Monday, December 17, 2012

needed: moral courage in legislators

I saw one of our state senators the other day. Didn't talk to him but thought about him pushing for our state to do what it needs to do to become fully compliant with the Adam Walsh Act. He's one of those who votes for the sex offender registry, thinking of it as "tough on crime." I know him; he's a nice guy. Before my husband got in trouble, I don't think I gave any thought to how this state senator felt about sex offenders.

I want to ask him what it is about my husband that frightens him so much. My husband looked at some mild child pornography, that's true, but I want the senator to tell me why he is so sure that my husband is dangerous. He must be sure or he wouldn't have voted the way he did, to treat all sex offenders that way. His vote helped decide how my husband would be treated.

There is absolutely no evidence that my husband is a danger to anyone. Not to adults, not to children. He has never touched children inappropriately and there is no evidence that he ever would. None. His counselors agree. And yet, the legislature has decided--though they knew and still know nothing about my husband--to treat him as if he is dangerous. Because there is no evidence that he's dangerous, they are merely pretending that he is. How else to describe what they are doing?

They, along with Congressmen and Senators, have decided to pretend all sex offenders are equally dangerous. Sex offenders have to register so that the curious public can identify them. My husband has to let law enforcement search him--his residence, his car, his computer, his papers--whenever they want to do that, with no warrant. That also means that law enforcement can search my residence and belongings anytime they want to. I haven't even looked at child porn and I get treated as if I had been convicted too.

Knowing one thing about my husband--he looked at child porn--is not enough to know my husband; it is, however, enough to send him to prison for years. The prosecutor knows as well as I do that my husband is not dangerous or he would have charged him with something else.

Hypothetical: A man commits armed robbery; he didn't fire his weapon and no one was injured. At the trial, the prosecution brings forth witnesses that talk about how awful it was when they were caught in the middle of a different armed robbery where people were shot and killed by the robbers. This, of course, has nothing to do with the armed robbery our man did, and this kind of witness would not be allowed. It makes no sense to convict someone for something he might have done--had he been a different person, in a different place, at a different time.

Yet this is the way sex offenders are treated. They are punished because someone else victimized children, and maybe not even the children in the images pertinent to the case before the court. My husband's  pre-sentence report included a "victim impact statement," even though no victims were identified. The victim impact statement talks about how victims of child pornography feel victimized all over again when someone views the images of them.

No one knows if the teens in the videos found on my husband's computer feel victimized or not. We know nothing about the teens in the videos. We don't know if they hated making the videos or not. We know nothing about them.

We can make guesses about the circumstances of these teens but since when do we use guesses when convicting people of crimes? What we know for absolute certain, though, is that my husband never touched these kids. If there were any doubt about that, the prosecution would have been certain to use that information.

So, Congressmen and Senators, how do you justify sending my husband away for four years because he looked at child pornography? Is it because you are just so sure looking at those images is wrong? Of course it's wrong! I haven't found anyone who argues otherwise and that includes my husband. There are legal adult pornography images that are just as wrong, just as immoral to look at.

Oh, I can feel some readers, itching to shout at me, "Supply and demand!" There is an argument that eliminating the demand for child porn will eliminate the supply, decreasing the incidence of child abuse. Has that happened yet? The numbers of people incarcerated for looking at child porn has grown immensely over the last twenty years. Has that diminished the supply of child porn? The answer is clear: Cutting down on the demand has not affected the supply of child porn images, not even a little. To continue to act as if it does is foolish. And cruel.

Pretending that putting my husband in prison will help--in any way--the children who were abused for the sake of making child pornography, is a cruel delusion. It doesn't help. If it did, we'd have seen results by now. Facts should count.

The truth is that it is easy for legislators to increase the punishment for sex offenders because there are so few who will defend the offenders. That doesn't make it right and using such shallow reasons to increase the punishment is immoral, just as looking at child porn is immoral.

We need legislators with the courage to confront facts and the courage to act on those facts.

Updated December 18: Changed "victim statement" to "victim impact statement." I'm sure my posts reveal pretty clearly that I write in a hurry. This post bugs me a bit because, while I am thinking mostly about child porn offenders, my references to "sex offenders" are vague. Instead of rewriting, I'm trusting that you can sort it out. It is true that sex offenders are treated as if they are all the same. And it is true that removing the judge's ability to use his or her own discretion when sentencing leaves all the power with the prosecutor.

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