Saturday, January 31, 2009
By Emily Edge
Although Troy King’s (Contact) Community Notification Act passed unchallenged in the Alabama Legislature in 2005, even proponents of the law admit that it is not problem-free.
The law states, “The Legislature declares that its intent in imposing certain registration and reporting requirements on criminal sex offenders is to protect the public … and not to further punish such offenders.”
- Yeah right! Nothing about these laws protect anybody, it's all about punishment! You should join O'Reilly's "ALL SPIN ZONE!"
But the public is not given the whole story, according to Kyla Kelim, cooperating attorney with the ACLU of Alabama. Kelim has worked extensively on cases dealing with the Community Notification Act and is an advocate for non-violent offenders who feel victimized by this law.
“The public has this perception that they’re being protected from predators. They’re being told these people are dangerous,” she said.
Kelim said non-predatory offenders should not be subject to the same stringent consequences as a violent rapist or child molester, as they are under this law.
Offenders charged with rape in the second degree, or statutory rape, “get lumped in with the worst of the worst. This is not just one grade of crime where they’re all just terrible people who deserve to be locked away from society, but that’s how they’re treated,” she said. “They are trying to get every sex offender in the state to leave. They don’t care if they have to go to the moon, but they don’t want them here.”
Some second-degree rape charges result from modern day Romeo and Juliet romances.
According to Capt. James Majors with the Lee County Sheriff’s Office, for a minority of offenders, “All they were guilty of is being in love.” But he says, “The law is an umbrella and everyone falls under it.”
There are, according to Kelim, casualties of this law. “Most of the time rape second’ comes out because the girl gets pregnant. So it’s got unintended victims. The offenders can’t get married. The father can’t support his child because he can’t get a good job. They’re always going to live in the fringes of society. Even if they do get married, you’re then consigning that woman and child to live in a trailer park surrounded by real predators and fearing for their safety,” Kelim said.
“One of the biggest problems with the law is that it gives the public a false sense of security,” said Kelim. She explained that sometimes fliers delivered to neighbors of sex offenders don’t have accurate information.
According to Valley City Administrator Tim Bryan, a firm advocate of the law, the notification act has one definite safety deficiency. When a sexual offender moves into a new residence, law enforcement agencies are required to notify all those who reside in the vicinity of the offender, but if the houses surrounding the sex offender change ownership, there is no system in place to notify the new owners. Sellers may not want to disclose information that a sex offender lives next door, as it may negatively impact the value of their house.
Another safety concern, according to Majors, is that there are no laws to stop a man prohibited from residing with a minor from staying at his girlfriend’s house all day, as long as he sleeps at his own residence. And this girlfriend may have kids or live near a school.
Kelim is not opposed to the law in all cases, just its non-discriminatory nature. She stressed that she doesn’t want predatory offenders to roam unmonitored, without regulations.
“I believe that if you’re truly dangerous, I want to know where you are. I’d really like to know where the people who break into houses are, or murderers, whether they live next door,” she said.
Majors, whose job it is to register offenders in Lee County, agreed that certain offenders need to stay on law enforcement’s radar. “There are some sex offenders I feel that we need to know where they are all the time. There are others … we don’t have to be concerned with,” he said.
Kelim said tracking non-violent offenders takes law enforcement’s time and resources away from the truly dangerous offenders, predators that warrant locking your doors at night, those from whom you hide your children.
Kelim didn’t deny that many of the non-violent offenders were guilty of “colossal stupidity and capital immaturity” but, while stressing her fierce protectiveness of her young children, she said, “There are people that I represent that I would leave my kids with. I know for a fact they’re not a danger to anybody.”
Kelim says one of the most obvious constitutional violations of the law is that offenders who may not be a danger to society have few or no options. She said there is no mechanism for a convicted offender to go into court and prove that he or she is not a danger to society. Poor offenders, who are the vast majority, are especially helpless. They are denied their due process, and hiring an attorney is their only recourse. But that is costly, and often they simply remain ashamed and unheard.
“I’ve had legislators whose family members have gotten into trouble who couldn’t believe that they voted for this and couldn’t believe that this is what it meant,” Kelim said.
- Yeah, that is what they all say, but when it hits home, then they are singing a different tune!
The Supreme Court dismissed cases challenging the constitutionality of the act, saying that these strict requirements for offenders are not a punishment.
- But that is a load of BS! Why don't you live with the rules for a year or so, then tell me it's not punishment!
There are some who disagree with the Supreme Court’s assessment, including those whose lives are directly impacted by this umbrella law.
“Nobody has put a case together to go up to the Supreme Court and show that this law is a fundamental restraint on life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” Kelim said.
Opelika resident _____ said he was 26 when he was arrested for having consensual intercourse with a 15-year-old girl. His crime is posted on the National Sex Offender Registry as sexual abuse in the third degree, a misdemeanor in Oregon. _____ spent 30 days in jail. “The girl told me she was 18… She looked older,” he said.
