Friday, March 29, 2013

When Is Rape OK?

I'm pretty sure we can all agree that rape is a horrible thing. It should never happen. In the past weeks, an entire movement has taken hold on the internet about "rape culture" and "victim blaming". Eloquent tirades and petitions to terminate employment have been written and circulated against "rape apologists" in the media. If asked, you'd probably agree that rape is something you wouldn't wish against your worst enemy.

Curiously, though, a quick scroll though any story about a sexual assault will find several comments to the effect of, "I hope they go to prison and get raped."

Rape is horrible. Rape is vile. And rape is NOT acceptable, even if it's rape for vengeance, even if it's rape as punishment.

So before you start talking about "rape culture", perhaps you should take a few minutes to think. This isn't an eye-for-an-eye, acceptable-in-certain-situations type of issue. It really is black-and-white: either rape is wrong, or it isn't.

There's only one right answer.
An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.
Mahatma Gandhi

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Broken? Or Uneducated?

Bear with me, here, because this may be uncomfortable, but it's something that needs to be discussed.

Over here (website link) is a well-written blog entry about rape education. And it's not what you think.

“Sure, in a perfect world, you could aim rape prevention efforts at potential rapists. But that’s never going to work. Rapists are sociopaths, beyond the reach of persuasion or reason. You’re never going to convince them. So it’s totally reasonable to aim rape prevention efforts at potential rape victims, and teaching them how not to be raped.”

That sounds reasonable, because it fits with the reality that we believe about sex offenders. They're sociopaths. You can't reach them. They're beyond reason or persuasion. They're just going to do it again, and again, and again.

Of course, we know that the truth is far different, and so does Greta Christina, the blog's author.

"[...] this business of rapists being just a handful of sociopaths — as opposed to active members of society who you might know — is bullshit. I don’t want to hear it again… because it’s just flatly not true."

Thank you, Greta.

Go, read that blog entry, and understand what Greta is saying. Rape isn't about deep-seated psychological disturbances, although there are some truly disturbed rapists. It's not about uncontrollable urges, although there are some for whom the urge is overwhelmingly powerful. For the vast majority, rape is about cultural attitudes and a lack of education aimed at the potential offender that rape is wrong.

Read that again: it's lack of education. As a card-carrying male, I'm here to tell you, I never got the message that "silence does not imply 'yes'". On a conceptual level, I understand that, but on an emotional, instinctual level - I didn't. It's this lack of education that's the point. It's what we need to be teaching, on both sides.

Think on this, though: if rape prevention education aimed at potential offenders works (and it does), why then do we subject those who never received such education and commit such acts to lifelong public shaming, hatred, and discrimination in the form of "you can't live here" and "you'll never get a job", instead of education, rehabilitation, and re-integration into our society?

Do we, as a society, truly believe that these men (and women*) are irrevocably "broken"? Do we honestly think that they cannot learn from their mistakes, or that they cannot be taught? Or are our attitudes and treatment of these people rooted in a deeper, more primal need for revenge and the desire to create equity between crime and its punishment?

Food for thought.

*Yes, there's women on the sex offender registry. And children, too, sometimes as young as 10 years old. Surprised?

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Facts Matter

It's no secret that Sex Offenders are not well liked. Vigilante groups, those who would take the law into their own hands, are everywhere. One of the most visible is on Facebook, and goes by the telling name of "No Peace For Predators". In their view, all Sex Offenders are predators - and their name gives away their true intentions: to harass, threaten, intimidate, and otherwise make life miserable for anyone unfortunate enough to find themselves on the Registry and in their area of operation. Particularly telling is that their logo is a set of brass knuckles.

So, it was quite interesting when I found this on their Facebook page:

What's this? A link to actual facts about Sex Offenders? Let's investigate and see what's here:

I'm moderately impressed that NPFP would link to actual statistics from credible sources. But, let's go back to the original post: NPFP states that, while the linked site is "a good tool", they're "not too sure about the numbers". In short, even though they found the link and posted it, they don't believe it's true.

Why is that, NPFP? Is it because the facts don't match up with what you've been led to believe? Is it because you feel a bit of a twinge of conscience when you harass someone who poses no danger to anyone?

