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.

1 comment:

oncefallendotcom said...

We've been here before, and we will endure. This will blow over and we'll continue our work as we've done since the last time a lead player got caught up in some stuff.