Monday, November 12, 2007
If drivers license is a privilege. How in the world the child and sexual predators continue to have that privilege?. The truth is that if we're going to have sex offenders living in a free society, they need two things: a lot of supervision and a lot of therapy and a lot of jails..
Restricting sex offenders won't make them cease to exist
In bald political terms, you can't go wrong demonizing sex offenders. Everybody hates perverts.
Drafting fresh laws to keep them away from trusting children is like wearing one of those little American-flag lapel pins – it's easy, crowd-pleasing, unassailably upright and it doesn't cost much. Where's the down side?
The fact that these restrictions don't seem to work very well doesn't detract much from their universal popularity. The list of places registered offenders can't live, work or even visit – schools, parks, libraries, day-care centers – gets longer and longer.
My colleague Wendy Hundley reported in Sunday's editions that such ordinances aren't having much effect in area cities that rushed to pass them.
Most of these laws create "child safety zones" barring registered offenders from living within a minimum distance – usually 1,000 to 2,000 feet – of places "frequented by children."
Well, that can't be a bad thing, right? Putting a minimum distance between child molesters and potential victims can't do any harm, can it?
Probably not. But experts – the people who actually deal with the hard realities of this topic, day in and day out – say it doesn't really do much good, either.
First, these ordinances target the monsters of our collective imagination – the greasy stranger loitering at the playground, picking out a victim to lure away with a candy bar.
But while the icky-stranger scenario gets a lot of public attention, these are the overwhelming minority of child predators.
Molesters – you can't say this too often – are usually somebody the child knows and trusts. It's a relative, a coach, the always-helpful aide down at the rec center. If they were all strangers wearing trench coats and lurking in the shrubbery, they'd be a lot easier to spot.
Second, there's evidence that when the zones-of-residency get too restrictive, offenders just drop out of the system and quit trying to comply.
In California, where a tough new law severely restricts areas where registered sex offenders can live, many offenders are just going off the grid. Rather than admit to living in a prohibited zone, they lie and say they're homeless – which makes them almost impossible to track, according to an Associated Press report published Sunday. Now the cops and parole officers we expect to keep an eye on them don't know where to look for them.
The same report says that in Iowa, frustrated prosecutors are trying to repeal a minimum-distance residency law for offenders.
"Most legislators know in their hearts that the law is no good and a waste of time," said the leader of a state association of Iowa prosecutors. "But they're afraid of the politics of it."
And politics should not be getting in the way of making meaningful progress toward protecting children and monitoring the sick, sad deviants who try to sexualize them. Wishing the problem would disappear does not make it happen.
When the stakes are this high, we need to deal in practical reality, not in hollow-but-crowd-pleasing grandstanding. Practically and constitutionally, you cannot lock every one of these people up for life (please don't argue – we're talking about reality, not about the way we wish the world could be).
And while isolating them as much as possible seems like the next-best-thing, the truth is that if we're going to have sex offenders living in a free society, they need two things: a lot of supervision and a lot of therapy.
Both are more expensive, more labor-intensive, and less immediately popular than easy-to-pass not-in-our-'hood ordinances. But feel-good laws that keep offenders hiding in the basement all day looking at God-knows-what on the Internet is a recipe for recidivism.
Listen, I don't want sex offenders working at the Y or coaching Little League. I don't want one living on my street any more than you do.
But it's the height of foolishness to just pass laws that do little more than tell them to stay out of sight and keep the porch light off on Halloween. Hiding and keeping secrets is what these people do best.
Addressing the ugly, complicated, deep-rooted problem of sex abuse in our society takes money, effort and political will.
If it were easy, it would already be fixed