Tuesday, June 17, 2008

A Debt That Can Never Be Paid

In an Alternet article today, Tragic Traps: Make a Mistake in America and You May Pay a Heavy Price for Decades, the author wrote about the increasing for-profit US prison system:

Unlucky citizens who fall victim to the U.S. justice system are treated like profit centers to be squeezed without mercy.

To illustrate his point, the author featured the case of a man whose life was permanently ruined after being arrested and stamped with the dubious label of "sex offender." What earned him this classification was for engaging in drunken consensual sex in a parked car with an adult women who later regretted her consent after sobering up and who then pressed rape charges against him.

My response is as follows:

21st Century Witch Hunt

The enforcement of the latest crime category du jour, that of "Sex Offender", has turned into a modern witch hunt almost to the point of hysteria in some instances. The classification paints an absurdly broad brush in true zero tolerance style and, in many instances, leaves reason and common sense behind, where the punishments no longer fit the crimes.

When the average person hears the term, "sex offender", they think of pedophile predators raping five year olds, who, of course, should be punished harshly.

What many people don't realize is that the classification of "sex offender" encompasses many offenses, many of them minor, and some with only the most tenuous connections to sex under its ridiculous broad "umbrella".

A sex offender can be someone who had consensual sex, as in the article, with someone who later regrets their consent for whatever reason and decides to press charges for date rape.

A sex offender can be a teenager having consensual sex or getting a blow job from a slightly younger girlfriend, as in the case of Genarlow Wilson. Millions of so-called sex offenders are simply teenage boyfriend/girlfriend realationships doing what teens have done for hundreds of years. The difference today is that parents turn to the legal system to act in a parental role for them and handle these situations rather than handling it themselves privately, as was done in the past, thus permanently ruining a young man's life for underage consensual sex. The harsh penalties that in no way fit the crime in such cases make the shotgun wedding seem like a more humane solution!

In some states, a person can even be classified as a "sex offender" for the rest of his life if he was arrested for urinating outdoors behind a dumpster! Such ludicrously blockheaded applications of the law fail to distinguish between someone purposely exposing themselves to others for sexual purposes and someone who simply wants to avoid soiling themselves because they cannot wait until they can find a restroom.

Once branded as "sex offenders", such people, few of whom are the true pedophile predators, are relegated to a permanent second class existence in the ways shown in the article. I even heard of several of these men being compelled by the state of Florida to live under a bridge because of all the restrictions on where they may live barred them from any normal housing in the area where they are under probation.

All this sex offender hysteria makes me wonder -- what about murderers who are out on parole, probation, or who have completed their obligations? No one seems to care overmuch where they live, where they work, nor are their movements normally restricted among the general public to the same degree as sex offenders. Do we really believe that someone who has killed another person, sometimes violently, is less of a danger to the public than a 17 year old boy who once got a consensual blowjob from his fifteen year old girlfriend, a public pee-er, or an adult who had drunken consensual sex in a car with a grown woman who later regretted it once she sobered up?

It's time lawmakers applied some rational, common-sense logic to the bloated "sex offender" classification and reserved this label for the true pedophiles and predators out there.

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