Notice the comment left by Sabrina Fitzgerald-Ruiz - even in the face of evidence that 94.7% of sex offenders pose no risk for committing another sex crime, despite the fact that 60% of boys and 80% of girls are molested by someone they know and not a stranger on the registry, she and others believe that Sex Offenders cannot be rehabilitated.

If you think that a 5.3% recidivism rate is too high, you're right. It should be 0%, in a perfect world. But we don't live in a perfect world, because if we did, the initial crime would never have happened, which would negate the possibility of recidivism.

But, let's put that recidivism rate in perspective. The State of Tennessee conducted a study in 2009 (story link) that tracked the recidivism rates for DUI, robbery, and rape for the 5 years between 2002 and 2007. Here's what they found:

DUI recidivism - 34% within 6 months of initial arrest
Robbery recidivism - 16% within 6 months of initial arrest
Rape recidivism - 6% within 6 months of initial arrest

Drunk drivers are almost 6 times more likely to drink and drive again, compared to sex offenders committing another crime.

Sabrina Fitzgerald-Ruiz complains about a system that "slaps (offenders) on the wrist, only to be released" again. I submit that she's worried about the wrong group of offenders.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Residency Restriction Fallacy

In my State, as in most (if not all) others, sex offenders are prohibited from living within a certain number of feet of a school. The list usually also contains parks, playgrounds, daycares, and a host of other locations, but I'm focusing on schools for this post. I happen to be a bit lucky; my State allows a sex offender to live within the prohibited zone if they had established their residence before the law prohibiting residency took effect.

I mention this because the lot my house sits on straddles the boundary of the prohibited zone, which, of course, means that the entire property would normally be off limits for me to live there, had I not bought my house several years before the law took effect. The ironic part is, the house directly behind me would be perfectly legal for me to live in. Both houses are on the corners of parallel streets that intersect the main street used for children walking to and from the school.

I measured the distance from the school boundary to the edge of the prohibited zone, because I was curious. That boundary lies exactly 3 feet from the threshold of my front door, so technically, I don't live in the prohibited zone, but the law is not concerned with the house itself, but rather the property as a whole.

But this begs a question: if the law recognized that the structure is separate from the lot, how do those 3 feet make the children of that school any safer? Suppose that the boundary crossed through the middle of my house: why would they be safer if I lived in a back bedroom instead of a front one? Under the current interpretation, why are they safer if I lived in the house behind my house (which would put me approximately 77 feet outside the exclusion zone, based on property lines)? If anything, that particular house sits closer to the sidewalk those children would walk down than the house I currently live in.

The answer is: they aren't, and the reason why has nothing to do with my probability of re-offending. It has nothing to do with my proximity to their school. It has nothing to do with anything related to me, because those children are 20 times more likely to be molested by a family member or trusted friend.

To paraphrase a line from a movie: "We've tracked the molester - they're already in your house."

At best, residency restrictions and online registries are distractions from the real dangers facing your children. At worst, they provide a false sense of security, lowering your guard when it needs to be at its highest level of alert. Those multi-foot bubbles around schools and other locations don't magically prevent harm from happening, and yet, we act like they do.

Facts remain facts, whether or not you choose to accept them. And those facts say that 95% of all new sex crime is committed by someone who is not listed on any online registry, who is free to live within a prohibited zone. The young men in the Steubenville case. Jerry Sandusky. These are but two examples of a list that goes on and on.

Does the registry have value? Perhaps, but only if it could effectively identify the highest risks. Do residency restrictions have value? Again, perhaps, but only for those who pose the highest risk. It might seem strange for someone on the registry to make these statements, but understand: I'm not against the registry as a concept. It's the overly-broad application of the registry that's the problem. If someone cries "wolf" every time they see a dog, eventually, you stop caring because every time the cry goes out, it turns out it's not a wolf - and then one day, a wolf shows up and you fail to heed to call. This is the state of the registry and laws today.

There's wolves out there, and they're already amongst your flock, because, right now, they look and act like the loyal family dog.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Steubenville & "Rape Culture"

Aside from the documented cases of serial rapists and serial molesters, sex crime is rarely a planned activity. And yet, after high profile cases such as Steubenville, the blogs and comments in news articles are filled with calls for castration or even execution as an effective way to make sure "it never happens again". One commenter I saw advocated crushing the testicles of the two young men convicted in the Steubenville case between two large rocks as a first punishment, in order to "remove the tools used to commit the crime" - followed by public execution for a second offense.

