Sunday, January 15, 2012

Ending sex crime through awareness, prevention and education

Upon collaboration with several passionate and intelligent minds, I present to you the title of this post, which also has an acronym - ESCAPE - and is the name of my newest endeavor in my crusade to end the way our society legislates and teaches about sex crime. For the moment, it's just a page on Facebook (which you are MORE than welcomed and encouraged to "like", HERE). However, I have big plans for this group. I'm hoping to use this approach, which calls for legislation reform in the name of effectively protecting our communities and families, to better gain the attention and respect it needs. I firmly believe that this is what I was born to do, and I plan to do it until it isn't physically possible. Hopefully in the near future there will be an official website, a growing member list and tax-exempt status. I am willing to do anything to get closer to a future where our laws reflect facts and everyone - from victims to former offenders and everyone in between - is truly safe.

This is the from the description on ESCAPE's Facebook page: "Our goal is to reform current sex crime legislation, which is not fact-based and provides no preventative measures for current or future victims. Because politicians, legislators, and even law enforcement are unfortunately ignorant to this, it's up to the public to learn and demand laws that effectively protect our communities. Here, we provide the information and tools you need to become educated on sex crime and how we can achieve change." My latest post, where I used recidivism rates and other statistics to calculate just how little current legislation does to prevent sex crime and how many victims it CREATES, rather than protects, has been on my mind since I wrote it. There is no way for me to "un-know" this information, and frankly I believe it would be wrong of me not to do anything about it now that I do.

This thought was reaffirmed this morning, when I had the pleasure of playing TWO church services back-to-back and listened to the pastor's sermon twice. On the eve of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, she chose to focus on the idea of answering God's call. The scripture readings were both examples of prophets who were asked by God to spread His word to others, and how the prophets were thought of to be great leaders who brought about unthinkable change in their societies. She equated MLK to said prophets, who answered a call that was impossible for them to ignore, even though it inevitably led to serious backlash - and in the case of MLK, death. These are people who were not speaking out under the assumption that someday, Bible books and national holidays would be named after them. They were doing it because it was their calling, despite the consequences and setbacks.

The pastor also cautioned that even though we aren't living in ancient Jerusalem, or the 1960's - prejudice, discrimination and bias still exists in our daily lives, even though our bathrooms aren't segregated and we don't prosecute individuals based on their religion. Our world still needs leaders and teachers like Samuel and MLK, and those leaders need followers. Without people to teach, there is no message. She challenged us to answer God's call, whatever individual request God has of us, and accept it wholeheartedly. I have!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Which children are worth protecting?

Yesterday morning I participated in a discussion in response to - oh, what a surprise! - the "clustering" of sex offenders living in trailer parks, roadside motels and other stereotypically rural, poor, shady areas. As usual, many of the posters who had gotten there before me were sounding off about how child molesters should be dragged out behind the barn and shot, sent to Guantanamo Bay or stay in jail forever. Although I strongly desired to point out how hypocritical it was for them to be judging people who had committed crimes by suggesting violent or ignorant punishments, for the most part I held myself back and instead, replied as factually as possible. The results were slightly better than usual.

For the most part, I started out my responses clarifying that the term "sex offender" is not a synonym for "pedophile". I went on to say that if, in fact, the registry was only a list of diagnosed pedophiles, individuals who had committed crimes against children or who were very violent and shown to have a high risk of re-offense, it would be a valuable tool and no argument would be heard from me as to its value. However, considering that recidivism rates for sex crimes in general have been consistently shown to be very low - 3.5 to 8.5% - and that 93-95% of children who are sexually abused are victimized by someone they know and trust, who has never been convicted of a sex crime and therefore not on any registry - our laws fail to protect the high majority of current and future crime victims. Why not remove the non-dangerous individuals from the registry, those that will very likely never re-offend, and re-delegate those resources to better tracking and monitoring of the truly dangerous and education/prevention programs for children and their parents?

