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October 27, 2006

Sex offenders as our modern day witches

Norm Pattis at Crime & Federalism has this very strong post about sex offense sentencing which includes astute observation:

Sex offenses are in our time the new witchcraft.  We're as hysterical about these crimes as were the good people of Salem over witches.  And our means of addressing the hysteria is about as effective.

This time of year there is a particular irony in this analogy: next week we have a national holiday focused on kids that will celebrate witches and other scary things.  But, as detailed in articles from New York and Tennessee and Texas and elsewhere all around the country, everyone is trying to keep sex offenders from participating.

October 27, 2006 at 12:10 PM | Permalink


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Hey Idiot,

Witches and goblins are fake, sexual offenders are very real!

Posted by: | Oct 27, 2006 4:03:12 PM

That might quite possibly be the worst analogy ever made. There is one critical difference between the Salem Witch Trials and contemporary sex offenders -- the former were not witches while the latter are sex offenders. I am guessing from the excerpt that the author would not be in favor of throwing sex offenders in a lake to see if they float?

Posted by: SPD | Oct 27, 2006 4:25:38 PM

The Reactive Duo likely think due process means dog due process. Witches were real in those days and not all sex offenders are real today. Take the 5 child porn images found on Mark Lunsford's computer, for example. Those same images would get most people a mandatory 5 to 20, but Lunsford rightfully got a pass because of the tragic situation, and it was tragic. And yet even though he knows a hard disk can contain child porn someone didn't intentionally download, he calls for banishment of all those sex offenders from their communites, for life long registration, for GPS devices Big Brother style. When he says "All people like that" (meaning John Couey) he includes those who committed the same crime he did only because he wasn't busted for it. That's a Witch Hunt because there is something spooky about it.

Posted by: George | Oct 27, 2006 5:43:59 PM

P.S. That Foley wrote and pushed for some of these laws is even spookier.

Posted by: George | Oct 27, 2006 5:50:14 PM

Well, I'm sure there will be a few people at the Halloween parties dressed up as sex offenders.

Posted by: | Oct 28, 2006 10:06:52 PM

True, some will go dressed as Republican congressmen.

Posted by: George | Oct 28, 2006 10:13:00 PM

I agree with you. I work as an administrator in a school district. Many male elementary teachers, for example, are good, decent human beings. One false accusation from an underage girl gets them caught in a legal web which is very difficult to escape. A slight mistep, a mere brush of the hand, can bring on a felony conviction for "lewd and lascivious" conduct, a ridiculous overreaction by our system to a non-violent offense. These kinds of accusations are similar to the Salem Witch Hunt.

Posted by: Debra | Nov 6, 2006 1:53:28 AM

Anyone who believes that a person should receive a slap on the hand for raping and killing a kid is insane. Are the laws perfect? NO, but I feel safer for my kids with these laws. If we continue to let sex offenders "get off" with a minor punishment for first offenses, they will continue to commit these crimes against children. God knows I don't want anything bad to happen to any child, but if it does, I want the person responsible to be given the strictest sentence possible. If we would crack down on the perverts, maybe fewer of them would commit these crimes in the first place. If a few of these people were held accountable for their actions, maybe those who have not committed a crime will think twice before they do commit the crime and our children would once again be safe playing in their front yard. There is a registered sex offender living a few blocks away from my house and I refuse to let my child play in our front yard for this reason....so tell me who is being punished...my child or this person who molested a child and is now free to walk the streets?

Posted by: Pam | Nov 8, 2006 2:19:18 PM

I believe it is important to understand that most people commit illegal acts because they think they won't get caught i.e. I often exceed the speed limit but when I see patrol car or motorcycle I tend to slow down for obvious reasons. The current attitudes towards sex offenders is the result of public hysteria and misinformation in the media and by politicians.

Ostracizing, colonizing or banishing this particular group of criminals is only the start. Another registry is currently under way to post the identities and addresses of meth users and sellers. If unchecked, we will soon have registries for gang members, taggers, vandals, car thieves, burglars, murderers, and mayber even Republicans and Democrats.

When will we, as a nation, conform to our Constitution which prohibits punishment after punishment and our religions which promote redemption and forgiveness. I thought we were a nation of second chances?

The basic principles of our crimnal justice as I (a layperson) understand, is that when a member of society has committed a crime against another member of society, he/she is to be removed from society in order to pay a prescribed debt for his/her transgressions. When that debt has been paid, he/she is to be allowed back into that society and encouraged to become a sober, law-abiding, tax-paying and productive member of society.

In order to accomplish this, we as a nation who represents itself as a model of decency and fairness, must support the re-entry process which is currently so badly shredded by lack of accessible housing, general relief, opportunities for work, and now complete ostracization and banishment from society, that we are well on our way to creating yet another lower sect of society from which we can justify hate and despise under the guise of public safety.

