Can you imagine the trauma of losing a beloved family member to murder or an otherwise violent death? Luckily, it’s something most of us won’t ever have to endure. For two families in different regions of the country, though, not only did they lose a family member in unspeakable circumstances – they also had to read and listen to news outlets define their loved ones’ lives by the worst mistakes they ever made.
Buffalo News ran this story on September 26: Homicide victim was registered sex offender. Especially because there was no confirmation that the man’s status as a registered sex offender was a motive behind his death, it’s completely unrelated to the story – and yet, it was the headline. In fact, the entire article is little more than a summary of his previous criminal charges from twenty-seven years ago.
It took me less than thirty seconds to run a Google search on Mr. Ackley and find an obituary in another newspaper Henry F. Ackley. It talks of his two children, five grandchildren, five siblings, and “several nieces and nephews” who will miss him dearly. He was a US Marine and loved the outdoors.
But to the Buffalo News and all of their readers, he was nothing more than a dead sex offender who committed sodomy in 1985.
800 miles away in South Carolina, WBTW News 13 reported that Lester Causey Jr. was found dead in a pond. But in order to even learn his name, you had to first get past the headline, “Convicted Sex Offender Found Dead in Pond” (read the story here.) Other than his name, we learn little else about him in the rest of the article. Whomever compiled the news report went so far as to suggest that he may have not updated his address with the sex offender registry in a timely manner (after, of course, we learned all about charges from nearly ten years ago.)
I was able to find his obituary without any difficulty at all: Lester Causey Jr. Mr. Causey left behind both parents, two brothers, and several nieces and nephews. He was an avid hunter and fisher.
But again, to WBTW and their viewers, he was nothing more than a dead sex offender who wound up in a lake. (To their credit, after being inundated with Facebook comments about their poor choice of headline, it was changed – but long after the damage had already been done.)
Mr. Ackley and Mr. Causey are dead; they’re not around to endure the humiliation, the anger, or the pain of being remembered so callously. This is yet another example of how the media de-humanizes sex offenders and defines them solely by the worst thing they ever did. It’s easy and often automatically assumed that they are people who no one cares about. In making that assumption, in these two scenarios, dozens of innocent people of all ages were the only ones left to endure the humiliation, anger and pain, in addition to losing their loved one. But sadly, it is also representative of what happens every day - the innocent family members of former offenders forced to endure the prejudice, scrutiny and discrimination targeted broadly at all registered sex offenders, when it should be applied carefully and narrowly to those few for whom research and evidence indicates are truly dangerous. Sadly, our current climate of irrational fear seems to take the “one size fits all” approach to the grave.