Blood should be running in the street

By Sandy . . . Sexual crime has always been with us. In ancient Greek mythology, the god Zeus took the form of a swan and raped Leda, the queen of Sparta. The biblical King David saw Bathsheba, desired her, and ordered her to him, an act that today would have women’s advocates demanding his removal from office. Throughout history and into modern times, rape was and is used as a weapon during wartime.

In civilized societies, those who are convicted of committing rape and sexual assault and child molestation have been punished and then released into the community.

They were not registered. They did not have to “check in” with law enforcement once they were no longer on probation or parole. Their presence in the community as former sexual offenders was largely unknown. They lived and worked wherever they could with no restrictions on where; there were no imaginary lines drawn around parks or schools, no prohibition against trick-or treat or other Halloween activities, no requirement to notify law enforcement if their telephone number or place of employment changed.

According to the wisdom of today, reoffense should have been rampant. As each year more individuals, virtually all “first-timers,” were released after serving a sentence for a sexual crime, the sheer mass of these felons unleashed on an unsuspecting public, with no one tracking or constantly monitoring them, must have resulted in ever-increasing numbers of victims.

Stranger-rape victims must have been piling up in the streets. Those suffering from sexual assault must have overwhelmed the hospital system. Children must have been kidnapped from schools and parks in record numbers on a daily basis.

But none of those things happened.

Statistics are hard to come by. A study done in New York City (p.324), the Mayor’s Committee Report on Sex Offenses covering the years 1930 – 1939, reports, among others, these findings:

  • There was no wave of sex crime in New York City during the 1930’s. Although sex crimes receive more public attention than other types of crime, they represent only a small fraction of the sum total coming to the attention of the Police Department.
  • Most sex crimes are by first offenders . . . Offenders charged with sex felonies are less inclined to have records than other types of felons.
  • Sex crime is not habitual behavior for the great majority of convicted sex offenders. Police Department fingerprint records disclose that only 7%, 40 out of 555 offenders convicted of sex crimes in 1930, were again arrested on the same charge during the period from 1930 to 1941.

A Bureau of Justice report published in 1997 gives this information for forcible rape:

In 1976, 53 instances for each 100,000 female victims (Male victims were not counted for a few more years.)

In 1980, 65 per 100,000

In 1988, 66 per 100,000

In 1995, 66 per 100,000

This was all pre-Megan’s Law registries. Furthermore, children were not being assaulted or kidnapped from parks or schools. Schools had no security monitors, no screening devices; parents and other members of the public were, for the most part, free to come and go as they wished. Children played in parks, in the streets, in neighbors’ yards, unmonitored and unharmed. The rare, rare occasion of a child being taken by a stranger – e.g., – Jaycee Dugard; Elizabeth Smart — was so remarkable that it dominated news cycles for months and even years.

The only recorded instance of a child being abducted and harmed on Halloween by a stranger is the tragic case of Lisa French in Fond du Luc, Wisconsin, in 1973. The man who molested and killed her while she was trick or treating had no record of a previous sexual crime. To this day, in the United States, there is no other reported instance of a stranger molestation of a child during Halloween activities, neither before the proliferation of sexual offense registries and Halloween restrictions nor after.

Those convicted of sexual crimes did what those convicted of other crimes did: They served their sentences, struggled to gain employment on release, and assimilated into society as best they could. The only difference between registrants and those convicted of other offenses is that the reoffense rate for the former was and remains remarkably lower than for the latter.

So what happened?

Jacob Wetterling happened (1987). Megan Kanka happened (1994). And years before them, although never proven to have been the result of a sexual crime, Adam Walsh had happened (1981).

These three children were all tragically murdered. Jacob and Megan were victims of sexual crime. Their cases were rare, horrific, and catalytic.

In the years that followed, we saw the Jacob Wetterling Act (1994) that requires states to implement a sexual offender and crimes against children registry; Megan’s Law (1996) requiring law enforcement authorities to make information available to the public regarding those on the registry; and the Adam Walsh Act (2006) outlining a plethora of requirements pertaining to those on a sexual offense registry.

Individual states, not to be outdone by the federal government, rushed to implement further “protections.” Restrictions against where a registrant could live, work, or even be were proposed and eagerly passed by the voting public as they were presented as essential to “keep our children safe.” A wide variety of Halloween restrictions were implemented; an informal research project found that such restrictions were non-existent prior to 2003, when there were three articles announcing them. From there they climbed each year, and by 2014 numbered 177. At least one state makes it illegal for a person on the registry to give candy or a gift at Halloween, Christmas, Easter, or other holidays to any person 17 or younger; the statute makes no exception for one’s own children.

