Saturday, June 23, 2012

Sex Offenders and Society

Louisiana recently passed a law that all sex offenders must disclose that fact on Facebook and other social networking sites they use. The law was meant to fill the gaps between the site's ability to monitor and remove profiles of sex offenders.

You can call me strange, sick, or misguided. I'll take it. My first thought when I read this was - "Sex offenders can't have Facebook pages - how do we expect them to reintegrate into society if we keep them out of so much of it?"

I understand that sexual predators are dangerous people. They've done terrible things and hurt people in unimaginable ways. My own family has been touched by this terrible crime. I'm not trying to ignore the acts committed or excuse anyone. I'm not even going to make a big push for forgiveness; I'm not one with the position to forgive.

What I am going to say is simply that such people, as much as we don't like them, are fellow human beings and as difficult as it is, our society is better off with them integrated into it than ostracized from it.

When things shock and scare us the way sexual abuse does, we want it to just go away. Our best solution for that problem thus far has been prisons where bad people can go to be out of sight and out of mind. We erase people. When and if they get out, we make laws to keep them out of our lives - still out of sight and out of mind.

I keep thinking about the character in Little Children, played so amazingly by Jackie Earl Haley. He was a paroled sex offender, living with his mother, out of work, alone. Clearly he was battling demons beyond his ability to control, yet he had no support system. There is a poignant scene in which he jumps into the middle of a public pool and the parents scramble to get their kids out of the water and out of the park as he's left alone again. The tragedy and the irony of the character is that society was more endangered by this man because it refused to embrace him.

I would never advocate we just pretend like nothing happened. Serial rapists and child molesters have some serious issues that don't just go away on their own. Boundaries are important, as are real, loving relationships and accountability with people who care. And caring doesn't mean you condone or ignore the wrongs committed - simply that you recognize the humanity in even the least humane person.

A Facebook page gives access to potential victims. It serves as temptation to a predator. Of course, likely that temptation exists with or without Facebook. It exists with or without human interaction of any kind. I suspect that's why so many end up back in prison or taking their own lives - it's soul-crushing to never know where the walls are.

I've had a glimpse into addiction - and I can only describe heinous sex crimes as an addiction. Whether its an unwanted sexual attraction or an addiction to power and control, rarely are these crimes motivated by pure choice. There's something wrong inside - we know it; they know it.

As you begin to internalize that message - you're not right, you're defective - it becomes more real. Society puts bad people away in prisons that, despite the stereotypes of cushy jobs and tv, are downright horrible places. They're designed to dehumanize. People who think they're nothing are easier to control. When you don't believe you're human or worth anything - and you've got these overwhelming, terrible drives in your head, "freedom" is often the worst thing for you.

Criminals, in this case, sex offenders - they need society to show them that they are, in fact, human. We, as a society, we don't like to do it - because that means we have a responsibility to them as fellow humans. We're just terrible at dealing with the downside of our pleasures. Gambling is fun - so is drinking and partying and sex - but we don't like to think about the ones who lose their homes, spend every night at AA or never learn about love outside of physical intimacy. We even put some of the failures on TV, so we can tell ourselves "at least I'm not him."

Is the easy way always the best way? Of course not. It almost never is. We pass these laws, like the one in Louisiana (which will be copied in many states and perhaps even nationally) because we just don't have the manpower to keep track of people individually. They have to remain a group, a class (an underclass) of people - nameless, faceless.

And practically, you can blame Louisiana. They don't have enough parole officers to provide the kind of relational accountability people need coming out of prison. If a PO had just one guy or three or five it might be possible; they have hundreds. We like out tax dollars to keep people behind bars, not facilitate their lives outside them.

I don't really know the solution. It's not like you can just walk up to someone and say, "Hi, I know you're a sex offender, but want to be friends?" I can't imagine a person so used to rejection would receive that message the right way. Still, there has to be something more. We should be thinking about this. We should be agonizing over our system - that while justifiable and necessary, just doesn't seem to arrive at the right conclusion.

Perhaps the answer is simply to work within the confines of the system. Find a way to reach out, to try, to send the message that we see humanity where society doesn't. Be prepared to fail, but do something. I have to believe, especially in this situation, something is better than nothing.

I wrote this post a few days ago, based on the article above and then found this piece on CNN. I wasn't thinking about Jerry Sandusky when I wrote this post (and obviously he'll never get the chance to be reintegrated into society), but the CNN article is quite interesting in connecting the two.

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