Instead of being chastised for defending and loving sex offenders, for the most part my views were acknowledged, but considered difficult to implement. One individual said that prevention was impossible, and that there was no way to know who would commit a sex crime until it was too late. Another said that in a perfect world, that would happen, but it would take too long to make the changes. And of course, there were the inevitable few who were angry with me for providing the facts that as usual, the article didn't provide, and refused to believe them.

Although it was a welcome break from the typical personal attacks and blatant ignorance, it was still frustrating. Even when the topic was approached in a more socially acceptable, less emotionally charged manner, for the most part people still did not want to listen. In one particular interaction, a fellow poster took issue with the way I phrased something and claimed that in order to look at things from my perspective, one "had to be a sex offender or know someone who was." It's very rare that I allude to my personal experience as the girlfriend of a sex offender in online commenting, since it often is misinterpreted and all my credibility is lost. However, in this case I was unable to hold back and fired back that yes, I did happen to love a sex offender, who was a 13-year-old child being horrifically abused by his sex- and pornography-addicted mother in every conceivable way, forced to do something he did not want to do with a younger sibling, and then tried and convicted as an adult several years later by the same mother and was sold out by a wealthy step-father who had the funds to sway the district attorney, the judge and child protective services. For good measure, I added that one quarter of the 750,000 individuals on the sex offender registry are juveniles - CHILDREN - 18 and under.

After some weak attempts on the part of the poster who had extracted my story to gather more information about the situation and backpedal slightly, another individual jumped in. He was apologetic and acknowledged the tragedy of G's circumstances, but was sure that situations like his were unusual and that he was an unfortunate victim of a system that must act in the interest of what is best for the majority. He also asserted that a recidivism rate of 3.5 - 8.5% is still too much and in order to protect the best interests of all children, that the non-violent, non-child molesting sex offenders would just have to deal with the consequences of the system.

I responded to both of these men that while I understand and agree that laws need to address the needs of many, not a few - our laws fail to do this. Our laws don't do a thing to prevent sex crime because they only target those who have been caught. Maybe the best way to illustrate how incomplete and ineffective sex crime legislation is is to do it with numbers.

There are upwards of 750,000 registered sex offenders in this country. If the worst case scenario occurs, and 8.5% of them commit another sex crime - that's 63,750 new offenses. And since some offenders have multiple victims, let's just round it up to 70,000 new crime victims.

We know that many child molesters are never caught or convicted. The same goes for perpetrators of rape, incest, and sexual assault. Although there is no confirmed number or percentage of how many sex crimes go unreported each year, many victim advocacy groups claim it is as high as 90%. Much lower percentages have also been reported and we haven't talked about false accusations, so let's under-assume here and say that the 750,000 people on the registry represent a quarter of all people guilty of committing some type of sex crime. That means that there are 2,250,000 additional sexual predators living among us who are undocumented and completely unaffected by sex crime legislation.

The 8.5% recidivism rate is for individuals who have been caught and convicted of a sex crime - we don't know what the recidivism rate is for those who have never been caught. It would be reasonable to assume it is higher, however we don't want to assume so we'll just use 8.5%. 8.5% of 2,250,000 undocumented sexual predators committing just one crime per year is 191,250 new crime victims - not rounded up. That's over 273% more than the 70,000 who may or may not be victimized by a registered offender if they re-offend at the highest rate possible and have multiple victims.

Suddenly, the needs of the few versus the needs of many looks strikingly different. It's impossible to ignore. And my calculations are not taking into account the number of juveniles on the registry - remember that if those same juveniles were victims of a sex crime, they would be considered children. One quarter of 750,000 means there are 187,500 children sitting in prisons around the country whose lives are irrefutably changed forever - much like childhood victims of sex crime. Parents of children of registered sex offenders report that their children experience social difficulties, loss of friendships, and discrimination from teachers, schools and other children. So, which children are we protecting? How many are we really protecting? Is it really "impossible" to implement education and awareness programs to prevent and reduce sex crime towards kids, or is it just too hard?

Obviously, it's easier to protect a relative few children than it is to protect a few hundred thousand. But is it worth it?

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Public perception about sex offenders is wrong - proven!

