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Thursday, September 27, 2012

The De-Humanizing of Sex Offenders - Even in Death



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.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Shame on the City of Oswego

As a New York based advocate for registry reform and fiancĂ©e of a registered sex offender whose crime was committed when he was a minor, it was with great disappointment to learn this morning that seven councilmembers voted to restrict a registered sex offender’s ability to legally gain employment as a taxi driver in the City of Oswego. While this proposal is well-intended, it is premised on myth and emotions – not facts – and will undoubtedly fail to achieve its intended goals as well as create yet another barrier for registrants to find steady employment.    

Contrary to popular belief and the sentiment of some of the councilpersons, sex offenders have the next to lowest recidivism rate of all offender groups. This has been widely documented by academics and law enforcement researchers. The myth of high sex offender recidivism has now been firmly discredited, but not by politicians who find that these facts do not square with the stories they’ve been telling their constituents.

Because of this big lie that continues to be told, law abiding former sex offenders are treated differently than all other former offenders – even murderers.  Comments on cnycentral.com display the pervasive intolerance held by many members of the public - that all felons except sex offenders deserve second chances.

Empirical research has shown that a critical factor for successful reintegration into society is steady employment. Well, for registrants in Oswego – they can cross cab driver off their list of potential jobs.  Like similar employment restrictions enacted all over New York State, this new law ultimately seeks to solve a problem that does not exist. The council admitted that never in Oswego has there been an incident of a registered sex offender attacking their cab passenger.  I follow registry issues diligently in New York and I can’t recall such an incident in the entire state.

My Google research has turned up one case nationally, in Stonewall, LA, where a registrant picked up a boy in his cab and murdered him. Although a tragic case, the boy was not a normal random fare. The registrant had previously been engaged in a texting relationship with the boy pretending to be a girl.

Unfortunately, this is the hallmark of the great sex offender panic – respond to the anecdotal story, a rare heinous crime, or imagine a potential heinous crime – and draft a punitive new law that will impact the entire universe of registered sex offenders – the vast majority of whom are now law-abiding citizens who want nothing more than to provide for their families and get on with their lives.

When will it end?  There are evil people in this world and some of them are indeed registered sex offenders.  But, why should all registrants pay for the sins of the few?  If a registered sex offender commits a high profile crime while at work tomorrow – will his job title become the next one off limits for the entire 700,000+ registrants in the U.S.?

Sadly, in our current climate of fear, the answer is probably yes.  And it will be until we as a nation resolve to stop basing laws on the rare heinous crime and start looking at the facts and evidence that is abundant and staring us in the face.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Hero



Patrick Drum is in jail. He is sitting in a cell with no access to computers to look up registered sex offenders or guns to kill them, but for many, the saga is far from over.

First and foremost are the families of Gary Blanton and Jerry Ray, who will live out their lives with the gaping holes left by the sudden and brutal deaths of their loved ones – who were fathers, husbands, sons, and friends.

Their deaths will have a lasting legacy on my life as well.  It was so disturbing to see the outpouring of support for Patrick Drum’s actions. It makes one wonder how precarious our civilized society may be and highlights the uphill battle that we in the reform movement face.

The judge and prosecutors in this case expressed their disdain for Mr. Drum’s vigilante actions as well as the public support he received for killing “sex offenders.”  Yet, it has been the emotional political rhetoric over the last decade that has fermented the hatred that has cast every former offender as a “monster.”  In the comments section of news sites few offered sympathetic commentary about Leslie, Mr. Blanton’s widow, or Paul, Mr. Ray’s father. We didn’t read much grief expressed about Leslie’s two little boys, who will now grow up without a father, or the fact that Jerry Ray was his father’s caretaker. No, the vast majority of comments around the web praised Mr. Drum for doing a good deed – that he is a hero.

The World English dictionary defines “hero” as follows: a man distinguished by exceptional courage, nobility, fortitude, etc.

Hunting down innocent, unarmed men and continuing to shoot them as they scream for help is not “courageous.” Believing their deaths trump the wreckage their families will deal with forever is not “noble.” Hiding in the middle of the woods waiting for the police to find you is not “fortitude.”

Since this tragedy began on June 3, Leslie Blanton has been the epitome of courage. Always willing to talk to the media and tell them the registry is the reason Gary is dead, while always reminding the public of her two young fatherless sons – never afraid to show her anguish and pain. She continued to hold her head up high as locals and people from across the country alike praised her husband’s murderer and heckled her and her children.  That’s nobility. Just three months after his death, supporting her two kids all by herself – that’s fortitude. Leslie is a hero.

We, the loved ones of registrants, can all be heroes in this fight for justice and fairness. – and we can’t afford to wait until something horrific happens. While most of us are blessed to have our loved ones on the registry still on this earth, we must never become complacent about the very real danger that the public registry presents to law abiding former offenders and their families.

May Leslie Blanton, my new hero, inspire all of us to speak out - so that no family member of a registrant should ever have to live through what she and her children must now endure.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Hurting some families to supposedly protect others

Before I start off this entry, just know that it is available in video form, should you prefer I Love a Sex Offender in "vlog" format. Otherwise continue below the video.