This, of course, ignores the well-established data that says sex offenders have one of the lowest recidivism rates. While no predictor of future action is 100% accurate, the best indicator we have is the sum of the actions of those who have come before. That data says that these young men have a very low chance of ever doing something like this again. Testicle smashing and execution are not about justice - they're about vengeance.

In the case in Steubenville, as in most sex crime cases, it was a crime of opportunity, fueled by an inhibition and judgement-lowering substance (in this case, alcohol, and possibly drugs) and mob mentality. This does not excuse the actions of these young men, nor does it justify them. The young woman should have been safe to become drunk and incapacitated - and it was the moral duty of those around her to make sure she stayed safe while in that state.

Humans are funny animals. In an intoxicated state, and in the presence of peers, we do things that we normally would not do. This is why so many family reunions and gatherings end in fights when a simmering resentment normally held in check is released by alcohol. It's the basis of the "Here, hold my beer" and the "Hey, y'all, watch this" redneck jokes. One only has to look at the riots after sports championships are won to understand that the intoxication need not come from alcohol or other substances. People get trampled to death on Black Friday over a flat-screen TV. Individually, these boys would probably have taken the right action. Sadly, like the rest of humanity, in a group and in the presence of alcohol, different dynamics and thought processes took over.

However, after the verdicts and sentences, something strange happened. Feminist blogs and commenters began to talk about "rape culture". Hashtags appeared on Twitter; graphics showed up on Facebook; blogs began to overflow with rants about the injustice of the Steubenville sentences as evidence of "rape culture".

What is "rape culture"? According to these blogs and their followers and commenters, "rape culture" is the unstated privilege that men supposedly enjoy that encourages and fosters rape. "Rape culture" is concerned with the hurt feelings and damaged futures of the perpetrators of rape, rather than the victim. "Rape culture" is "victim blaming" if the news media reports on and comments about the rapist instead of the victim.

It is, of course, complete and utter bullshit. The feminist outcry isn't about justice for the victim; it's about vengance against the perpetrators. "Where is the talk about the victim?" they cry. What they don't understand is that the news media cannot give any information about the "promising student" the victim is. They cannot talk about her career plans. They cannot identify her in any way, because the laws championed by these same feminists years ago in the name of protecting the victim from having details of her past exposed now prevents the news from revealing anything, unless and until the victim herself comes forward. In the absence of anything to report about the victim, the news media instead focuses on the one thing they can - the perpetrators. If we truly care about justice, and truly care about healing the wounds that all involved have suffered, we would have sympathy for both the victim and the perpetrators in everything they have lost - the careers, the hard work, the innocence of youth. As the law and current situation stands, we are left with only the ability to mourn what these young men have lost in a moment of drunken stupidity.

But, there is a darker side to "rape culture", one that the feminists don't acknowledge. You're not supposed to believe that this could happen:

The feminists cry out, the victim is to be believed at all costs. Even if the story doesn't quite make sense. The police have "an unreasonably strict definition of rape." And, in order to be believed, the victim need only "put on a bit of a show".

This is the true "rape culture". It's rape used as a weapon - not only by men against women, but by women against men. Think on this, the next time you condemn someone of being on the Sex Offender Registry. That "pervert" down the street might just be as innocent as they claim. Then again, they might not be so innocent. You don't know.

And you'll never know, if all you know is based upon a listing on a website.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Power of Fear

"Not in my back yard."

There's an insidious problem creeping in to the neighborhoods of this country. Neighbors are looking around, and seeing large concentrations of sex offenders living in their midst. Two decades of political fear-mongering, of convincing the public of the "danger" represent by sex offenders, has lead to this:

LA Building Pocket Parks To Force Sex Offenders To Move

Los Angeles is but the latest city to follow the lead set by Miami of setting residency restrictions so tight that sex offenders are forced to live in tighter and tighter clusters, and then establishing so-called "pocket parks" in the middle of the cluster, effectively removing the last vestige of legally habitable space. Many times, these "pocket parks" are little more than a housing lot, spruced up with nominal play-equipment and a sign. Sometimes, they're even smaller than that. With very little, if any, actual room for children to play, the "pocket park" strategy is exposed for what it is: a return to the colonial-era practice of exile.

