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Sex Offenders

November 3rd, 2007

In their most recent episode, Boston Legal has touched upon a subject that has concerned me for some time. It is the topic of how we treat people convicted of sex crimes. Sex crimes are obviously among of the touchiest, for several reasons. Nothing tends to upset us more than sex does–society reacts far more violently to the sight of a bare breast than we do to scenes of unmitigated gore and death. Whatever the cause or rightness of this fixation, it is something we respond to viscerally. And the thought of wrongness done to us sexually strikes as much or even more fear into our hearts as does wrongness done to us through violence. And so when it comes to crimes involving sex, we react far more strongly than when we do to other crimes.

What makes it worse is the factor of recidivism. Not necessarily actual recidivism, but the perception of it. Even the Boston Legal episode brought up that idea unopposed–but recent studies have suggested that, in fact, persons who commit sex crimes have a much lower rate of recidivism than those who commit other crimes, and the rate is even lower for those who receive treatment. This could be mitigated by lower rates of reporting of sex-related crimes, or the possibility that more severe punishment acts more effectively as a deterrent. But it does not change our perception, that a person who commits a sex crime is a greater danger to us than any other kind of criminal.

There are several reasons why this is a troubling issue. How we treat convicted sex offenders is, to say the least, controversial. Registration of sex offenders and their subsequent treatment by society are fraught with complications. The principle we hold in our society is that double jeopardy shall not apply; that a person receives one punishment for an offense, and then has paid their debt to society. Of course, we do not always hold to this principle. On the legal side, in many states, convicted felons who have completed their sentences are still not allowed to vote, to cite one example. On the social side, we treat anyone who is a former felon with overt suspicion. There is the tendency to believe that anyone who has committed a serious crime is a person of bad character, and will be more prone to commit such a crime again. Thus, we continue to punish people even after their “debt” has been “paid.” We have the principle of paid debts, but we violate it regularly.

But what concerns me and many others much more is the fear of what happens to the innocent person convicted of a crime. Some simply don’t care enough; either they care but feel that the need to keep society as a whole safer outweighs such individual concerns, or they simply don’t give a damn because they don’t think the issue will affect them personally, and don’t mind inflicting such treatment on others. Either way, many believe such lack of concern to be wrong. This is often quoted as, “better a hundred guilty men go free than to allow one innocent man to suffer.” I would suggest that anyone who does not allow this concern to affect them either has not considered the possibility, or has convinced themselves that such a situation will never apply to them personally. Or, perhaps, like so many people today, they simply feel that authoritarian over-zealousness in the prosecution of crime is more important than personal liberties. Or, as Patrick Henry said, “Screw liberty! I’m scared to death!”

The concern over such issues intensifies when one considers the instability of prosecutions concerning sexual crimes. I do not think it is unreasonable to presume that juries will be far more likely to presume guilt when it comes to such crimes, and for courts to inflict more serious penalties upon conviction.

And then there is the likelihood of false accusations. The scenario in Boston Legal is frightening: a woman accuses a black man of rape not because there was rape, but because she was caught having sex with a black man in a community which condemns such an action. Or consider the accusations of child molestation by paranoid parents who misinterpret a child’s answers to leading questions. I have no evidence of how likely such instances are, but considering their nature, such evidence is not likely to be found whether it exists or not.

With our knee-jerk reaction to issues concerning sex, and our ever-increasing paranoia concerning crime, it is not likely that things will improve in this area. And with the seriousness of actual crimes of a sexual nature regarding children, it is incredibly easy to dismiss any other concerns and simply decide to play it safe. I won’t pretend to offer a solution here, except for the simple common sense approach: that each and every instance of such crimes and such punishments should be dealt with as cautiously, as gravely, and as objectively as is humanly possible, for the sake of both the innocent who are among the victims as well as those who are among the accused.

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  1. Cathy
    November 12th, 2007 at 23:08 | #1

    What a great article. With all the “true” sex crimes that are committed against this nation’s children…the people who are truly innocent of such a terrible crime that he or she has been accused of is being burned at the stake and the so called attorneys are so scared/intimated to REALLY defend the accused. I am actually looking for an organization/group of people that know of people who have been put into jail/accused of a sex crime who are actually innocent. What it will take for these people who are innocent who are put into jail is a mass of people to right things. Please let me know of any group/organization that I could contact.

    Thank you,

  2. luz
    March 11th, 2008 at 23:37 | #2

    I was on the web searching treatments and how they work for accused sex offenders, because i have a friend who was wrongly accused and now has to do a treatment program. Unfortuneatly he has no idea on how this works considering he has to express feelings he has never had. Im trying to help him finish this program because there are 12 steps he has to finish, even i do not know how to begin helping him in the way they want. He feels embarrased having to go in a room with others and try to invent things the therapist wants to hear without opening any other doors that will confuse him more. I think these treatments are bogus because they dont consider the innocent they automatically assume you to be guilty, because of a plea bargain you took, for the fear of going to trial and still found guilty nomatter how much evidence you have on your side. By the way his lawyer did nothing for him but encourage him to take the deal or he would have to do the maximum. Seriously people what would you do? I think more people should stand up for themselves and not be afraid to say your innocent, even though these so called treatment programs make them admit guilt in order to finish them. What kind of programs are these anyways? Well thats my opinion on this case. If anyone has any idea how I can help my friend with his situation please let me know, comment back. Thank You, luz

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