aTypical Joe: a gay New Yorker living in the rural South
Sunday, May 15, 2005
More on sex offenders & O’Reilly
More fallout from O’Reilly and the Houston Chronicle. You’ll recall O’Reilly mischaracterized and misquoted a Chronicle editorial, and the Chronicle answered back. Now O’Reilly has admitted the misquoting, but continued the attack anyway. Comments World O’Crap:
Bill started today’s program by admitting that yes, Tuesday’s Chronicle editorial didn’t actually SAY that they thought that the punishment for sex offenders mandated under Florida’s new Jessica Lunsford Law was too harsh, but that after reading the piece, he thought that’s what they meant. He even asked, “What else could they have meant?” Well, Bill, I read the editorial too, and it’s pretty clear what they meant: that this law, although it makes people feel good, won’t keep Florida’s children safe, because most children who are molested aren’t abused by convicted sex offenders. I think the subtext to their piece is: “If it makes you happy, go ahead and lock up convicted for 100 years, but if your goal is to make kids safer, don’t abandon some of the low-tech options, such as teaching children to recognize and report abuse.”
As it happens, NPR’s Science Friday had a much more reasoned segment on sexual abuse. The three panelists agreed that the law enforcement approach to sex offenders is failing and that prevention measures used to date which emphasize educating the victims have merely led to perpetrators choosing other victims. Prevention should be targeted at educating potential abusers as well as potential victims.
As for community notification laws, since these experts contend that sex abuse is underreported, communities can have a false sense of security thinking that they know where the abusers are, and those potential abusers who may want to seek help have a powerful disincentive to NOT get it.
On recidivism, they weren’t unanimous. John Q. La Fond, author of Preventing Sexual Violence: How Society Should Cope With Sex Offenders said studies have shown a 20% recidivism rate 5 years out, which is a very low rate. One of the other panelists argued that since sex abuse is underreported, it could be higher, and that 5 years wasn’t a long enough window. I’m not inclined to agree, but in any case it is way lower than the presumption that there is no cure and no efffective treatment, as the O’Reilly crowd claims.
The other day I asked, are there really that many? According to the segment, the answer is apparently yes. But one-size-fits-all solutions and harsh criminalization targets resources too broadly, tarring all with the same broad brush. I still find it hard to believe that hard-core sex offenders make up that much of the population or that all people listed in these community notification registries are dangerous. I am convinced that the frenzied hysteria surrounding the topic leads to faulty convictions of innocent people.