According to _____, in Oregon, where he was convicted, he would have been required to register for 10 years. But when he moved back to his home state of Alabama, he realized that he had to register for the rest of his life. _____ insists that he is not a danger to anyone.
“I’m a good ol’ country boy … A sex offender is someone who hides out in the woods and rapes little girls,” he said.
- No, that is not what a sex offender is! You are believing the same BS the general public is!
For _____, perhaps, jail sentence served, lesson learned. “I won’t ever do it again,” he said. Still, every day he lives with the consequences of that mistake.
Kelim said with information so accessible to the public, sexual offenders have been killed by mobs, their houses burned, their cars firebombed, they’ve committed suicide.
Majors said “some landlords who allow sex offenders as their tenants get harassed, get hate mail. Some offenders get their mailboxes torn down, stuff thrown in their yards.”
_____ said his truck was egged and he has been harassed over the CB radio at work. “It’s very embarrassing,” he said.
“I don’t think that anyone can look at the specific unintended consequences of this act (Community Notification Act) and say that it’s fair or that anyone has thought about it,” Kelim said.
She warned that the law is “setting up a class of professional criminals. We try to help our citizens in the worst of times and to provide resources for them to be able to recover and reintegrate into society, but this is one group of citizens that isn’t permitted to do that.
“Is it a good idea to take people who genuinely may want to go back to society, right their wrongs after they’ve served their sentences, and to put them in a position where they literally have no way to exist without resorting to crime? Doesn’t that make them more dangerous? To ostracize them?” she asked.
With this law, ideas of rehabilitation have virtually disappeared, Kelin said.
“There are no treatment programs for sex offenders in prison, zero,” Kelim said.
“They have touted questionable studies that say sexual offenders cannot be rehabilitated. We got the attorney general of the state of Alabama to agree in writing, in a stipulation, that there are no meaningful studies that say anything about the recidivism rate one way or the other. Why would you give up on a group of people without any reason?” she questioned.
When asked about ordinances across the country similar to the one in Valley, which require sex offenders, even juvenile offenders, to put signs in their yards on Halloween, Kelim replied, “Somewhere along the way hysteria is replacing common sense. Whipping the crowds into hysteria about sex offenders for the sake of political expediency is wrong. Elected officials make laws more restrictive because everyone hates sex offenders. It’s convenient to beat up on them. They have no advocates. They have no voice. This is a politically powerless group of people."
“Who’s going to vote against harsher treatment for sex offenders? Who is going to stand up and say they deserve rights?”
After a pause, Kelim answered her own rhetorical questions: “No one.”
Research that is “Outdated and Inadequate?” - An Analysis of the Pennsylvania Child Predator Unit Arrests in Response to Attorney General Criticism of the Berkman Task Force Report
Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use
January 26, 2009
On January 14, 2008, the Berkman Internet Safety Technical Task Force issued its report, Enhancing Child Safety and Online Technologies. The Task Force, a group of 29 leading Internet businesses, non-profit organizations, academics, and technology companies engaged in a year-long investigation of tools and technologies to create a safer environment on the Internet for youth. The Task Force was created in February 2008 in accordance with the Joint Statement on Key Principles of Social Networking Safety announced in January 2008 by the Attorneys General Multi-State Working Group on Social Networking and MySpace. This Task Force was formed as a result of pressure by some of the state attorneys generals upon the social networking sites to implement age verification technologies to separate adults from minors, ostensibly to protect minors from sexual predators.
The Task Force report has been criticized by some of the state’s Attorneys General:
- In a press release, Connecticut Attorney General Blumenthal stated: “The report unfortunately downplays the threat of predators -- in relying on research that is outdated or inadequate.”
- In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, North Carolina Attorney General Cooper stated: “We did not ask the task force to look at the bullying issues. We asked them to look at ways for us to fight child predators. I am concerned with some of the findings. I think it relied on outdated and inadequate research …”
- In a press release about the Task Force report by the Pennsylvania Attorney General Corbett stated: "I believe this report is incredibly misleading ... "The threat is real," Corbett said. "In the last four years, my office has arrested 183 predators, all of whom have used the Internet for the purpose of contacting minors to engage in sexual activity." "Outdated statistics and academic projections are of little comfort to the minors who have been sexually victimized by online predators," Corbett said. "The mere fact that tens of thousands of registered sex offenders have been removed from MySpace should be sufficient to cause any parent concern."
Although the Task Force’s Research Advisory Board reviewed and summarized the latest online-safety research available, including research that was published in 2008, much of the data on online sexual predation in the published articles predates the rise in popularity of social networking sites. However, it should be noted that the findings of various studies by different researchers have been highly consistent throughout the last decade.
The research demonstrates that sexual predation cases typically involve teens who willingly meet with adult men knowing they will engage in sexual activities. Deception about age or sexual intention is rare. Sexual abuse by family members and acquaintances remains a far more significant concern. The young people who are at the greatest risk online, in all areas of risk, are those who are at greater risk in the real world. These young people have significant psychosocial concerns, intentionally engage in risk taking behavior, and have disrupted relations with parents or other care givers. Young people face greater risks from their peers in the form of sexual solicitation, sexual harassment and cyberbullying. The majority of young people are generally making safe and responsible choices online, effectively responding to the negative incidents that do occur, and are not distressed by these incidents.