And now, fueled by politicians who yearly propose new legislation further restricting the rights and movements of persons required to register and adding new offenses yearly, and by the media, who quickly discovered that “sex offender” in a header is automatic click-bait, the American public is convinced that the registry and all of the restrictions against and requirements of registered persons are the only things standing between them and wholesale rape and destruction of women and children and blood running in the street.

And thus a vicious cycle was created. The more the public heard from the press, the more it believed that repeat offenders are the biggest threat to their children and the more it demanded protection, thus fueling the politicians to create more laws and the press to report as much as possible about the subject.

Fueled additionally by proliferation of the “frightening and high” recidivism myth and by a total disregard for studies that debunk essentially everything the public believes about those who commit sexual crime as well as for best practices for managing them, we find ourselves where we are today.

Into this triad of public, politicians, and press entered a new element, what will be called the rational thinkers: legal scholars, researchers and academics, certain journalists, and anti-registry organizations. Their voices grow louder each year, and their determination to influence the other three grows stronger.

It is impossible at this point to know what changes in our society and our relationships with one another will occur. One excellent thing that could come is a broader understanding of the actual and multi-faceted nature of sexual crime and those who commit it and a realization that the myriad of restraints placed on those with sexual crime convictions are not what has kept and will keep us safe.

There will always be sexual offenders. Sadly, that will not change. Those who are convicted will serve their sentences and again become a part of society. An almost minuscule percentage will reoffend. The vast majority will not. And our modern-day attempts at monitoring and tracking and restricting and controlling every aspect of their lives will have virtually nothing to do with whether they do or whether they don’t.

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16 Thoughts to “Blood should be running in the street”

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  1. Jim

    This is a great article Sandy. I really hope the experts and evidence prevail in this century over the issue of sexual crime.

    Sex crimes are preventable. We spend millions on revenge and pennies on prevention.

    I firmly believe that the reasons the restrictions are getting worse are a direct result of the “carceral feminism” movement, which advocates the usage of state violence (prisons, registries) as remedies for interpersonal violence.

    This movement started off with noble goals: exposing the sexual violence women and children have experienced and stayed silent about since time itself began. We can all agree that secrecy allows abuse to fester. The feminist movement made gains for women, such as gaining them the right to vote, greater access to education, and equitable pay.

    I don’t think anyone at NARSOL or in this field disagrees with these gains.

    But when it started to come to the question of how to deal with interpersonal violence like sexual assault or domestic violence, the feminist movement began to turn to carceral solutions.

    This was immediately coopted by politicians of all stripes who wanted to be “tough on crime”. Carceral feminism quickly became the vehicle that allowed sex offender registration, megan’s law, and other restrictions to pass.

    The issues outlined in this post can be directly traced back to carceral feminism.

    But there is now a swelling undercurrent in the feminist movement that is beginning to see the harm caused by turning to state violence to resolve issues of interpersonal violence. This is known as the Anti-carceral feminist movement.

    Anti-carceral feminists believe that using state violence to solve interpersonal violence is predicated upon a fundamentally flawed assumption: that interpersonal violence occurs at an individual level, completely in a vacuum.

    This movement covers a huge amount of area so this post won’t do it justice but I’ll try — Anti-carceral feminists have major issues with the ideas of registries and prison violence. Registries and prisons disproportionally impact black men. They tear apart families. They even reduce reporting of interpersonal violence because why would a member of a historically oppressed community turn to their oppressors (police) to resolve a matter of interpersonal harm?

    Anti-carceral feminists believe in restorative / transformative justice, entirely separate from the current system of “incarcerate and throw away”. They believe carceral solutions cause more harm and do nothing to deter interpersonal or gendered violence.

    If NARSOL wants to win this fight, I loudly encourage it engage with leaders and activists in this area. I firmly believe that engaging with anti-carceral feminists will result in allies in this fight.

    1. Sandy

      Thanks for a fantastic reply.

      Two thoughts — I’m guessing that the feminist movement turned to the legal/carceral system for help with interpersonal violence because no one else would listen/care/get involved.

      And your solution to the problem is what any logical person would want it to be but not necessarily what it will be. NARSOL firmly believes in reformative and transformative justice and is allied with those involved in those movements. But the solution to the problem will not come about until the majority of the American people no longer want those who commit sexual crime to be punished as much as possible. And maybe a shift in feminist priorities and beliefs can bring that about. I hope so.