Even with decades of research, enough studies to decimate a forest, and a mountain of data to choke a supercomputer, the myth continues, feeding the politics of fear:

"Sex offenders are incurable, will offend again, and they're coming for your children."

And so, we shun these people, push them to the margins of society, exile them to the fringes of our cities and towns, deny them employment. Then, when they lose all hope, all shreds of dignity, and finally become the criminal we've left them no choice but to be (by stealing, selling drugs, assuming false identities and living in prohibited areas) in an effort to merely survive, we hold them up to the light and say, "See? I told you! They're worthless!"

We respond, not with understanding the very thing that forced them underground (or into clusters of living areas); instead, we respond with stricter laws and establish things like "pocket parks". To use a medical analogy, it's like trying to cure a disease without understanding the cause of the infection. To quote Princess Leia in Star Wars: "The more you tighten your grip, the more star systems will slip through your fingers", as sex offenders, left with little choice, go underground with assumed identities and are lost to the very system that's supposed to track them, in order to live in decent housing and support themselves with a job.

If we truly cared about justice, if we really want to monitor sex offenders, we wouldn't drive them from our midst with the glaring spotlight of public shaming and fear-based community notifications. We would help them re-integrate into society, with stable jobs and secure housing. But, if we are honest without ourselves, we will admit that our current policies, attitudes, and laws about sex offenders aren't about justice and monitoring - they're about vengeance and humiliation.

And that speaks volumes about our society.

I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice.
Abraham Lincoln

Monday, March 11, 2013

First Things

Let's get one thing straight, right from the beginning: I'm not here seeking sympathy or absolution. What's done is done, and nothing can change that. But what I can change is the future. That is the purpose of this blog; to inform, instruct, and (hopefully) educate the reader by sharing my story, observations, and facts.

Often I hear something to the effect of, "Why should you get to go on and live your life, when your victim has to deal with what you've done for the rest of hers?" This is an absurd question, for several reasons:
  1. It pre-supposes that my victim cannot recover from the trauma I inflicted, that she is, in some sense, "damaged for life". I do not argue that, in some respect, what I've done has changed how she lives her life. But, victims of trauma do not remain victims, unless they choose to, or are forced to remain so by a public that needs a victim to justify continuing revenge and punishment. Each of us bears the trauma of events in our lives, from car accidents to dog bites to broken bones and near-drownings. Those traumas have made us who we are, and while they may have changed how we approach certain situations, we have moved beyond them.
  2. It presumes that punishment dictated by the criminal justice system is inadequate. That the laws of the State, passed by the People, do not deal a harsh enough punishment. That the trauma of sexual assault is quintessentially different than the trauma of being a victim of any other crime, and therefore, must be dealt with more severely. 
  3. It relies upon the false assumption that sex offenders cannot control themselves, and that it is just a matter of time before they re-offend. This flies in the face of numerous studies that show that sexual offenders have the second lowest specific-recidivism (committing the same crime again) rate of any class of criminal - the only group with a lower rate of specific-recidivism are people convicted of murder.
  4. It is supported by the belief that the laws regarding sex offenders will protect you or your loved ones. While there is a sub-set of sex offenders who will re-offend (as there is any any group of criminals), the studies show that 95% of all sex offenses are committed by someone not on the sex offender registry. Think about that for a moment - you are 20 times more likely to be the victim of a sexual assault committed by someone who isn't me or or one of my fellow registrants.
  5. Related to this belief is the assumption that these laws have reduced the overall rate of sex offenses, when studies show that the rate has remained constant over a period covering 10 years before and 10 years after the enactment of the various laws.
  6. It classifies people like me as an animal or sub-human. It is easy to justify the mistreatment and denial of rights of a class of citizen once we make the determination that they are less than human. It is the basis for slavery, the slaughter of Native Americans, the atrocities committed against the Jews, and segregation.
  7. It assumes that I do not feel some measure of guilt and remorse over my actions.
So, the question shouldn't be, "Why should you get to go on and live your life?", but rather, "What can we do to help your victim and you rebuild your life?" Sadly, we're not there, for either myself or my victim.