to build support for reforms originated with tough-on-crime politicians and victims’ rights advocates in the 1980s and 1990s. Back then, Lancaster explained in an email, law-and-order conservatives frequently used tragic and memorable cases, like the murder of Megan Kanka, to promote harsh punishment for convicted criminals. Lancaster wrote:
[T]he poster child strategy orchestrated collective rage and emotionalism and fostered the passage of expansive punitive laws. Now some have more recently tried to turn this strategy against itself, presenting victims of police violence, mass incarceration, sex offender registries, and other forms of state hyper-punishment as injured innocents, icons of unnecessary suffering. Upon viewing these posters, we are to emote and empathize rather than to think. I suppose the mold is set: American moderns are really neo-Victorians who need wholly innocent victims and wholly wicked perpetrators. I’m skeptical that we can turn the logic of the poster child …  against itself this way. We should argue instead from facts, evidence, logic, and serious scholarship.
Perfect victims can lead their champions down treacherous paths, particularly when they turn out to not be perfect. Given how few people are willing to step forward and become a face of this particular movement, Baughman’s interest in going public made him a consequential figure in the fight to reform America’s sex offender laws. That fight will survive Baughman’s alleged probation violation, but his arrest will inevitably distract from the ideas he was trying to spread.
It is disappointing to learn that Baughman, who delivered such a charming, persuasive TED Talk about sex offender laws, did something that--at the very least--looked as if he intended to reoffend. According to what has been reported, he has not been accused of another sex offense.

Disappointment, anger, sadness...all natural reactions when someone lets us down. We must remind ourselves, though, that those are emotional reactions. We should instead focus on the facts.

The fact is that only a tiny percentage of registered citizens reoffend, even when a highly visible RSO is among them.

The fact is that being on the registry does not prevent someone who wants to do wrong from doing what he is restricted from doing.

The fact is that being able to see who is on the registry does not stop parents thinking that their kids are safe with people we should be able to trust--teachers, pastors, family friends, relatives.

The registry protects no one and it damages hundreds of thousands of families. We can argue for abolishing it even when well-known advocates disappoint us.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

thinking about Dennis Hastert and his curious sentence

Dennis Hastert, former Speaker of the House, was sentenced today to 15 months in federal prison for structuring bank withdrawals so as to sidestep reporting requirements. It isn't illegal to withdraw cash in amounts less than $10,000 but it is illegal to do that in order to keep from being noticed by the feds.

Hastert was making the withdrawals so he could pay a man $3.5 million. He paid $1.7 million before the federal investigation into his withdrawals put a stop to the payments.

Why did he owe $3.5 million? When he was a high school wrestling coach, Hastert molested a boy and, several years ago, Hastert agreed to pay him that amount.

Jacob Sullum, at Reason.com, questions why the government does not see the $3.5 million as blackmail.
...Hastert was paying Individual A, who ultimately received $1.7 million of the promised $3.5 million, to keep their encounter a secret, fearing that other victims would come forward once Individual A made the incident public. Individual A's receipt of hush money certainly seems to meet the terms of the federal blackmail statute. Although it is understandable that federal investigators decided not to pursue that charge once they became convinced that Individual A's claim of abuse was true, it is disingenuous to pretend Hastert was not blackmailed.
In a weird twist, the victim is suing Hastert for the remaining $1.8 million.

The financial investigation uncovered the abuse but the statute of limitations prevents bringing sexual abuse charges against him. Sexually abusing students--sexually abusing anyone--is despicable, of course, but it is worth remembering that the judge was sentencing him for financial wrongdoing, not for sex crimes.

Federal District Court Judge Thomas M. Durkin sentenced him to fifteen months instead of the probation suggested by the defense or the five years requested by the prosecution.
Mr. Hastert... was ordered to pay $250,000 in fines, never to contact his victims and to receive sex-offender treatment.
Why sex offender treatment? Ostensibly, sex offender treatment is to help the offender avoid offending again. When there is no evidence that he has reoffended for decades, why sex offender treatment?

Is it possible the judge sees sex offender treatment as a punishment?
“If there’s a public shaming of the defendant because of the conduct he’s engaged in, so be it,” Judge Durkin said.
With that attitude, it seems the judge does see it that way. Many of those registered citizens who are paying for individual therapy and group therapy at the behest of courts, probation and parole officers--and, for some, at the risk of being sent back to prison if they cannot pay--would agree.

