Saturday, April 28, 2012

All children are precious...until they're "bad"

I support reform of post-release management for sex offenders of all ages, but lately I've been hearing a lot about juvenile offenders. Even though my fiancee was charged as an adult, his age at the time of his crime was still that of a child - and morally, I believe that all children who commit sex crimes are still children, even if on a whim, the court decides to treat them as "adults".

Before anyone gets all over me, yes, I acknowledge that there are some children who commit particularly heinous, purposeful crimes - sexual or not - and they need to be TREATED (treated, not punished) differently than others. But the majority of "juvenile sex offenders" we hear about in the news are not violent or dangerous kids. Troubled, perhaps - in certain circumstances. The truth is, the majority of us over the age of 18 have probably committed acts as teens that would have us labeled "sex offenders" - especially if our entire adolescence was probed and analyzed by people looking for problems.

Calling adolescence the period of life that most of us associate with angst, awkwardness and confusion - where parents lament the skimpy outfits of their daughters and sons lock themselves in their bedrooms with Sears catalogs - approaches unbearably cliche. "High school" has provided us with the plot for thousands of movies over the years involving the intricacies of hooking up, sneaking out and losing one's virginity; and even more recently, TV shows on cable television that glamorize teenage pregnancy have gained following with not just teenagers, but their parents too! Just how is it that for the most part, our society accepts and even embraces this attitude when it comes to kids and sex - but when someone mentions the term "sex offender", out come the pitchforks and utter inability to even consider anything other than terrifying monsters?

It is funny how the media and lawmakers use children to their advantage. When justifying the public sex offender registry, "child safety" is the go-to excuse. We get images of angelic little children in our heads, dressed in adorable outfits, out on picnics or at the beach or hugging their parents. The idea of someone doing harm to such helpless, innocent creatures makes us sad and angry, and since the registry and sex offenders are portrayed as the most likely source of this horror, suddenly we turn into spiteful, hateful, vengeful people willing to latch on to anything that sounds like it represents our emotions. But too often, we are fooled into projecting those emotions onto people who have not, and will not, commit those acts. Often, those people are children themselves - the very "angels" that are the source of our emotion.

KOIN Local 6 news in Washington State reported a story earlier this week about a "sex offender coming to Woodland High". Sounds scary - was it a maintenance man, a substitute teacher, or a school administrator? No. It was a 15-year-old child, convicted of an unspecified "sex crime" committed when he was 13. He had completed his sentence and was now attempting to return to school. Apparently, it was a slow week for KOIN, and they decided to cause an uproar among parents by exploiting a child himself for the supposed reasons of "child safety".

A 13-year-old child cannot legally buy cigarettes, alcohol, firearms or pornography. A 13-year-old child cannot vote, drive a car, or hold a job. In most states, a 13-year-old child who engages in sexual behavior with someone just one year older than them is considered a "victim". Who in their right mind believes that a 13-year-old can understand and plan for the moral and legal consequences of sexual activity - but not for smoking a cigarette or drinking a beer? At one point does a child go from innocent, precious and worthy of protection by any means necessary - to a dangerous, predatory "sex offender" worthy of local news-level humiliation and judgment?

How can we possibly claim to care about children when we are so willing to destroy them when they make mistakes?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

If you knew I loved a sex offender...would you feel the same way?

Before I begin, I'd just like to make one thing very clear.

I do not advocate or condone sexual abuse, exploitation, assault, or any other relations between children and adults. I believe that sex crimes should be punished justly, and acknowledge that the pain suffered by victims of sex crimes and their families is real and incomprehensible to most of us. My belief is that there are better ways to manage how we treat individuals convicted of sex crimes after they have completed their sentences - methods that do not put them or their families in danger and make it possible for them to become contributing, stable members of the community. I am confident that by utilizing research, statistics and science, we can craft laws that educate children and adults about the truth behind sex crimes, and effectively prevent these crimes from happening in the first place.

