I have been speaking to some people whose responses I have found to be interesting enough to pass along to my readers. I will not be using their real names, because they are not relevant to the discussion.
The General Public
The first conversation I would like to address here is with a member of what I would call “the general public”. She does not have any relatives or close friends on the sex offender registry. She was raped violently once, but has since recovered and become stronger for the experience, though more watchful on behalf of her daughters. She does not access the public sex offender registry. She works with someone she knows has committed a violation which places him on the sex offender registry, and she has no problem with working along side of him. They joke and discuss all the normal things you probably discuss with people you work closely with. The one topic they do not discuss is the sex offender registry. They never see each other outside work except incidentally, such as at the store or gas station.
She and I were in the car the other day, and I got curious.
“Betty,” I started hesitantly, “You’ve never researched sex offender re-offense rates, have you?” (I don’t use the correct word, recidivism, with someone who doesn’t have reason to know it. It saves having to explain what the word means, and that it means different things depending on which study you’re looking at. But that’s a discussion for another blog!)
“No,” she replied cautiously. She knows I have a son on the sex offender registry and does not want to offend me.
“I’m curious. What do you think the rate of re-offense with a new sex crime is for people who are listed on the sex offender registry is?”
She hesitated. I quickly reassured her, “Don’t worry, I won’t be offended by whatever you say. I’m just curious what someone who has no stake in this thinks. A general guess will be good enough, 50%, 75%, 90%, 20%, all, very few, none. Just a ballpark figure.”
Betty thought for a minute. Finally she said, “I really don’t have anything to back this up with, but I’d guess about 60%.” She glanced sideways at me. I was wearing a smile. “I’m way high, aren’t I?”
“I was reviewing the Muskie Institute report on recidivism yesterday, and the rate they had figured out was 2.2% in the first three years here in Maine.”
She looked amazed, stunned by the fact that the rate was so very low.
Honestly, I think that she low-balled the estimate, figuring that she must have had the figure wrong if I was asking the question. I did not bring the subject up again, but this conversation has caused her to think. I hope it has also caused others to think.
A Registrant’s Thoughts
The second conversation I’d like to bring up for your consideration is one I had with a young man who used to watch child pornography. Don’t worry, nothing in the conversation is in the least risque or suggestive.
Bob is a 21 year old young man who began watching child pornography in his late teens. He was caught doing so when he turned 18. He is not threatening. He is intelligent. He is a hard worker.
We have had conversations about the sex offender registry and sex offenses in general in the past. He also knows that I have a son on the registry. He knows that I know a lot of the facts about the registry.
We were on our way to the store when this conversation took place.
“I know that a lot of people consider your crime a victimless crime,” I started.
Immediately, he interrupted me. “I don’t! It is non-contact, but what I did is awful. I was talking about this in group (group therapy), and I told them… Well, I realize that I am that “nameless, faceless stranger” and I had no business watching that child being degraded.”
I was impressed that he had identified the problem so clearly.
He went on, in a sadder tone. “I’m really sorry for what I’ve done. I didn’t think too much about it when I did it, but now I wouldn’t do it again for anything. Objectifying anyone is so wrong, and I don’t think I could ever look at any porn again.”
There was more to the conversation, but this is the part that really meant the most. Bob was guilty of what he had been charged with, but I truly believe that he will never recommit the crime. He now has too much empathy for the person at the other end of the process to ever commit an act against them.
The public has an overinflated view of the sex offender recidivism (re-offense) statistics. Most simply don’t ever think about these things. They just assume the press and politicians have been giving them good information, and never think to question it. It’s not really their fault. You can’t question EVERY statistic you see. It does emphasize that we must, if we want the facts to be more widely known, be willing to give the source for our statistics and take every opportunity to spread the truth.
Most who are on the sex offender registry are either innocent of the crime, or it was something that would not have been considered a crime (such as public urination or consensual teen sex) when I was growing up (the 50′s and 60′s), or they are repentant and would not ever do such a thing again.
The questions then come up, “Why do we have such broad laws that could apply to so many? Why do we persecute them when those are the acts we least want to have repeated, and persecution is most likely to cause re-offense?”
I don’t have any objective answers for those questions. Perhaps the legislators felt they were justified in them when they passed them. The registries, and especially the public aspect of it, were passed in the wake of horrible but thankfully very rare tragedies. The emotions were running high, and it is understandable that legislators wanted to assure that those horrors never happened again. Unfortunately, high emotions rarely make for good laws. I recommend A Parallel Universe by Alex Landon and Elaine Halleck, a quick view of which can be found at http://www.meganslawbook.com/ParUnivAdvPraise.html . There are several excellent places to find more information. A recently started blog with many references is http://with-justiceforall.blogspot.com/ and an excellent website can be found at http://www.oncefallen.com/ .
I realize that I have an emotional investment in the removal of the registries. However, I also recognize that the FACTS support this position. I welcome input, even that which opposes my position. I only ask that you keep it civil and rational.