I rant a lot about people refusing to accept the truth and completely disregarding facts even when they are undeniably proven. Because it's a concept I absolutely cannot get my head around, I was very intrigued by two studies I discovered yesterday - one from CSOM and the other from an author out of Canada - exploring and analyzing public awareness, perception and attitude towards sex offenders and sex crime in general.

The Canadian study (here) surveyed 102 first, second, and third year behavioral science students studying at St. Lawrence University in Ontario. Overwhelmingly, young people who obviously have some interest in learning about the internal workings and capabilities of the human mind, were largely incorrect in their perceptions about recidivism rates of sex offenders. 41% of the students believed a person who committed sexual assault involving a threat to life was "very likely" to re-offend, and 31% of the students believed a person who committed sexual assault without threat to life was "very likely" to re-offend. The same students believed that people who commit assault with a threat to life, assault, arson with threat to life, and arson are all less likely to re-offend than those who committed sexual crimes. Statistics indicate that recidivism rates for assault and arson (among other crimes) are actually much higher than sexual assault, which interestingly, is notably contradictory of the students' perceptions.

The majority of the students (96%) believed that sexual assault with threat to life would pose the most trauma to the victim out of all the scenarios. It was believed by the majority of the students that treatment would not be at all effective for perpetrators of sexual assault, and the majority also indicated that the longest prison sentences (life in prison) should be assigned to those found guilty of sexual assault. Actual prison sentences for sex crimes vary quite a bit depending on all kinds of factors, however it is not uncommon for those convicted of sex crimes to receive longer sentences than those convicted of non-sexual violent crimes. Again, the students' perceptions as well as reality does not accurately reflect the documented effectiveness of sex offender treatment, which has been shown to be helpful in reducing re-offense as opposed to longer sentences.

In the CSOM study (here), which is is a project of the US Department of Justice, the 1,005 participants were individuals deemed to be representative of an average community member. They were similarly asked to indicate their knowledge of sex crime. Surprisingly, the majority of participants accurately believed that most victims are acquainted with their offenders. However, the majority of participants also believed that recidivism rates were very high (75% or above), and that post-release restrictions (such as residency restrictions, GPS monitoring, community registering and notification, etc.) are necessary in preventing or reducing sex crime. 74% indicated that the majority of what they know and learn about sex crime is via news media. Only 3% of those surveyed accurately believed that recidivism rates are under 25%.

None of these results were surprising to me - the sentiments expressed in both studies are very similar to the attitudes of people I encounter when discussing the topic of sex crime. It is frustrating to know that public awareness is so skewed, but what I found next in the study was beyond frustrating - it was disturbing.

The participants were asked if they would still support residency restrictions even if such restrictions were proven to lead to unintended consequences (which most experts believe is the case). Over half responded that they would.

This seems strange, considering that the majority of participants also indicated that they would support treatment for sex offenders if it was shown to be effective, that they believed lawmakers should base legislation on what research indicates, and that they wanted more information than they currently had about how to prevent sex crimes in the community. However, their opinions regarding residency restrictions seem to contradict all of those statements.

Although the CSOM study was personally validating to me, as it scientifically documented my experiences with the public to be mostly uninformed and based mainly on what the media tells them, it did nothing to explain why the public consistently reacts this way. As a person who desperately looks forward to the day when sex crime legislation reflects facts and not emotions, this study made me feel even more hopeless than I sometimes feel after a fruitless attempt to educate someone who simply does not want to learn. As I struggle daily attempting to figure out what the key is to breaking the cycle of ignorance, after reading the study I am even more uncertain.

I suppose for now I will plod along as I always do - allowing myself to be the recipient of daily public floggings in hopes that just a few will silently read what I offer and be strong enough to wonder if it might be true. Even if someone wants or needs to publicly degrade me and our cause, and then secretly chooses to think twice, I will have accomplished my goal.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Accept the truth and change the world!

