Right. I'm about to do the frug on some very thin ice here, so let me just spell out a few things right off the bat.
1. I do not support or condone anyone that sexually assaults a child.
2. I am not in any way suggesting that convicted sex offenders should not be punished for what they did.
3. I believe that extra caution and taking steps to protect children from being assaulted is a good thing.
Okay. We have that out of the way? Let's dance.
I've kind of touched upon this subject before, in a post I wrote critiquing the MSNBC "To Catch a Predator." I'm of the opinion that the big bugaboo in America right now (aside from those eeevil terrorists, of course) are sexual "predators." There is a lot of media attention being paid right now to pedophiles, in particular. From MSNBC to Mark Foley, molestation is getting a lot of air time.
So, my clock alarm goes off yesterday morning; I have it set to news radio. The story at that moment was reporting that the Illinois Attorney General had issued a press release suggesting that parents go to the Illinois Sex Offender Registry website to look up convicted sex offenders in their area, and plan a safe trick-or-treating route. I also saw, in googling for this press release, that Illinois isn't the only state making this suggestion. In fact, in Maryland, sex offenders are being ordered to keep off their porch lights on Halloween, and are not allowed to decorate their homes. Similar orders are being handed out in other states.
Now... on one hand, I think this is intelligent. By showing a little forethought, and advocating parental responsibility, they are hoping to prevent children from being exposed to possible risk.
On the other hand, I have a few problems with this.
A little background: A guy I work with recently went out on a date. The guy he dated is a cop, and one of his duties is to go "undercover." Basically, he does a plainclothes patrol in "cruisy areas;" namely, a public place where men go for anonymous sex. He'll hang around in this area, and if some slob flashes him, he's immediately arrested and taken in. Men that are caught in this manner having consensual sex (in other words, not flashing the cop, but caught by the cop) are also arrested. Now, my issues with this go a little further; the whole thing smacks of entrapment to me, but my big problem is this: when Flashy is convicted, he's convicted as a sex offender. And who does he get lumped in with? Child molesters.
Now, it could of course be argued that anyone that would flash someone in public needs to be kept away from children, and on one level, I agree. However, I would also argue that some, if not most of these men haven't the slightest interest in any sort of sexual act with a child. But now that they have been registered as a sex offender, they are cemented with that stigma, permanently. And if a concerned parent finds this person on the R.S.O. (I'm getting really tired of typing registered sex offender) website, they will immediately assume that this person is a child molester, when they may in fact just be a closeted, horny guy. So, because he got a little desperate, went to a cruisy area, saw this really hot, buff guy and assumed he was there for the same reason... he's going to be thought of as a pedophile by his neighborhood. The R.S.O. website does not describe the crime of the convicted person. Therefore, because people are looking at the website specifically for people that have sexually assaulted children, and because of the current mindset in this country that sexual offenders are all pedophiles, and the fear of assault that's been whipped up with all the media coverage, the conclusion will always be drawn that anyone on the site is a child molester.
Again, I'm not saying this might be someone you would want giving your kid a tootsie roll, but I'm also concerned about people being slapped with a stigma that they don't necessarily deserve.
Which brings me to my second point. When you're encouraging every parent to search for sexual predators in their neighborhoods, there is always the possibility of "witch hunt" mentality. Now, when I was told that the men mentioned above were being labeled as R.S.O., I was pretty surprised. I always assumed that conviction was for the more severe and heinous sexual crimes; rape, pedophilia, etc. In this case, a crime that seemed to me to be pretty benign was being lumped in with the lowest of the low. What if a neighborhood's citizens got together and decided to run one of these guys out of town? Or worse?
I'll throw in another bit. Statutory rapists are also listed as registered sex offenders. So, an 18-year-old guy that gets caught having consensual sex with his 17-year-old girlfriend (or whatever ages would be appropriate for a particular state's consent laws) would also be lumped in with (and most likely thought of as) the pedophiles. When non-consensual and consensual sexual crimes are, according to the state, equal, sending people to keep tabs on the R.S.O.s in their area could lead to some bad situations.
Again, I'm not saying that statutory rape is fine and dandy.
I'm all for keeping children safe. I'm all for working to eliminate possibilities of children being exposed to the risk of sexual assault. However, I also feel that the nature of sexual crimes have to be defined a little more accurately when people are listed as registered sex offenders. I don't think it's really fair to label someone a pedophile, when they're really just a "pervert."
(Post title taken from one of my favorite Kids in the Hall sketches. The fabulously creepy "Boogeyman" painting was done by Michael Whelan. Thanks to Shakes. These are the cross-posts I know, I know... )