A 36-year-old man goes to pick up his stepdaughter at school at the request of his wife because school had unexpectedly let out early. It’s as routine task for most of us, which would have been a minor hiccup in an otherwise normal day. But for a North Carolina man, he wound up in jail. 

His crime? “Being a registered sex offender on school grounds.” While he waited for his stepdaughter near the front door to exit the school, the principal called the police to alert them that a sex offender was there. Officers showed up, and even after the man explained the situation, he was placed under arrest.  As a result, he was forced to spend 23 days in jail and lost his job.

Making it a crime for registrants to loiter at schools is obviously an attempt at protecting children from harm. But shouldn’t North Carolina have done what several other states have done and exempt registrants who are parents or guardians from conducting the normal business of raising a child?

Registrants with children should be able to pick their kids up from school or attend a school play featuring their child.  There has not been one publicized incident that I am aware of where a registrant abused a child at a school while being on premises for their own child.  But as with too many emotionally driven sex offender laws, this North Carolina law seeks to solve a problem that the state does not have.

In everyone’s haste to protect the children, a certain child was forgotten in this case: the stepdaughter. The article doesn’t mention her age, but she is young enough to be an elementary school student: ironically, the main demographic these types of laws are designed to protect.  This little girl was forced to endure the pain, confusion and humiliation of the public arrest of her stepfather. He was ripped away from her and her mother sitting in jail for 23 days and losing a family income in the process.  And it could have been worse, with a much longer sentence, but for a reasonable judge who sentenced him to probation and time served.

This story is perfectly illustrative of how easy and even common it is for one-size-fits-all registry sanctions to wreak havoc on registrants and their families if they don’t pay close attention to every letter of the law. Will legislators ever take into consideration the plight of the spouses and children of registrants when they draft these laws?  We are families too.  Hopefully, if we continue to speak out and our voices grow louder – we will be heard.

Original story: http://www.heraldsun.com/pages/full_story/push?article-Sex+offender+pleads+guilty+to+being+on+school+grounds

Friday, September 7, 2012

Solving the Halloween Problem We Simply Don’t Have


Lawmakers all over the country are talking about child safety on Halloween night – but sadly, they are once again pursuing smoke and mirrors “press release” public safety instead of real child safety measures based on facts and empirical evidence.

Many municipalities have blanket bans targeting registered sex offenders on Halloween, making it illegal for them to decorate their houses, give out candy, or even keep the lights on. Lawmakers (mostly city council-persons) claim it’s simple logic to keep children away from former sex offenders, and many members of the public agree. Some towns go so far as to literally round up all the sex offenders, force them  into a large public building, and keep them there from sometime in the late afternoon to sunrise.

There are two major problems with this approach: one, it’s based on the stubborn myth of high sex offender recidivism – refusing to acknowledge that most former sex offenders pose little risk of re-offending. Two, it inflicts harm and violates the basic rights of children and families of sex offenders to celebrate a traditional holiday. Remember being a young child and picking out your pumpkin? Maybe your family had a Halloween party every year. Maybe you just loved trick-or-treating.

For the children of sex offenders, those things are becoming mere fantasy. You can’t carve a pumpkin. You can’t put up decorations. Your friends can’t come trick-or-treating at your house – nor can you enjoy any part of the holiday with your parent, if they are even allowed to stay in the same house. Are these children less deserving of safety – and a childhood rite of passage – than others?

Despite lawmakers’ claims over the past several years, children face the same low risk from registered offenders on Halloween as they do on any other day or night. The overwhelming majority of child sexual abuse victims are again largely ignored, as the abuser is far more likely to be found in a family photo album than on the registry – and the abuse is likely perpetrated behind closed doors in a familiar place, not during a candy exchange with a stranger. (Source: http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/pub/pdf/saycrle.pdf)

Lawmakers have the opportunity to enact smart laws that will genuinely keep children safe, as there are occurrences that are far more likely to befall children on Halloween. According to Center for Disease Control, the greatest danger kids face on Halloween is being hit by a car or truck – four times more likely on Halloween than any other day of the year. (Source: https://www.intellicorpintouch.com/blog/detail.aspx?id=424)

According to Dr. Jill Levenson’s 2009 study, “How Safe Are Trick-or-Treaters? An Analysis of Child Sex Crime Rates on Halloween,” (http://sax.sagepub.com/content/21/3/363.full.pdf+html) theft, vandalism, robbery, and assault rates increase on Halloween and the days following. After interviewing members of law enforcement all over the country, no evidence was found to indicate any increase in sex crimes against children by people on the registry on Halloween. Sex crimes of all types accounted for about 1% of all crimes on Halloween – and non-familial sex crimes against children age 12 and under accounted for less than .2% of all Halloween crime incidents.

We have the opportunity to educate the public as well as lawmakers about the truth, ask them to put politics aside and create real safety measures that actually keep kids safe, and everything they need to know is right here. Go out and teach!