As anyone lobbying for any kind of law reform knows, a fair amount of legislature is outdated. If not outdated, then focused too much on one particular goal and ignorant of obvious consequences. Or it's incomplete. Or it's largely baseless. Whatever the issue is with a particular law, they all have one thing in common: a politician is responsible for its passage. For those who have studied and/or experienced the ineffectiveness or negative results of that law, it is an infuriating but common scenario. Law enforcement deals its typical lip service as to the law's effectiveness, and the public latches on...and the cycle continues. For law reform advocates, infiltrating that cycle is usually the hardest part. In my experience, it is because one of the only chinks in the armor of ineffective but popular legislation is the public's opinion and emotions.

Those of us who have studied the law have acknowledged the facts and the statistics surrounding it; sometimes it is difficult for us (I know it is for me) to comprehend that not everyone is as willing, ready or able to accept the truth as we are. For me, and probably many of you reading, there's no consideration or wondering or pondering - the truth is the truth and the sooner we deal with it, the better off we'll be. But if the truth is scary or strange or different from what popular opinion is, many are capable of incredible mental gymnastics in order to prevent the truth from being the truth.

Maybe the best way to illustrate this is to provide, word for word, the responses I have received when I present people with facts regarding the ineffectiveness of sex crime legislation. The following are excerpts from commenting forums for various online news articles regarding various sex crime/sex offender issues over the past two weeks. Commenters' names have been anonymized.
Article: Mission Viejo proposal to ban sex offenders from public parks
 (In response to a commenter who provided text from a study that found sex offender recidivism rates to be about 4-5% )

RH: To me, 4% or 5% is 4% or 5% too much. And those findings that you posted are after 3 years. I'd like to know the recidivism rate after 10 years. Once arrested, offenders - like other criminals - become more secretive of their affairs and wrongdoings.

Me: Here's a study that spans 1983-2010, and includes all states: Keep in mind that these studies don't differentiate between the type of offense. For example, a diagnosed pedophile who has molested children has a much higher re-offense rate than someone who urinated in public, was a teenager having a consensual sexual relationship with an underage girlfriend, or a child playing doctor. That's why broad legislation like this is dangerous. It saves money, but allows the truly dangerous offenders to slip through more easily, while punishing those who will never re-offend.

RH:  Shana, you're a gullible young lady. I'm already aware of who you are and your agenda. I don't really care how you (or your "studies*) bend and twist the stats. The stats aren't my main concern. The children are. I've lived long enough to learn one unfortunate fact about people: they don't usually change. That includes sex offenders. When you become passive and do nothing to protect the children you are opening the wrong doors. The bottom line is this: putting sex offenders among the community is putting children at risk. Period.

I should note that in the above instance, I showed RH the source of the studies - the US Department of Justice and several states (in other words, the very entities who created the laws). I also challenged him to explain how a law that only helps, statistically, 5% of children is beneficial. There was no further response.

 Article: Aliahna Lemmon lived in a trailer park with sex offenders (but wasn't killed by one)
(in response to my pointing out that the registry and sex offender legislation didn't prevent her death)

LF:  I found your comments, frankly offensive to children and so I looked at your page. You're quite dedicated to defending sexual offenders. I think that's repulsive. If you have issue with the definition of a sex offender, for example someone who was 19 and his girlfriend was under the state's legal age and that resulted in his conviction, than could I suggest you persue changing that definition through the courts. To collect stories of children who were molested, murdered and then post them on a blog to defend sex offenders is disgusting. [she is referring to this blog entry]

Me: If that is what you got from that blog entry, then I can tell already that you don't want to learn. I was using those stories to demonstrate how poorly sex crime legislation is protecting children. If you can't see that, that is your own ignorance.

LF:  But you DO defend sex offenders, you have an entire blog dedicated to that subject. And how, sitting in New York do you have access to "the facts" more than anyone else

Me:  My blog is not about "defending sex offenders". It is only a small part of what I do to advocate for reform in sex crime legislation. For about the fifth time now, existing legislation is failing our children and our communities. Sex crime has not gone down. Children are being abused at the same rate. Prisons are so full, truly dangerous individuals are being released because there is no room for them. The facts I am referring to are not state-specific, and my location has nothing to do with the accessibility of this information. Almost everything I've learned is publicly available, and not too hard to find.
No further response from LF. 