      1. Jerry

        Great article, Sandy, and a fantastic response, Jim!

        I’d like to add that victim advocates have also been the blame for the situation we are in now. Their advocacy for their client IS under the guise that the taxpayer-funded American criminal justice system should provide their “victim” with retribution and vengeance based on the victim’s wants and needs rather than on the state establishing the term for the crime and then releasing the person after they have paid their debt to society. The debt is supposed to be to society NOT what the victim wants the debt to be. Criminal penalties were not intended to be based on what the victim thinks is fair for a crime against them.

        I’m all in favor of the victim of a crime getting all that they can in a CIVIL court. Make the culprit pay for counseling, medications, and all medical fees for as long as it takes. But it is not up to the criminal justice system, meaning us taxpayers, to assist with victims’ getting their personal retribution based on what they can or cannot handle. And yes, you can get blood out of a turnip. There are many ways to collect a debt from an award of a civil court. I suggest that victims’ advocates find out how to get monetary damages for their victims rather than taxpayers paying for it with the costs of incarcerating a person ever increasing.

        We need to throw in victim advocacy reform along with criminal justice reform.

        Jerry

      2. Jim

        Appreciate the response Sandy! Just wanted to address some of your points:

        “I’m guessing that the feminist movement turned to the legal/carceral system for help with interpersonal violence because no one else would listen/care/get involved.”

        In reality, the feminist movement started out just the opposite — it was entirely anti-state. I highly recommend following Aya Gruber (a leading voice in this area and a former public defender), and reading her book “The Feminist War on Crime”. You can find excerpts of the book on her website. In a nutshell though: between 1960s and the end of the 1970s, the feminist movement of that time viewed the state as racist, classist and patriarchical.

        It was when the 1980s rolled around that this idea that the feminist movement began to embrace carceral strategies for interpersonal violence. This view was pushed by lawyers for domestic violence victims and academics. They called it the feminist “law enforcement” model.

        You are absolutely correct that the solution to the issue will not come about until a shift in public attitudes towards punishment of people who cause sexual harm occurs.

        I bring all of this up to support my thesis which is this:

        These attitudes exist because they are stoked by both the media and “tough on crime” politicians who outright ignore the mountain of scientific evidence and literature that show that shame and eternal punishment don’t reduce recidivism.

        They are able to stoke these flames of revenge because they are able to sell their unfounded, unscientific positions by appealing to moral superiority and certainty.

        Their moral superiority and moral certainty is granted to them by today’s carceral feminist movement which has been co-opted to push this agenda at every turn under the guise of terms like “victims rights” and “tough on crime”.

        My view is, I think NARSOL will find surprising allies within the anti-carceral feminist movement. I further believe that if NARSOL is able to engage and build bridges with this movement, it will get much closer to putting its messaging on the same footing as the politicians who sell fear based carceral solutions.

  2. Dr.

    Those who are convicted will serve their sentences and again become a part of society.
    ———————————————————

    I’m sorry I didn’t become a part of society after I was publicly put on the internet, I had to crawl under a rock !!!!! Here in Michigan to keep from being assaulted by government employees and the general public verbally….. at least no one has shot at me yet and I only had to spend 30 days back in 1993 so I didn’t have to worry about jailhouse justice, like I read in the news,

    1. vincent

      i agree and if there is no jailhouse justice , they will just banish you and freeze you to death or starve you! force you to commit suicide maybe. But I don’t see much in a way of a solution in this country. Anyway we are a commodity to make money with just as slavery was and you see how that ended i like capitalism but it is a poison in the west!

  3. Samba

    Just MORE proof that the sex offender registry has NOTHING to do with sex offenders or sex crimes . It is simply about political lust for power and control. They are laying the precedent to be able take away people’s god given constitutional rights . Every lawful win against the registry is overturned by our injustice system . Once they have unconstitutionally beaten down every argument against it they will start on other groups that disagree with the political class . All in the name of “public safety “.
    The cancel culture was born out of the registry .

    1. Tim in WI

      Samba,
      Exactly right! It’s about the gov databases and the unfettered application of an electronic regime without the express consent of the people. All of sex offender data nation wide could fit on 1 smart phone. But why only sell one regime when you can sell fifty. It also bought on the commodity market in valuation of personal information data. It is a damn good thing Justice John Paul Stevens called out the rats from the jump. His words will eventually be historically recognized some day for what it was.

