The killings of two men listed on Maine's Internet sex offender registry may offer a grim lesson about the consequences of such registry laws, but defense lawyers and crime researchers question whether a thoughtful national debate on the subject is possible.
As a rape survivor who has bumped into ignorance from all sorts of people, I know we absolutely need to have a thoughtful discussion (before we debate anything) about a whole lot of issues that impact sex offenses and sexual offenders.
With this new development, those who believe the Duke lacrosse team members behaved badly but that they couldn't rape an exotic dancer because her body was part of what they were buying, will fight all the harder now to keep their boys off the sex offender registry. They are likely asking: Why should their lives be ruined and possibly ended for having a few minutes of fun?
That brings up the first topic that must be addressed:
Many sex offenders reflect the worst of we believe about sex. And that won't change if we gloss over the issue with "Sex between husband and wife good. All other sex bad. Lesson over."
If we lump all non-spousal consensual sex in with rape, we are letting dangerous myths go unchallenged. The same goes if we tell children that they must obey their parents no questions asked. Mix the two of these together with childhood sexual abuse and you have a recipe that puts children in a no-win situation that can fill them with guilt and shame no matter what they do or don't do.
Many people assume that sex offenders know a lot about sex but, according to a leader of an offender treatment program who spoke to a group of victim's advocates, that isn't true. Sex offenders tend to have a remedial understanding of sexual boundaries. They may think of sexual boundaries the way most of us think of the tooth fairy.
They may also have a remedial understanding of sexual responsibility. One sex offender explained that he was only responding to the advances being sent his way when the girl strutted around topless. FYI the alleged victim really did go around topless. This sounds reasonable to many of us, doesn't it? We believe that provocative girls entice men into sexual relationships.
So do you believe this girl must take at least partial responsibility for her stupidity?
If we refuse to talk about uncomfortable subjects like the difference between good and bad touches, then the incubation and nurturing and, yes, protection of sex offenders will continue even as the maximum penalties for convicted sex offenders increase.
We need to give the same level of focus to slowing the rate of production as we give to monitoring convicted sex offenders.
When I did a quick search on sex offender registries, one service offered access to billions of sex offender registries. Another service promised to tell you if any sex offenders live in your area. These services are advertised as a way for parents to ensure their children's safety from sexual predators.
The problem with this is that most sex offenders are never charged and when they are charged many cases end in a plea deal where the offenders (especially those who can afford the best attorneys) are convicted of a non-sexual crime.
The sex offender who presents the greatest danger to your family may be living in your own home. Siblings can and do offend against siblings.
I'm not suggesting we all become paranoid and treat everyone as if they are a closet sex offender, I'm suggesting we get better educated so we can recognize the attitudes and beliefs that fuel sex offenses and that keep victims suffering in silence.
For those who want to roll back the clock to a time before you knew the definition of sex offender, the good old days were only good for the types of sex offenders that didn't seem to exist back then and for those who covered for those sex offenders. As long as the offender wasn't seen as a monster, authorities likely looked the other way, especially if the sexual abuse happened between family members.
If the sex offender registries become hit lists with all the information vigilantes need to find their prey, there will be an even greater backlash against victims who report sexual assaults or sexual abuse.
The backlash is big enough right now, thank you very much.
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