If I seem sympathetic to Hastert, I am not, even though I think his crime does not merit prison time or a $250,000 fine or sex offender treatment. From an article in the National Law Journal:
Hastert’s work on the Adam Walsh Act was “hypocritical and self-serving,” wrote Gail Colletta, the president of the Florida Action Committee, an organization seeking sex registry reform, in a letter filed by the court Tuesday. She asked the judge to impose a sentence longer than the six-month maximum advised by federal guidelines. 
“Hundreds of thousands of individuals and their millions of family members and friends have to live with the draconian punishments he fostered,” Colletta wrote. “These individuals are also the victims of Mr. Hastert’s actions.”
It is not unusual that someone caught up in the criminal justice system receives an unjust sentence. It seems that Hastert may be one of those cases.

I am not happy to see anyone go to prison, especially not a 74-year-old with health issues.

I do hope that Hastert's public humiliation has made him see how wrong he was when he worked to impose that fate on hundreds of thousands of his fellow citizens.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

bad for kids, bad for all: abolish the registry!

Judith Levine and Erica Reimers write about sex offender advocates who use stories about kids on the registry to push for change. Stories about juveniles are often quite sympathetic. Josh Gravens and Zach Anderson are two cases that have drawn much attention to the cause of keeping juveniles off the registry.
...these “new” sex offenders are humanized: attractive, promising, law-abiding heterosexual sons and fathers who made some youthful mistakes and deserve a second chance. ... 
In one way, it makes sense to focus on extricating juvenile sex offenders from the registry. An estimated one-fourth of the people on the public sex offender registries were convicted as juveniles. Fifteen states post the names and photos of offenders who are minors on the online registries. Thirteen of the 20 states that lock up people in indefinite civil commitment—preventive, dubiously therapeutic detention for crimes not yet committed—include people who committed their offenses as juveniles. “The single age with the greatest number of offenders from the perspective of law enforcement was age 14,” according to the U.S. Department of Justice. 
As Raised on the Registry powerfully showed, with little or no intervention these young people are virtually guaranteed not to “reoffend,” mainly because so many of them are penalized for engaging in sex play—things that, even if not always entirely consensual, are common among children and usually without long-lasting harm. 
There is no question that getting some people off the list can be a first step toward getting others off—and a way of chipping away at the policy. 
Anyone who sees the damage caused by the registry celebrates any of the incremental improvements to the lives of registrants.
But there are also significant downsides to campaigns that construct children as exceptional and different from adults. The public may just as easily be left feeling that adults who break the law are bad and deserve all they get—or that guilty people do not deserve fairness or sympathy. This gives legislators a rationale for trading off youth-friendly criminal justice policies for harder adult penalties, as recently happened when New Mexico legalized sexting between teens but increased penalties for people 18 and older sexting with people under 18. Not just adults but some youth can be penalized by the focus on “children.” Call the person who breaks the law a “child,” and there’s a danger that any young person not demonstrably childlike will end up prosecuted as an adult. 
Exclusive focus on the young offender—rather than a rejection of the entire sex offender regime—avoids the larger, less politically popular truth. “Sex offender registries are harmful to kids and to adults,” says Emily Horowitz, associate professor of sociology and criminal justice at St. Francis College in Brooklyn, and a board member of the National Center for Reason & Justice, which works for sensible child-protective policies and against unjust sex laws. “No evidence exists that they prevent sex crimes either by juvenile offenders or adult offenders.” [My emphasis.]
The sex offender registry is a bad idea for anyone. No matter how guilty or how unsympathetic, no offender deserves extra-judicial punishment long after serving the sentence handed down by the court.

Who could quibble about an organization like Center on Youth Registration Reform (CYRR)? Why not work to keep juveniles off the registry? Why not start there?

When focusing on juveniles, it is easy to sacrifice adults with worse crimes as a sop to those who still believe registries offer some benefits to society.
Such a strategy can invite a wider range of supporters, but it also can mean inadvertent acceptance or even endorsement of policies that are antagonist to justice for wider groups, if not for everyone. For instance, CYRR is collaborating with Eli Lehrer, of the free-market think tank R Street; he is also a signatory of the conservative Right on Crime initiative. Flagged on the CYRR site is an article by Lehrer, published this winter in National Affairs, that argues for taking kids off the registry. But the piece also concludes that ending the registries would be “unwise” and suggests they’d be really good with a few “sensible” tweaks. Lehrer also proposes hardening policies—such as “serious” penalties for child pornography possession and the expanded use of civil commitment—that data reveal to be arbitrary or ineffective and many regard as gross violations of constitutional and human rights. 
In a more recent piece in the Daily Caller, as well as testimony before the South Dakota legislature this session, Lehrer repeats how important it is to punish “child molesters” harshly, and while he notes the low recidivism rate for juvenile sex offenders, does not mention that other adults with sex offenses show similarly low rates.
The registry is useless in the cause of public safety. Let's not pretend otherwise.

