In America, it’s not hard to be a sex offender
nowadays. By current legal definitions, you might be one yourself. Registerable sex offenses can include such behaviors as
urinating in the woods while on the golf course. Having sex in a car. Streaking on campus. Young children playing doctor. Kids as young as 12 pinching or slapping another kid on the butt... Mooning.
American culture in the post-industrial
age has the curious distinction of being one of the most sexually licentious and- at the same time- one of the most puritanical
cultures on earth. Nowhere are these contradictions more evident than in the sex offender laws currently on the books, which
amount to sex hysteria and witch hunting manifest through legislation. It’s what Wilhelm Reich once called the emotional
plague. Stuff like this is not supposed to happen in America.
There is probably no act as loathsome and
degenerate as the sexual abuse of children. Yet, in spite of increased public awareness and efforts by government and law
enforcement to deal with the problem, it seems as if the incidence of sexual abuse continues unabated. It’s no wonder therefore, that you hear so many people say that we need to “get tough” with sex offenders.
We are indeed getting tougher. We are casting
the net wider, and catching more people, but efforts designed to mitigate the problem are destroying many innocent lives.
There are currently about 500,000 registered sex offenders in the United States, many of whom are dangerous predators who
should be locked up or monitored for the rest of their lives. But some are not, and this should concern us as a society. In
many cases, these are young people who don’t deserve go through the rest of their lives bearing the scarlet letter of
shame as punishment for what, in some cases, amounts to nothing more than foolish or vulgar indiscretions. Here are a few
examples from real life. I think you will agree that something is terribly wrong:
A 16-year-old boy had sex with girl who
he thought was 15. It turned out she was 13. When the girl’s parents found out, they reported him to the police. The
boy was arrested and charged with an “aggravated and violent” felony sex offense because of their age difference. There
was neither coercion nor violence- the girl was perfectly willing- but the boy was convicted and designated a “Level
3 Sex Offender” the most serious level. For the rest of his life he must register as a sex offender, just as
if he were a serial killer like John Wayne Gacy or rapist-cannibal, Jeffrey Dahmer. The law makes no distinction. And consider
this: even terrorists, drug dealers, murderers, gangsters don’t have to register after they have done their time.
It gets even weirder. In Texas a 4 year-old
boy was suspended from school for inappropriate sexual activity when he hugged a teacher’s aide. The principal sent a letter to the boy’s parents stating that the pre-schooler demonstrated "inappropriate
physical behavior interpreted as sexual contact and/or sexual harassment." While the boy will not have to register as
a felony sex offender, it is not clear whether or not the incident will remain a part of his permanent record.
A 22-year-old man is likely to go to prison
for child pornography. He admitted downloading from a file sharing site, but claimed that when he discovered some of the files
contained child pornography, he immediately deleted them. About a year later, the FBI showed up at his family's home and now
he faces 20 years in prison- more prison time than some first degree murderers get -for a one time download. The FBI puts
up its own child porn hypertext links, which if clicked, can result in a surprise visit or even a raid, which gives rise to
the question- whatever happened to the constitutional right against entrapment? Moreover,
the government or anybody can (remotely) insert a child porn file into your computer’s hard drive that, if it were ‘’discovered’’
by somebody with an axe to grind, could make your life a living hell.
Once you are a sex offender you will have
to register for the rest of your life. You can’t live with or be near kids, in some cases not even your own younger siblings. Finding work will be a challenge. If you move, your new neighbors will be advised that a sex offender is
living near them. They won’t be happy about that, especially if they are parents. If you do jail time, you may be targeted
for violence by other inmates.
So the next time somebody says that we have
to get tough with sex offenders, you might ask just how they want to get tough. By incarcerating even more people? By redefining
sex abuse even more rigidly? Instead of “getting tough”, we would do better to focus upon truly violent, psychopathic predators. There are certainly
enough of them. Instead of a fear-based reactionary approach, we would do better with a pro-active, rational approach to effectively
deal with this profoundly disturbing social problem.