At least be honest with your hatred and vindictiveness. Admit to your Creator that you prefer to maintain this vindictive attitude in your life and that in so doing, your children will learn the costly lessons of hatred and revenge as well.

I offer prevention over excessive punishment. How does it happen that so many parents have come to trust their children in the hands of relatives and/or strangers? Perhaps too many parents have inadvertantly abandoned their children in the pursuit of personal wealth and materialism and now put that responsiblity of protection in the hands of law enforcement and government even though 80-90% of all sex crimes against children will be committed by someone related to or familiar with the victim.

I do not condone any form of abuse, especially child abuse having been raised in foster care. But as an ex-citizen who was falsely accused and wrongfully convicted during the decade of false and recovered memories "1985-95 and who has had firsthand experience with our criminal justice system, you cannot even imagine what life is like once that title of registered sex offender (RSO) is attached to your name let alone what it is like to endure over ten years in prison as the lowest level or garbage subject to beatings and death. If you are fortunate to survive prison then one still has to overcome the many obstacles of starting their life over but with a whole lot of barriers. For far too many, hopelessness results in failure which leads to homelessness which results in a need to survive which often time includes breaking the law and living a criminal lifestyle.

Perhaps that transient begging for money at the corner is a convicted RSO who can't find housing or a job because, as many would agree, they don't deserve anything. That same transient may not be able to live in your neighborhood but he is free to wonder through it and pick through your garbage at nightime. Residency restrictions are political in nature and do not increase public safety.

It would be interesting to accurately assess how often an RSO ever re-offended in his own neighborhood or in a would-be restricted zone? Maybe then one could accurately see that these current laws and local ordinances fail to accomplish what they would have you believe.

I would feel more comfortable simply knowing that if there is a RSO in my neighborhood, that I would meet with him so I could express my concerns and/or fears. If, after that meeting, I felt comfortable having looked this person in the eyes and confronting him, then I could get on with my life and occasionally monitor him now that he has been identified. After that, I could move on with my life.

It would serve us well to do our homework instead of relying on the word of elected officials who misuse the media to promote their agendas.

Posted by: Mark Verba | Dec 11, 2006 5:19:40 PM

I mistrust anyone in whom the desire to punish is strong. Prosecuting attorneys who place ten year olds and teenagers on a sex offender registry for trivial and antiquated statutory offenses are nothing short of malevolent. While many insist upon the incorrigible pathology of some sex offenders it should also be noted that many of our sex laws are also rooted in pathology. The recent trend of prosecuting teenagers who cell phone explicit pictures of the themselves is a case in point. Prosecutors assume serious offenses where their are none except by some antiquated legal mind set. The law's net is cast too broadly in this witch hunt for sex offenders with politicians, the media, and sexual neurotics leading the way. The law is, as always, an ass.

In my own view, it is enough that the authorities know where offenders are. That's what we pay them for. Public registries cause undue public anxiety. They also cause certain obsessive individuals to be constantly perusing through them and foster vigilantism. In fact, that's what public registries are - vigilantism. There purpose being to brand people for life; to excommunicate and banish them within their own society. The punishment is often not proportional to the crime nor is it intended to be.

There are many people who have committed murder, done their time, and are now out and about but not any public registry. Many more have committed multiple counts of assault, battery, armed robbery, forgery, theft. Many others have sold drugs to kids and, after doing their time, they're released back "on the streets, " into society without being put on a public registry. Odd, very odd..

So why the radical distinction between sexually related and non-sexually related offenses? This question has always been the elephant in the room.


The media in particular plays upon the neuroses inherent in our reaction to these broken taboos. The reporting of sex offenses is more sensational, histrionic reenactments are standard, and life long psychological damages and not just presumed, they are insisted upon.

On the other hand, I have known persons who've suffered sexual abuse. It does alter them but not indefinitely more so than many other tragedies which are common to our lives. Any categorical imperative that counts sexual offenses as exceptional when compared to other offenses against the body is cultural rather a matter of logic written in the stars.

Marty Lee

Posted by: Marty Lee | Aug 26, 2008 1:21:23 PM

There seems to be some much confusion about sex in general, it's not at all surprising that we've arrived where we're at today. Subtle and not so subtle messages and images incite and invoke our desire, and it's naive to believe that our children can remain unaffected. While legislation has increased the age of consent in many places, modern media provokes the desire for sex and/or experimentation at a younger and younger age. As a society, we are clearly conflicted about the 'age of consent.' It varies from period to period and place to place; whereas in the past it was thought to be perfectly natural for a girl to marry a much older man at, say, 16 or younger, it is now thought to be a horrible crime. And the term 'sex offender' has become an umbrella label for both lesser and greater crimes. I often wonder if this is not a reflection of those impulses we fear so much within ourselves. Also, Pam and Mark make some excellent points.

Posted by: Jim | Sep 16, 2009 11:39:14 AM

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