Same article, in response to an individual claiming recidivism rates are at 50%

Me: I don't know where you are getting the statistic that "almost half of sex offenders re-offend", but it is incorrect. Yes, cases like Jessica Lunsford and Megan Kanka occur. But not often. If you only go by what the media chooses to focus on - which no doubt are the most gruesome, heinous cases - I could see where you might assume that. However, the fact is you don't hear about the much more common, lesser offenses, because they are not as "interesting". If you read my entire reply, you would have seen that I support stricter management and treatment of individuals who are diagnosed pedophiles and have shown a high risk of re-offense.

JL: Shana Rowan I'm very offended by not only you sticking up for sex offenders but by calling me ignorant! For your information little girl I have my degree in criminal justice! I do feel sorry for those families however i have NO SYMPATHY FOR A SEX OFFENDER! Sorry I"m not a big hearted creep such as yourself! Ur right not all are child rapists....but the majority are not sexual misconduct with a minor either! Even so the adult shouldn't have been screwing a minor wether it was consensual or not!!! YOU CAN'T PUT A CHILD MOLESTER IN THE SAME BOX AS SOMEONE WHOSE CHARGED WITH ARSON! I never said people didn't make mistake....BUT A CHILD MOLESTER DIDN'T MAKE A MISTAKE! YOU CAN'T CHANGE A RAPIST OR SEX OFFENDERS THINKING!!! that's jus the way it is!!!

Article: Another article focusing on the number of sex offenders living where Aliahna lived even though they didn't harm her

Me: The fact that sex offenders lived in the trailer park is 100% irrelevant to the story. Nothing more than a media ploy to further sensationalize the brutal murder of an innocent young girl. Pathetic on the part of the public and law enforcement, too. Aliahna's death is the perfect example, to a T, of everything that's wrong with SO legislation. The registry didn't help her; all the cops were too busy "tracking and managing" the 15 sex offenders in the trailer park to realize Plumadore had an active arrest warrant for a non-sex crime and could have been incarcerated therefore preventing her death. Recidivism for SOs is EXTREMELY low, and for all the parents who "didn't know" they were living there, no one to blame but yourself. The registry is public and can be searched by anyone. SOs have no choice, in many areas, but to be restricted geographically where they are permitted to live which results in higher concentrations of them. It has nothing to do with them banding together to molest more children. It is the result of laws the PUBLIC and uninformed politicians insisted on.

TC: Shana, Your sitting here complaining about how child molesters are treated and how it is irrelevent that 14 child molesters live in a trailor park? Would you feel that way if you were a mother living there trying to raise her children? Oh you probley would since you seem to love a man who has raped a child.

SH: Answer my question do you really think this is the appropriate place to post a link to your website? This is about a child. Not you. Not your boyfriend. You are adults. This is about a 9 year old little girl who's life was ruined by child molesters. Let this be about her. Honestly you and I are never going to agree on anything. You find it appropriate to use this story for your own personal gain. That's disgusting. Use your website to write what you want to help or change sex offender laws. I REPEAT THIS IS NOT THE PLACE TO DO IT.

Me: Yes, I think it's perfectly appropriate. If you had read that particular entry you would have seen why. It had nothing to do with my boyfriend or myself. It was about how Aliahna's death could have been prevented by being willing to re-think sex crime legislation. It's perfectly relevant. Now, can you answer my question, of how "advocating for legislation reform that protects children" (what I said) gets translated into "campaigning for precious convicted sex offenders"? (your words)?

SH: Your campaign is to help sex offenders. My campaign is to help children. Our priorities are the opposite and I would never post a link to my website, supporting sex offenders, on a story about the murder of a 9 year old little girl. No hits on your website, so you are going to use this poor baby to help you, right? Haven't you and your ilk, taken enough from her

Me:  No. My campaign is to reform sex crime legislation so it effectively protects children. You are the only one saying that I or anyone else supports sex crime.