This nation’s Attorneys General are the ones who have access to the most up-to-date arrest data on online sexual predation - data that is critical to understanding the extent of the problem, as well as other site and risk factors. They did not provide any data to the Task Force that they created.
Analysis of Pennsylvania Child Predator Unit Arrest Data
Fortunately, there is a source of more recent data related to arrests for online sexual predation. The following analysis looks at a set of data that have been made available to the public in the form of press releases about arrests of online sexual predators made in Pennsylvania. Attorney General Corbett has had an active Child Predator Unit since taking office in 2005. He received funding from the General Assembly in 2005 to retain 10 personnel in this unit. His office provides materials throughout the schools in Pennsylvania advising parents and young people to contact his office if they have any contact by a potential online sexual predator.
Although a single state's arrests in this area may not be a representative sample, this analysis does provide more current data related to the concern of sexual predation and the safety concerns associated with social networking sites, which can be compared with the insight presented by the Research Advisory Board.
The following is an analysis of the press releases accessed through the Attorney General’s site on January 15, 2009. They were identified by using the search term “predator” in the search engine for press releases on the site. The search yielded 143 responses. As noted by the Attorney General, 183 predators had been arrested. All of these arrests were described in the press releases dated from March 21, 2005 to January 13, 2009 - thus allowing for a full analysis of the arrests of sexual predators in the state Pennsylvania for the last 4 years by the Attorney General’s Child Predator Unit.
The analysis of the arrests that involved predatory actions, excluding the arrests for child pornography, revealed the following:
- Only 8 incidents involved actual teen victims with whom the Internet was used to form a relationship.
- In 4 of these incidents, teens or parents reported the contact. The other 4 cases were discovered in an analysis of the computer files of a predator who had been arrested in a sting operation. Five of the cases had led to inappropriate sexual contact. The other situations were discovered prior to any actual contact.
- There were 166 arrests as a result of sting activities where the predator contacted an undercover agent who was posing as a 12 - 14 year old, generally a girl.
- The vast majority of the stings, 144, occurred in chat rooms. Eleven stings occurred through instant messaging. Nine of the arrests failed to specify the location, but the description bore significant similarity to the chat room incidents. One involved an advertisement that had been placed on Craig’s List.
- There were only 12 reports of predators being deceptive about their age.
The descriptions of these chats incidents bear out what the research reviewed by the Research Advisory Board found that online predators are rarely deceptive about their interests. Here are some examples of the interactions:
During his initial chat Shorkey allegedly asked the girl, "are u all alone," and then proceeded to send a webcam video that showed him masturbating in front of his computer. According to the criminal complaint, Shorkey proposed meeting the girl for sex, telling her, "I could teach u how to do this, if you like." He is also accused of sending her additional webcam videos that showed him masturbating. (10/31/08)
Wilhelm quickly shifted the online conversation toward sex, asking the girl, "are u a virgin," and, "u looking to change that?" Wilhelm also allegedly proposed meeting the girl, telling her that he wanted to see her naked and added, "I've always wanted to have sex with a virgin." Corbett said that Wilhelm allegedly sent the girl digital photos of his penis and discussed taking pornographic photos of the child. (10/1/08)
Beck sent nude webcam videos of himself to the girls and instructed them to masturbate - commenting, "love to explore your body," and "I could teach you other things too." Beck is also accused of asking the girls to meet him for sex and describing in graphic detail the sex acts he wished to engage in. (7/15/08)
(A)n undercover agent was posing as a 13-year old girl and was contacted by Lord within 10 seconds of entering the chat room. Lord quickly turned the conversation to sex and indicated the sexual activity and which positions he wished to perform with what he believed was a 13-year old girl.
Because the attorneys general have been focusing their attention on the social networking sites, MySpace and Facebook, this analysis gave special attention to any case that mentioned any activity occurring on either of these two sites.
- One of the incidents involving an actual teen victim, communications took place on MySpace. This was a rearrest of a person who had already been arrested through a sting.
- A police officer who was arrested for sexual abuse of many teens with whom he had interacted with in the line of duty also had a MySpace account with friendship links to teen girl, but there was no assertion that these communications had led to sexual activity.
- One predator in a sting provided the agent with a link to his Facebook page.