The registry does lasting harm to families who have a member on the registry and no family deserves that, not even families of someone who committed a crime that draws universal condemnation.

Levine and Reimers write about the argument that putting so many people on the registry makes it easy to lose track of offenders who really ought to be tracked. Some organizations like RSOL, Reform Sex Offender Laws, advocate for a registry available only to law enforcement. Changes like these could free many thousands from the registry but those changes would also abandon some families to the public humiliation of the registry and all its deleterious effects.

Offering to leave anyone on the registry is offering up families to suffer for the cause of the more likeable, more sympathetic offenders. No family deserves the registry. 
Incrementalism, or taking small steps, has often been posited as the pathway to justice–“Wait. We’ll make reforms now and work on the wider problem later.” Incrementalism can work. Reforms are necessary because they improve daily existence for the people inside the system—in court, in juvenile or immigrant detention, in jails and prison. But organizers must constantly calibrate the tension between reform and radical change, and the dangers of reform without a vision of radical change. By cleaning up a fundamentally corrupt institution, reforms risk legitimizing the institution, often just enough to make it politically palatable. As Martin Luther King wrote in his Letter from Birmingham Jail, “Wait almost always means never.”
The registry, in any form, is not palatable. It does nothing to prevent sex abuse and does nothing to improve public safety.

Abolish the registry.


Sunday, April 3, 2016

lessons to be learned from teens charged with child porn felonies

In Bellevue NE, four teens and an adult have been charged with child pornography crimes. The article says the 20-year-old set up "an account online" and then lured a 17-year-old girl to send him sexually explicit photos of herself. The images were then passed around among the four teens.

Definitely nasty behavior, if this is truly what happened. The article gives very few details.

Amie Konwinski, of Smart Girl Style, was interviewed for the story and she has advice for parents.
Konwinski said it's a relatively new story but it's one she's heard before. Konwinski teaches teens and parents about the power of social media. 
"We really need to tell our kids that hey, this is a thing. Predatory sextortion is a possibility, and how easy it is for somebody to create a fake account and ask those girls for those pics," Konwinski said.
Predatory sextortion might be a thing but getting charged with a felony is a thing that might be more likely to happen and will do as much if not more damage to the teens involved. Konwinski ought to be educating teens and their parents about felony charges that can result from what teens see as private behavior.
Konwinski said parents need to have conversations with their children and keep an eye on their social media. She said one way to do this is making sure teens can't download apps without parental permission and to be aware that they may have accounts they don't want the parents to see. 
This is ridiculous advice. Teens using social media for private communication that may include intimate photos--no matter how unwise that is--need to know the dangers involved. They could be arrested, go to prison, and be on the sex offender registry for the rest of their lives.
"Parents need to sit down and say, 'Hey, what's your secret Instagram account?' And see what your kid says. If their eyes get big, you got them there," Konwinski said.
Well, there you go. Now that you know they have a secret account, you got them there. What are you going to do with that information? Parents who do not already know how easily kids can set up accounts without telling Mom and Dad are way behind in the game.

Instead of gotcha questions for teens about secret Instagram accounts, parents must educate kids about how impulsive behavior can be charged as a felony, how easily those crimes can be discovered, and the terrible weight of the punishment that can follow.

Instead of clinging to the belief that child porn always means unspeakable images of toddlers, parents need to tell kids that child porn can include images of teens who are definitely not children. Barring developmental issues, a 17-year-old is not a child.

Instead of teaching them the usual lesson that social media can be used to harm girls, teach them that both boys and girls can be charged with felonies for producing, sending, or receiving images meant only for significant others.

Instead of trying to catch kids at wrong-doing, educate them about how private behavior--exchanging naughty pictures or videos--can land them in serious legal trouble. Tagging kids with a sex offender label will hinder their ability to finish high school, go to college, get a job, raise a family of their own.

Perhaps most important of all, talk to your legislators about how easily kids can be caught up in the criminal justice system and how the laws need to change. Tell them that labeling kids with a label that will affect them for the rest of their lives is a grave injustice that must be righted.

Remember, too, that many families are already living that awful reality. Getting arrested as an adult instead of as a teen does not make the registry a more just punishment.