Me: Why won't you just answer the question? I never said anything about sympathy. Are you happy that your tax dollars (regardless of what state you live in) are spent punishing, "treating", and monitoring a flasher, when more of that money could go towards child molesters?

SH: If you disagree with our current laws write your legislators. I am not your legislator, wrong person Shana. Look up your legislators write them and tell them you disagree with the current laws. Why are you so obsessed with my opinion. Weird....I think you're trying to distract from the true victim Aliahnah Lemmon. I personally think it's disgusting and I will CALL EVERYONE OF YOU ON IT FOR AS LONG AS I HAVE TO. 2 weeks vacation, all day, all night I will defend this baby and her memory. ITS NOT ABOUT YOU!

This went on for much longer than I care to admit, but it is an excellent demonstration of the power of ignorance when the facts are too much to handle. 

No matter what things I'm accused of, what I am called or how my words are skewed, I will continue to educate. My goal isn't to change the minds of those I spar with via Facebook comments or those who flippantly suggest the death penalty or prison justice for sex offenders. It is my hope that the larger majority of people, who don't post their thoughts publicly, will allow those thoughts to blossom. That they will be able to overcome their surprise or disbelief just enough so that they will consider the facts for what they are. Maybe they will even see that often, those who are claiming the loudest to care about children's or public safety and how wrong people such as myself are, are the ones who are truly unaware and scared of the truth. It is those people I want to engage.

To my fellow advocates for any cause, continue on in the fight for justice and truth. You're not alone.

To everyone else, challenge yourself to learn even if it means accepting a harsher reality or a more frightening world. We're no safer in the dark than we are right here, right now.  

Monday, January 2, 2012

There's more to protecting children than saying we should

If you've made it past the name of my blog, I'm glad you're here. To my faithful readers and those who are truly interested in learning, please disregard the following. To everyone else:

I don't support sex crimes. 
I don't support crimes against children, sexual or not.
I believe that diagnosed pedophiles and individuals who show high risk of re-offense need intense treatment and management.
The person I love is not a rapist, a pedophile, or violent. 

Sex crime laws don't protect children or the public.  Here's the simple formula:

- Children are 93% more likely to be sexually abused by someone they know who is not on the registry. Over a third of those children will be abused by a family member or relative. 

- Recidivism among sex offenders has been shown to be somewhere between 3.5 - 8.5%. The average of all other felonies' recidivism is about 41%. 

Not all sex offenders are pedophiles, have child victims, or are violent. A quarter of sex offenders on the registry are juveniles. 

Why should you care?
To vastly abridge, because there are no effective measures in place to prevent sexual abuse. The registry is nothing more than a list of people who, at one time, have committed some type of "crime" deemed sexually deviant by the judicial system. However, research has very clearly shown that these individuals almost always do not re-offend. How useful is a list, and related legislation, that focuses all of its attention, resources, and money on those least likely to commit a sex crime? 

Effective legislation begins with education and awareness - in this case that means allowing yourself to accept facts that are contrary to what many lawmakers, politicians, and media outlets will have you believe. It does not make you a bad person to ask for sex crime legislation reform. It simply means you have taken the time to learn about a subject that rarely gets debated - and one that directly effects public safety, your friends and your families, and YOU!

It might not be popular or easy to not join in when everyone else is crying death to pedophiles, or when someone twists your awareness of sex crime legislation ineffectiveness into your supporting sex crime. But having read the information I've provided above, which is not my opinion by any means, but proven fact - how can you ignore it? That was what I said to myself when I first began to realize, while researching, how off-base our legislation is. I can't "un-know" this information. It's out there and it's not going away until enough people stand up and shout it. 

That is my challenge for everyone reading. Allow yourself to learn and don't be ashamed to accept a fact that might contradict what you've always thought or what you've been told. Don't let the ignorant, weak or otherwise hateful masses quiet the truth. 

I love a sex offender and I'm proud of it. I want effective legislation that truly helps people and I'm not ashamed. Tell your legislators, write your newspapers, contact your news. Do more than just say you want to protect children - DO it.