- In 5 of the stings that took place in a chat room, reference was made to the fact that the predator had either looked at the teen’s MySpace account or suggested the teen look at his profile. Several of these reports are illustrative of an important point:
Corbett said that Forbes initially used an Internet chat room to contact an undercover agent from the Child Predator Unit in November 2006. At that time, the agent was using the online profile of a 13-year old girl. Corbett said that during their initial chat, Forbes asked for pictures of the girl and allegedly created a MySpace profile in order to view the agent's undercover profile and additional photos on MySpace. (9/28/07) Corbett said that on Feb. 5, 2007 Hackenberg used an Internet chat room to contact an undercover agent from the Child Predator Unit, who was using the online profile of a 13-year old girl. During their initial chat Hackenberg commented on the child's picture, which was posed on her MySpace account, telling her that it was "cute." (11/16/07) (O)n March 5, 2007, Snodgrass used an Internet chat room to contact an undercover agent who was using the online profile of a 13-year old girl ... Corbett said that during their initial chat, ... Snodgrass ... indicated that he had researched the girl's MySpace profile, attempting to verify that she was a child.
Thus, it is evident that in a small number of cases, the social network site did play a minor role. The predator checked the agent’s fake MySpace profile to obtain more information about the person with whom he was communicating. But these limited number of cases clearly demonstrate that social networking sites are not the primary environment for sexual communications with adult sexual predators. Young people face far more risk in chat rooms.
It is important to note that these press releases establish that the Child Predator Unit agents had, by November 2006, established one or more teen profiles on MySpace. These MySpace sting profiles clearly did not take advantage of the protective features on MySpace that the majority of teens use, because the predators were easily able to look at the pictures.
Despite the establishment of one or more public profiles on MySpace, there has apparently not been one successful sting operation initiated on MySpace in the more than two years during which these sting profiles have been in existence.
Further, on October 12, 2007, a press release contained the following information:
"Agents and attorneys from the Attorney General's Child Predator Unit are currently reviewing information concerning 133 registered sex offenders from Pennsylvania identified as having profiles on MySpace.com, and who used the MySpace messaging system to contact other members of that popular social networking site," Corbett said.
A number of the arrests described in the press releases described rearrests that were the result of analysis of computer files of the individuals arrested through a sting. The lack of any arrests of registered sex offenders whose profiles were found on MySpace, following the analysis of those profiles by the Child Predator Unit, indicates the probability that none of these individuals were found to be interacting with teens on MySpace. If any of the 133 registered sex offenders had been found to be in violation of the terms of their parole and probation, which for sex offenders includes a requirement of no contact with minors, these offenders would have been arrested and these arrests would most likely have been reported.
Lastly, although it was not possible to find data on the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s site on arrests for child sexual abuse, an April 9, 2008 press release from the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape that discussed a rally held to bring awareness to the lack of funding for the rape crisis centers throughout the state was located. The release noted:
In Fiscal Year 2006-07, Pennsylvania rape crisis centers and Sexual Assault programs provided confidential and free services to ... 9,934 children who were sexually abused.
A conversation with the Director of Communications of the Coalition also revealed that in a growing number of the cases the Coalition has been responding to the family or acquaintance abuser was found to have been using Internet communications and/or using digital media to create child pornography which was disseminated further.
The insight gained through an analysis of the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s press releases on arrests for online sexual predation provide strong support for the validity of the conclusions of the Berkman Research Advisory Board and demonstrate the need for greater collaboration between law enforcement and researchers to address the actual risks to young people from sexual predators online.
A statement on the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s site set forth the following information:
Corbett said, "The growth of the Internet has been astronomical, and regrettably, predators are using the Internet as their primary means of contacting and communicating with their young victims." And, he said, with the growth of the Internet, the problem of sexual predators has increased tremendously."
Despite the fact that for the last 4 years, the Child Predator Unit has 10 staff members diligently pursuing online sexual predators, primarily through sting operations, only 8 reported incidents actually involved actual teen victims. This number should be compared with the 9,934 victims of sexual abuse served by the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape during one fiscal year. Clearly, based on its own data, the Internet is not the primary means that predators are using to contact and communicate with child and teen victims.
Of significant concern is the report by the Coalition, that they are seeing increasing reports in cases involving real victims of family or acquaintance abusers who are using interactive technologies for communication or digital media to create child pornography. The Pennsylvania Attorney General’s strong focus on setting up stings to catch online sexual predator strangers appears to be misplaced in light of the concern of the growing use of technologies by a significantly larger number of family and acquaintance abusers. It is essential to gain a better understanding of how family and acquaintance abusers are now using communication and media technologies for sexual abuse. This issue must have very high priority for data collection, analysis, and prevention. It also must be recognized that it is highly unlikely that age and identity verification will be at all helpful in addressing this significant concern.
A press release issued January 14, 2008 set forth:
"My office has seen the number of arrested predators using MySpace nearly double over the past year," Corbett said. "Today's agreement makes it harder for adults to sexually solicit children online."
Despite the fact that since November 2006, the Child Predator Unit has apparently maintained one or more public sting profiles on MySpace, not one arrest has taken place as a result of communications through the social networking site. This compares to 144 successful sting operations in chat rooms. This finding is consistent with the research insight that chat rooms are the most common location for sexual solicitation. The social networking sites have dedicated significant attention to improving the protective features on their sites, protective features that were not used by the agents.
