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@Jezebel, I Expect Better

December 2, 2012

Welcome to my soapbox. The treatment of sex offenders is an issue that I have studied and debated about for years and I hate the fact that people allow their emotions to overcome their logic or sense of fairness on this. Keep in mind that I hate this subject because I always end up being the person who appears to be defending sex offenders, which is never fun. In reality, I am doing what I always do, looking for justice.

I like Jezebel. It’s a good site that is usually either funny or insightful and sometimes manages to be both. This time however, not so much. No, in this case they are knee-jerk and uninformed and frankly, illogical. Jezebel is a site with a specific mindset, which I totally respect. In this case they are contradicting at least one of their obvious goals,sex worker positivity, because they are buying in to the Western cultural stigamtization of sex and sex crimes.

Let’s look at some facts. Let’s stipulate to the fact that if sex offenders re-offend they are significantly more likely to do so in the form of another sex offense.

Of released sex offenders who allegedly committed another sex crime

Of the 9,691 male sex offenders released from prisons in 15 States in 1994, 5.3% were rearrested for a new sex crime within 3 years of release.

Sex offenders were about four times more likely than non-sex offenders to be arrested for another sex crime

Emphasis mine.

All of these statements have one thing in common. They make it pretty clear that when sex offenders re-offend they are significantly more likely to do so in the form of a sex crime. I stipulated that. However that fact doesn’t change the reality fact that sex offenders are less likely to re-offend overall than are other types of criminals. 68% of non-sex offenders re-offend compared to 43% of sex offenders. 68 is more than 43.

Looking at it another way, 94.7% of sex offenders were not arrested for a new sex crime within 3 years of release. 94.7% is an amazingly high number of convicted sex offenders who are not being convicted of new sex offenses. You can drill deeper into the BoJ stats here. Fair warning though, if you share my particular type of nerd you’re going to spend weeks playing with those tables.

This quote is particularly bothersome.

A report from the Army noted that service members with waivers were more likely to commit a felony sex crime on active duty than those without waivers. Fucking duh.

Duh? How about no. Having been in the military I’ll tell you something which I know to be true. The reaction of any commander is the path of least resistance. As such, a report of sexual assault will generally be ignored unless there is a compelling reason not to ignore it. Thus, the fact that a person has a record of sexual misconduct makes them an acceptable loss if for no other reason than their past makes it harder to ignore the accusation. It does not logically follow that those people who have such a history are committing more sexual assaults in the military.

I assume this law is well intentioned, but as someone who understands how both the military and the criminal justice systems are supposed to work and as someone who respects that ideal greatly, and as someone who has conducted some basic research into military waivers, it is also offensive.

Aside from the fact that, depending on the state, the designation sex offender varies from serial rapist to someone convicted of solicitation or prostitution, to someone who has a wardrobe malfunction. As such, people who are of almost no danger to their fellow soldiers are prevented from the opportunity to improve their lives along with those who may be a danger to others.

In Louisiana, the only state in which a prostitution conviction carries the automatic designation as a sex offender, the people most negatively effected by this law are poor, non-Caucasian and female. Good looking out there, Jezebel. Keep in mind as well that any judge can require a convict to register as a sex offender so even in those states where registration is not a requirement, it is still a danger.

The most common response to all of this, the one that people will almost always retreat to is the faulty logic that the BoJ stats are wrong because they can only track those crimes that have ended in conviction, as if the central theory of our criminal justice system, that a defendant is innocent until proven guilty, doesn’t apply specifically to sex offenders. Yes, a lot of studies show that most sex crimes go unreported but we can’t just make up scenarios about those crimes that suit us and make laws based on those scenarios. Punishing people because of what they might do in the future is neither rational nor fair. It is not how justice works.

This bill is useless. It is a band-aid on a bullet wound. It will do almost nothing to protect female soldiers from sexual assault but t will be pointed to as an effective solution by those who want to prevent real change.

Criminals, even sex offenders have the right to serve their time and attempt to reintegrate into society. If, and only if the actually commit another crime should they be punished, not before had and certainly not because we think they are going to re-offend when they are less likely to do so than other criminals.

One Comment leave one →
  1. December 3, 2012 10:41 AM

    I wouldn’t argue with you about anything you’ve written here, so I guess I’m in the same position you find yourself in. Unfortunately, the justice system isn’t really about justice most of the time (and I say that having seen what goes on behind the scenes at court when I was studying to be a paralegal and did a six-month internship with a judge), but about expedience and appearing to have “done something” about a partcular case. Of course, there are people in the system who have all the best intentions, but I found them to be few and far between.

    I especially agree about the proposition that it isn’t proper to punish someone for something someone thinks they might do in the future.

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