  4. Jane Miller

    Nice job pulling together the key events together that plague registrants and there families.

  5. J

    I noticed that during the confirmation interrogation and trial of the Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Jackson there was focuse on 3 of her careers sexual offense trials and their decisions. Going back to the foundation of Megans Law and who was at its roots its hardly surprising that they tried to claim that she was pro pedophile to discredit her. Nothing could be further from the truth but its still so juicy electable to say things like that so they went with it.

  6. mut

    fueled in part by media sensationalism of women getting big money for sex in a secret tort action (no matter how wide the grin on their face).
    if publishing lies about me for the publics luxury of internet acess can somehow help prevent a sex crime then i find it hard to object. in part because thats beyond my comprehension. but when i am forced to participate at my own expense and without compensation i am seriously offended. criminally. its non-consensual exploitation. the fair value of which to the state alone exceeds 200k per year i estimate.
    i am shocked by the courts stark refusal to enforce the prohibition on bills of attainder, which includes pains and penalties, against decades of collateral consequences that are professed to be not punishment for crime. huh?
    the attorney generals non-prosecution of law makers first for marijuana trafficking and now human trafficking seems very troubling. secret immunity from criminal prosecution? treason? jan 6 pales in comparison. why no media coverage of probable crimes by elected leaders?

  7. William Hart

    In our puritan and sexually repressed society reporters and politicians found out early on that nothing caught the public’s attention like a sex crime. And they found a child sex crime was good for both ratings and votes. Many reporters rapidly advancing careers were fueled by child sex crimes. The recent confirmation hearing of our first black female to the Supreme Court was wrought with lies about her sentencing of sex offenders. Politicians wringing out every drop of that dirty rag.
    It seems the puritan cry of witchcraft has been replaced with that of child sex abuse.

  8. Jim

    Beautifully written, except there is one thing that should have been put in. In the paragraph: There will always be sexual offenders. Sadly, that will not change. Those who are convicted will serve their sentences and again become a part of society. This maybe true for some, but society has condemned them so now they are be Civilly Committed after sentence and held for an indefinite period of time, which can be a life sentence.

    1. w

      Actually, it should be “…there will always crime..”

      Problem is those convicted of sex-based crimes should only just be labeled as convicts. But by marketing a catch phrase that delivers shock and awe they’ve basically created a breach in equal protection doctrine that allowed for this whole mess to happen. You become an indefensible sub-human and easy prey for politics and policing. This is truly what was always intended, not public safety. And no amount of prevention will ever work out anyway because POLICE NEED CRIMES TO HAPPEN. They then spend resources to re-convict people in a bizarre and sick “cart before the horse” entrapment scheme. All just to keep pushing the same false narrative of “public safety”.

      Kalifornia became the prime place for all this. Plenty of dumb voters, too busy to care about the laws they consent to.

  9. Tim in WI

    Blood is running in the streets of the USA. It’s going on from Brooklyn to Chicken to K Street in Sacramento the blood is flowing. And why shouldn’t it? The people are compelled to follow their leadership being nasty, mean and cruel to each other. Who’s idea was it to engage in online name calling on a world wide basis?

  10. Taz

    Great historical recap.
    If anyone thinks registries will ever go away, just go down to the airport and get on a plane. That’s right, you have to take off belts, shoes, throw out shampoo bottles, laptop out of bag, bag bin, … AND DONT MAKE JOKES!!!
    Or go over to your kids’ school & try to walk in. LOL. When there is a shooting anywhere, they lock down nearby schools.
    For that matter, go to public building where most doors are now locked. Why? Are they locking out the virus? Does it help social distancing forcing everyone thru one door???
    There is a word for all of this: Hysteria.
    And once hysteria takes over an area, it takes a very long time for that hysteria to dissipate. So don’t expect anything to change any time soon.
    Some day, some hotshot lawyer will sue a few states for failing to educate the public on the differences between “sex offender” and “child molester”, “rapist”, “peodophile”, etc. and over the fact that 3rd party sites are allowed to scrape the state registry site & republish the information so that now, no need to put in a zip code, just google a name, which goes against at least the spirit of the retaliation protections, such as they are, built into the registration statutes. Or maybe more of us will be killed by vigilantes before that happens?
    And don’t expect help from politics which has become dog-eat-dog replete with attacks ads & sound bites. If they are devouring each other over simple pollution protections, abortion and guns, what chance do we have really?
    Here is an idea: we all legally change our names to John Smith!