Attention must be paid to the obvious risks related to chat room communications, as well as the risk factors that are being manifested by the young people who may still be frequenting these chat rooms, especially the chat rooms where sexual relations are being discussed. It appears that rather than seek ways to discourage teens from participating in social networking sites, these sites are destinations that should be encouraged as much safe than the alternatives. A focus must be placed on improving the protective features of chat rooms that are frequented by minors.
The descriptions of the sting incidents raise important questions:
- What kinds of chat rooms were these sting operations conducted in? In one press release, it was noted that the communications had occurred in an “Internet romance chat room.” In another press release, the chat room was described as a “hidden chat room which has been used by predators arrested in previous investigations by the Child Predator Unit.” The kind of chat room that the undercover agents were entering could be highly related to the manner in which the predators interacted with the supposed teen. Not that the behavior is justified, the speed with which the conversations turned to sex and apparent assumption that such attentions were welcomed may be highly related to the kind of chat room these communications took place in. Thus, it is important to pay attention to the risk factors that could lead a teen to venture into one of these kinds of sites, as well as what the sites that provide chat rooms are doing to increase the level of protections in these online locations.
- What kind of material was included in the sting profile of the young teen girls? The research has documented that the teens who do engage in sexual activity with men who they meet online often post material that leads to the assumption that they welcome such approaches. Are the agents posting material that indicates a sexual interest? While this does not justify criminal sexual abuse, it is clearly necessary to focus on the risky behaviors of the teens themselves to develop effective prevention programs and it would be helpful to know what kinds of profiles are attracting men with illegal sexual interests.
- How many actual teens are entering these kinds of chat rooms and/or sticking around to communicate with men who are sending them webcams of their private parts? Clearly, if you toss a small fish on a hook into shark-infested waters, it is highly probable that you can hook a shark. What insight does this provide about the dangers faced by the small schools of fish swimming in the more protected reefs? The overwhelming majority of teens are likely not attracted to such webcams, thus while at clear risk of being “grossed out to the max,” they would likely have no inclination whatsoever to meet with such a person - and therefore should not be considered at risk of sexual predation. In a study of online sexual solicitations conducted by the Crimes Against Children Research Center, it was noted that recipients of online sexual solicitations demonstrated very effective approaches of responding to the solicitations.
The apparent lack of any arrests of any of the 133 registered sex offenders whose profiles were provided to the Attorney General and carefully reviewed by the Child Predator Unit presents a situation that clearly requires more disclosure by this, as well as all other, Attorneys General. Much fear has been generated by the disclosure that registered sex offenders have registered on MySpace. Frequently, the public is told that these registered sex offenders are “lurking” or “prowling for victims.”
MySpace has implemented a process to review the data on its site and identify registered sex offenders. The profiles are provided to the appropriate law enforcement agency. A news report on MySpace’s cooperative efforts to provide law enforcement with this material noted the interest of the Attorneys General in receiving this material for use in investigations. 16 Connecticut’s Attorney General Blumenthal stated: "Many of these sex offenders may have violated their parole or probation by contacting or soliciting children on MySpace.” North Carolina’s Attorney General Cooper stated the information “could potentially be used to look for parole violations or help in investigations.” Mississippi’s Attorney General Hood stated: "I think once we find out the content of the messages ... we may very well find that some of the messages included illegal enticement of a child"
It is curious that there have been no follow-up press reports stating something like, “We received the profiles of X number of registered sex offenders from our state, closely investigated the material, and identified Y number of registered sex offenders who were acting in violation of the terms of their parole or probation by establishing communications with minors, and Z number of those offenders were engaged in the illegal enticement of a minor.” This clearly is data that is readily available to the Attorneys General and should be provided publicly in a prompt manner so that the true extent of concerns related to the activities of registered sex offenders on the social networking sites can be more accurately ascertained.
In sum, the arrest reports on the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s site fully support the insight and conclusions of the Berkman Task Force Research Advisory Board. The incidents of online sexual predation are rare. Far more children and teens are being sexually abused by family members and acquaintances. It is imperative that we remain focused on the issue of child sexual abuse - regardless of how the abusive relationship is initiated.
It appears that chat rooms are far less safe than social networking sites and that there is limited inclination and ability of predators to use social networking sites to contact potential teen victims. However, some predators are apparently looking at non-protected social networking profiles to obtain more information about victims. The sexual predators are clearly not hiding evidence of their sexual intentions - the conversations and disturbing images make these intentions abundantly clear. Deception about age is rare. The young people who could find these kinds of interactions to be at all enticing are likely few, and clearly should be considered at high risk due to preexisting psychosocial concerns. Sexual abuse by family members and acquaintances continues to present a much more significant concern, with the added concern that these abusers are now using communication and image recording technologies to groom their victims and create and disseminate child pornography.
Clearly, there is a need for more research in this area, as well as a need to increase the speed with which such research is reviewed to ensure accuracy and then made available to guide prevention and intervention efforts. Collaboration between researchers and law enforcement is essential. Full and complete disclosure of arrest data by the Attorneys General, as well as federal law enforcement authorities, would facilitate this research. Initially, the Attorneys General should promptly disclose the actual numbers of registered sex offenders who they found were interacting with minors on the profiles provided to them by MySpace, as well as the number who were attempting or had successfully enticed a minor to engage in sexual activity.