Occasionally when going about mundane activities such as running errands, pumping gas, or walking my dogs, I find myself wondering what the people I encounter might assume about me. I think I'm a fairly pleasant person; I try to smile and wave if I catch someone's eye, I make a point to be genial with cashiers, receptionists and other customers. I hold the door for people, say thank you and excuse me. Those who are acquainted with me know I have a soft spot for rescue dogs, love my job as a church pianist and thoroughly enjoy a good game of Pictionary. I'm often described as charming, passionate and clever. I bet if I were to tell most people I interact with regularly that I regularly fear for my safety in my own home, they would be confused, and if I asked them, would say that someone like me shouldn't have to feel that way.

But do they really believe that? If these pleasant strangers were to discover that I share my life and my home with someone who, according to New York state, is a "sexually violent predator" - would they still feel that me and all my charms deserve the same right to privacy and stability that they do? Would they go home and tell their family not to go near me or my house because they might get violently and sexually preyed upon? Would all the things they like and know about me, become meaningless?

I would like to hope that somehow, the good they know about me would be enough for them to stop and think for a second, that maybe everything they've heard and been told about sex offenders might not be true, if a person like me loves one. I would really like to hope that after meeting the sweet, gentle, compassionate man I love, they might question the validity behind his inflammatory label - and see how easy it truly is for good people to make mistakes - or simply get caught up in the aftermath because they love someone who has.

By supporting the public sex offender registry and consciously remaining unaware of the facts, society is telling me that I have no right to safety or security; that it's okay for me to be ostracized; and that I do not deserve to be happy with the person I love. They would never know it if they passed me on the street - or even if they interacted with me. I look, act, and talk like almost everyone else . Not the fact that I am a human being, an American, or a woman are enough to grant me the right to freedom or basic privacy - the darkest day of my loved one's past is the sole determining factor of my worth.

I don't think I'm amazing, or particularly spectacular. I think I am pretty normal. I don't think I deserve better treatment than anyone else. But I do think I deserve the right to be me, unapologetically and without fear.  That includes sharing my life and home with the person I love. Would you deny me that? Would you deny anyone that? I want someone to come up to me and tell me, to my face, how in hell that protects children, families or anyone. Can you?






Friday, April 13, 2012

I love a sex offender, and no amount of hatred will change that.

My fifth interview (the second one to be televised thus far) aired last night on WWNY in the Northern country region of New York. Watch it here: http://www.wwnytv.com/news/local/Feedback-Woman-Fights-for-Rights-Of-Sex-Offenders--Families-147190125.html.

Understanding the 45-minute interview had to be edited significantly to fit into the allotted time slot, I was satisfied with the results. My only caveat was that since Geoff's charge was mentioned, his age at the time of the crime should have been specified, (he was twelve, not "a teenager") and the circumstances under which the crime occurred would have been helpful. Overall, it did as much as a two minute piece could do to detail the day-to-day struggles faced by tens of thousands of families in New York, and hundreds of thousands of families nationwide.

The majority of the comments on WWNY's Facebook page (link: http://www.facebook.com/WWNY7.WNYF28/posts/409096565775456?notif_t=share_reply) displayed a great deal of outrage among viewers. It seems that they heard the term "sex offender" and made up their minds right then and there, rather than actually listening to the heart of the story. Some people went so far as to suggest that families and even children of registrants are fair game merely because they share their home and life with a former offender. Mostly, though, the comments displayed an all-too-common problem: lack of awareness.

As frustrating as it is to be faced with this type of apathy and misguided anger, we have the most important "weapon" of all, as family members and friends of registrants - our lives. Most people admittedly get their "knowledge" of sex crimes from the news media, which as we all know, has exploited the topic of child safety/child sex abuse and molded it into the most fear-provoking, hysterical, anecdotal subject it possibly can be. Much of what is reported is inaccurate or at best, incomplete. By standing up, telling our stories and muddling through the outpouring of hate - we will be heard. They bombard the public with fallacies - bu we can bombard them with truth.

If you love a person enough to stick with them through the nightmare of being on the sex offender registry - whether it be as a mother or father, a wife or husband, a daughter, a son, an aunt or uncle, a grandparent or a friend - that love is strong enough to withstand even the most cruel, angry accusations. You have gotten this far; the only thing left is to show everyone that the love you feel for the registrant in your life is far stronger than all the hate in the world.