Tell your legislators that no family deserves to live on the registry. Tell them to abolish the registry.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

when a family member goes to prison, the family serves the sentence, too

On Vox, Dominique Matti writes about how her father's incarceration punished the whole family. She writes beautifully about cruel circumstances.
For every man in a cell missing the birth of his child, there is a woman delivering alone. My uncle took me to my elementary school's father-daughter dance. No one asked why — everyone already knew. While I was grateful for my uncle's attendance, my dad's absence was a much larger presence, a yawning chasm at the core of my childhood. His absence was something we were all trying to accommodate, to build a life around, to cope with.
...his absence remained an elephant in every room we entered. His absence marked us. We had to compensate for it, compartmentalize it, and normalize it. ...
When my father was released, we tried to live like he had never been gone. But it was impossible. His goneness was as integral a piece in our relationship as his presence. ...
Despite the vast number of Americans dealing with it, having a loved one in prison is lonely. I had to deal with the absence of my father alone. My mother dealt with the absence of her co-parent alone. My grandparents dealt with the absence of their son alone. Incarceration has different implications on everyone it affects, and it often feels like no one understands.
There is a stigma attached to having a loved one in prison that makes it difficult to talk about openly. At sleepovers, speaking about it earned me looks of pity from my playmates' parents. At school, kids were amused by the stories. I was a stereotype fulfilling itself, and there was very little genuine empathy for what I was going through. I was confronting the reality that one misstep meant anyone I loved could be taken and locked away in a box for years. I needed understanding. 
Instead I found that many people believe it's our fault for loving the incarcerated — that we deserve the suffering inextricably linked to that love. People think we are foolish or unfortunate.
 And it feels selfish to speak to the person in prison about it. It's hard to fret for yourself when you know the reality an incarcerated person endures each day. I told my father I missed him. I did not tell him I was scared. People on the inside need strength and support, and much of that strength comes from the people on the outside — despite the fact that they need the same. And so the processing of all of the heavy emotions that come with incarceration is largely internal, and largely traumatic; it's largely done alone.
I sat through many callous remarks, many fairy tales about "good guys" and "bad guys," feeling like I was on the wrong side of existence. I was not aligned with the people protected by the system; I was being punished by it. And if I spoke up about its flaws — the traps of race and poverty, the evidence of unjust sentencing, the incentive to take a plea, the industrialization of prisons — I was silenced with nullifiers like, "You do the crime, you do the time." I learned quickly that many people are unwilling to hear about the humanity of prisoners and the people who love them. Human suffering requires confronting — "criminal" suffering does not exist (or, worse, it's justified).
The United States, with 2.2 million people incarcerated, is finally acknowledging the problem of overcrowded prisons. What we have yet to acknowledge is the problem of overcriminalization.

2014 Chicago Tribune editorial talks about how that problem leads directly to deaths like that of Eric Garner, the Chicago man who was killed by police when they arrested him for selling cigarettes:
On the opening day of law school at Yale, I always counsel my first-year students never to support a law they are not willing to kill to enforce. Usually they greet this advice with something between skepticism and puzzlement, until I remind them that the police go armed to enforce the will of the state, and if you resist, they might kill you.
The Chicago police may not have meant to kill Eric Garner but in their zealous attempt to enforce a silly law against selling "loosies", indivdual cigarettes, they did. Without that law, they would not have killed Garner.
The legal scholar Douglas Husak, in his excellent 2009 book "Overcriminalization: The Limits of the Criminal Law," points out that federal law alone includes more than 3,000 crimes, fewer than half of which found in the Federal Criminal Code. The rest are scattered through other statutes. A citizen who wants to abide by the law has no quick and easy way to find out what the law actually is — a violation of the traditional principle that the state cannot punish without fair notice. 
In addition to these statutes, he writes, an astonishing 300,000 or more federal regulations may be enforceable through criminal punishment in the discretion of an administrative agency. Nobody knows the number for sure.
Too many laws make it too easy to put people in prison, to put families into the awful black hole of having a family member in prison. As Ms. Matti makes painfully clear, even when the family member returns home from prison, that black hole remains a presence in the family.
Part of the problem, Husak suggests, is the growing tendency of legislatures — including Congress — to toss in a criminal sanction at the end of countless bills on countless subjects. It's as though making an offense criminal shows how much we care about it. 
The Adam Walsh Act, Jessica's Law, and Megan's Law all came from efforts to show how much legislators care for children. If only those legislators would acknowledge publicly that the laws have done more damage than good to children.

Legislators tend to nod solemnly when they hear how families suffer under those well-meant laws but we need more than sympathetic nods.

We need legislators with backbone, legislators willing to risk their legislative seat on behalf of families in their constituency.

I quoted a great deal of Ms. Matti's piece but please read the whole thing. Read the Tribune editorial, too.

People tend to think that incarceration issues concern only those who have someone in prison. Those of us in that category laugh a little ruefully at that way of thinking because we remember clearly the days when we didn't need to think about incarceration,either.

Overcriminalization increases the odds that your family will be touched, too.