The next, most important, step is to coordinate the activities of the researchers, Internet safety experts, industry representatives responsible for online safety, law enforcement with professionals in mental health and risk prevention. Thanks to the excellent work of the Task Force’s Research Advisory Board, we are now in an excellent position to begin to develop more effective approaches to educate all young people and their parents to reduce the potential of unsafe online behavior or negative incidents. Further, we can develop more effective risk prevention and intervention approaches to address the concerns presented by the young people who are at greater risk online.
As a former U.S. Attorney General. Dick Thornbough stated in the preface of another report addressing youth risk online, Youth Pornography and the Internet:
[This report] will disappoint those who expect a technological “quick fix” to the challenge of pornography on the Internet. ... It will disappoint parents, school officials, and librarians who seek surrogates to fulfill the responsibilities of training and supervision needed to truly protect children from inappropriate sexual materials on the Internet.
The Berkman Task Force Report has apparently disappointed some Attorneys General, hopefully a minority, who were expecting a technological “quick fix” to the challenge of online sexual solicitation and other online risks. This Report will clearly disappoint anyone thinking that age and identity verification can serve as surrogate for the implementation of a comprehensive approach that involves effective technology protections, education, parent involvement, and comprehensive risk prevention.
Fortunately, the Berkman Task Force Report, especially the high-quality research analysis provided by the Research Advisory Board, will provide a solid foundation for collaboration among professionals who understand the importance of implementing a research-based comprehensive approach to address these concerns.
View the article here
By PHILLIP RAWLS - Associated Press Writer
MONTGOMERY — State Attorney General Troy King (Contact) says the government doesn’t do enough to keep up with the 10,605 registered sex offenders living throughout Alabama.
When the Legislature convenes Tuesday, King will propose legislation to strengthen the requirements for sex offenders once they leave prison, including requiring them to disclose information about their cars and the names they use to meet people in computer chat rooms and on Internet social sites.
King said the computer has become the tool of choice for enticing victims, and having the computer names will make it easier to catch sex offenders if they try to lure new victims via the computer.
- Any criminal who is intent on committing a crime, will just create a new email address or IM name in a matter of seconds. This is just more boasting and grandstanding.
“It gives us a more complete picture of who sex offenders are and where they go in the real world and online world,“ he said in an interview.
- How does requiring them to hand over their car info and usernames, help you "get a more complete picture" of who sex offenders are? They have rights, which you are violating, so you can get the brownie points you need, maybe for another election?
Alabama law already requires sex offenders to notify authorities of where they plan to live when they get out of prison. Law enforcement notifies the neighbors that a sex offender is moving into their neighborhood and the information is posted on the state Department of Public Safety’s Web site.
The process starts over each time the sex offender moves.
Or at least that’s the way it’s supposed to work.
In reality, King said, some sex offenders will report that they are living with a relative, but will be staying elsewhere with a girlfriend.
- True, so how to you plan on preventing that? The more harsh the laws become, the more people will stop obeying them. More punishment and harsher conditions, do not make it all better, it makes it worse, and you are reaping what you sow.
King’s bill would make it a crime, punishable by one to 10 years in prison, for someone to assist a sex offender in hiding his real residence.
Alabama law already bars sex offenders from living near a school or child care facility. King’s bill would expand that to include YMCAs and Boys and Girls Clubs.
- Hell, why not expand it all the way, and say they must stay in their homes 24/7 and cannot ever leave? That is what you want, in the end, right?
King said the goal is to keep sex offenders away from children. “One thing we know about sex offenders is many are offenders of opportunity,“ he said.
The bill would also create the crime of video voyeurism, which would be punishable by one to 10 years in prison. King said that provision in aimed at people who use cameras in cell phones to secretly take pictures of people in gym locker rooms and store dressing rooms.
King said the need for that provision is demonstrated by the number of embarrassing photos posted on the Internet without the subjects’ knowledge.
The bill would also bring Alabama into compliance with the federal Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act by formalizing the process for notifying other states when a sex offender moves across the state line and requiring law enforcement to verify the residence of the most serious sex offenders more often, he said.
By The Grand Rapids Press Editorial Board
Tragedy too often is the catalyst for change. The freezing deaths of a spate of Michigan residents are among the latest such tragedies. The death of an elderly Bay City man in his home should bring changes in state law regarding utility shutoffs during the winter. Closer to home, the apparent freezing death of a homeless, ex-convict in Grand Rapids should spur changes in state law that prevented two downtown missions from providing him overnight shelter, even as temperatures dipped into the single digits.
These are two disparate cases, but lessons about humane treatment of our fellow human beings can be gleamed from both.
Marvin E. Schur, 93, survived World War II but perished alone in his Bay City home after the city's utility company restricted the flow of electricity to his home because of unpaid bills.
Thomas Pauli, 52, was found dead in an auto salvage yard because of punishments for sex offenders that extend beyond the prison sentences meted out by the judicial system.
The changes their deaths might bring about will not help them, but could prevent similar tragedies.
Mr. Schur, a WWII Army medic, died of hypothermia, according to the Bay City medical examiner. His body was found by neighbors Jan. 17, five days after city workers put a "limiter" device on his electric meter. The temperature inside his home was less than 32 degrees. Michigan is not Alaska, but winters here can be harsh, especially for the elderly. Shutting off or "limiting" electricity to them during the winter months can have tragic consequences.
That's why state-regulated commercial utilities such as Consumers Energy and Detroit Edison Co., are prohibited from shutting off power to the elderly and disabled from Nov. 1 to April 1. But that Michigan Public Service Commission rule does not apply to small, unregulated municipal utilities like Bay City Electric Light & Power. It should. State lawmakers and Attorney General Mike Cox should see to it that state law is changed so that all utility companies operating in Michigan abide by that sensible shutoff rule.
Devices like the one placed on Mr. Schur's meter restrict the amount of electricity reaching a home. If a homeowner tries to draw more electricity than the limiter allows, it shuts off all power and has to be reset by the homeowner from outside the home. City workers who installed the device apparently did not talk with Mr. Schur to explain how the device worked. But even if they had, the elderly man should not have been expected to tramp outside in freezing cold temperatures to restart his electricity every time it shut off.
There is nothing wrong with companies trying to collect payment for bills owed them, but waiting until the weather is more hospitable to shut off or limit power usage makes more sense. Since the Schur tragedy, Bay City has removed the 60 to 70 limiter devices that had been placed at other homes in the city. Bay City has taken action, but the state shouldn't leave it up to the nearly 20 other unregulated municipal utilities in the state to set their own policy. The PSC's no-winter-shutoff rule for the disabled and elderly should apply across the board. It could save some lives.
As for the Grand Rapids case, no classification of criminal attracts less public sympathy than sex offenders. Because Thomas Pauli committed a sex crime 20 years ago he was prohibited from staying overnight at two downtown shelters because they are near a school.
According to Michigan law, convicted sex offenders aren't allowed within 1,000 feet of a school. Guiding Light Ministries and Mel Trotter Ministries are located near Catholic Central High School, so neither could provide Pauli overnight shelter. He could get food and stay inside during the day, but could not spend the night.
It's understandable that people are concerned about protecting themselves and their children from sex offenders. The 1,000 feet buffer law was created for that purpose. But schools are closed at night. Students are not around. Laws that give shelters, whose mission it is to aid those in need, no choice but to turn away someone trying to get out of frigid, life threatening conditions are inhumane and need changing.
Sex offenses have become the Scarlet Letter crimes of our day. Certainly society should take reasonable precautions against these criminals harming someone else, especially children. But those necessary rules shouldn't be so draconian and inhumane that they bring harm -- or death -- to the offenders themselves.
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View the article here
This is old, but it's still relevant.
By Chris Hansen
'Some can be easily treated, some can't... and you've got the whole group in between,' says Fred Berlin, a professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University
Chris Hansen spoke to Dr. Fred Berlin, a professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. Berlin has over 25 years of experience working with sexual offenders.
Hansen asks Dr. Berlin, whether or not pedophilia can be solved with more severe punishment and better legislation. Can these men even be successfully treated?
Below, is a transcript of more of their interview.
Chris Hansen, Dateline correspondent: We had recently had 50 men come into a house, hoping to meet a 12 to 13-year-old child... Is it fair to call each one of these men a predator?
Dr. Fred Berlin: I don't think so. I think we're so quick now to use the term "predator." We have to talk in terms of, as far as I'm concerned, that have everyday meaning tied to them. Clearly, every one of these men is doing something that's terribly wrong. But there may be tremendous differences between them, and it's important to understand the differences as it is to understand the similarities.
Hansen: When you read the computer chat logs of the conversations between the men and the decoy, you see a grooming process. And it almost follows a pattern.
Dr. Berlin: Well, clearly, these are by definition men who have an interest in becoming involved sexually with children of that age. There is clearly something different about these individuals. They are trying to persuade these youngsters because they're attracted to them sexually to become involved in an intimate way. So what they're doing is wrong. But the fact that they're trying to pursue the kinds of desires they experience is not necessarily in and of itself surprising.
Hansen: Does it surprise you that so many men would show up to meet a child?
Dr. Berlin: Well, one of the things that we're learning about the Internet or through the Internet is the incredible diversity of the sexual makeup of human beings. These are very private matters. We don't tend to talk about it publicly.
And yet, if you go to the Internet, there are attractions of sorts that we wouldn't begin to imagine: people who are interested in looking at sites involving animals having sex with human beings, people who are interested in looking at sadomasochistic involvements, people who are interested in looking at very young children engaged in sexual activity, even infants. Obviously we don't want people to act on those attractions.
But we can't simply dismiss it as though we have no need to understand how many people have these kinds of desires. What can we do to help make sure they don't give into these temptations? The point I'm making is that we're learning that as much a public health problem as it is a criminal justice matter and that we need to address it from both perspectives.
Hansen: What makes a man go from visiting inappropriate Web sites and fantasizing on the Internet, maybe even in conversation, to actually showing up to meet a 12 or 13-year-old child?
Dr. Berlin: How do we go from fantasy to reality? Lots of people have private fantasies that give them some sort of pleasure and maybe even trouble them, but they don't act on them. I think one of the contributory facts-- it's not the only one-- is the insidious nature of the internet itself.
Hansen: The 24 hour a day, seven day a week access.
Dr. Berlin: I think there are three things that are problematic about the Internet, or at least three things. One is the easy accessibility. You don't, in the beginning at least, have to go anywhere. You just push a button that's sitting there next to you.
Secondly, there's this illusion of anonymity, which can be very disinhibiting. You feel as though you're there in the privacy of your bedroom. It's not that private, but you don't sense that at the time.
And thirdly, there is a distortion of reality and fantasy to some extent. That people feel as though they're playing a game. They're making up who they are. They wonder if someone else is giving a false persona. They begin to do things that in the light of day they might never have done and then, ultimately and sadly, sometimes cross a line that they might not otherwise have crossed.
Hansen: Does it surprise you that so many men would show up?
Dr. Berlin: Well, doing the work that I do, I wish I could say it surprises me but it doesn't. It is very clear that there are significant numbers of individuals who have sexual cravings about becoming involved intimately with children. We want to understand more about how that develops.
It's not that they sat down themselves as little children and decided to have these abnormal cravings. They discover in growing up that they're there. It's then their responsibility, in my judgment, to deal with that in a healthy and law-abiding fashion. But as with some drug addicts and alcoholics, the cravings for some of these men are so intense that they're not able to walk away from them simply through their own resources.
Hansen: What makes these men tick? Do we even know?
Dr. Berlin: Well, let me be careful when we say "these men." Because that's like asking me what makes drunk drivers tick. In other words, there's a tremendous spectrum from the alcoholic on the one end to the guy who had one too many at the Christmas party to everyone in between.
But there are a subgroup of individuals who commit sex offenses who are sexually disordered in the same way that there is a subgroup of drunk drivers who have alcoholism. When it comes to sexual disorders, what we're talking about in the simple layman's terms is that an individual experiences recurrent abnormal sexual cravings. In some instances, those are cravings that become involved actually with children.
In terms of why this can be so problematic, God or nature put the sex drive into each and every one of us for a very important reason, and that is literally the preservation of the human race. And so all of us have a sex drive that recurrently wants to be satisfied. When that drive becomes aimed, if I can put it in that way, in the wrong direction, towards children for example, it still recurrently wants to be satisfied. And it doesn't take a mental health expert to appreciate what a problematic circumstance that can become.
Hansen: Can these men, in most cases, be successfully treated?
Dr. Berlin: Many of these men can be successfully treated, many can't. Again, I'll come back to the analogy of working with alcoholics. Some can be easily treated. Some can't be treated. And you've got the whole group in between.
One point I do want to make, though, is that we're not, in my judgment, going to solve the problem only through a criminal justice approach. I very much support that, let me make it clear. But think about it for a moment, if the only thing we do with a person who's having sexual cravings about children is to send them to prison, there's nothing about prison alone that will either erase those cravings or enhance their capacity to successfully resist acting upon them.
Sooner or later, like it or not, most of these men are going to be back out there in the community. So unless we have both a strong criminal justice component and a strong public health component, in my judgment, we are doing society a tremendous disservice.
Hansen: The natural reaction after seeing a story like this is to say, "Lock these guys up. Throw away the key. That's the only way to protect children.”
Dr. Berlin: Well-- I think before I got into this area, I might have had quite the same reaction. One of the things we've done in this area is we've completely dehumanized these people. If we look back historically, at one time we looked at alcoholism as though it was only a moral problem. The alcoholic was the bum in the gutter.
Well, we still have moral values as we should when it comes to alcoholism. But we also have the Betty Ford Clinic. We recognize there are legitimate concerns for science and medicine.
When we talk about terms like "sexual predator," "pedophile," "sexual offender," we're talking as though it's only a moral problem. And God knows they're important moral issues. But there are also important issues of medical and scientific concern. How is it that some people are not attracted to people of their own age? How is it that some people crave sex with children and they're not attracted to other adults? Given the fact that such people exist and that we can't punish away or legislate those kinds of disorders, what can we learn through science research to help make society safer? What kinds of treatments can we provide for them?
If I may make one final point about treatment-- and I want to do it in the context that it should always be combined with a strong criminal justice approach-- when we see stings such as the one we're seeing here, I ask myself this (a) Does this make it more likely that someone who's sexually disordered who wants help is going to come forward and see it? (b) Does it give them any idea if they want that help where they can go to get it? (C) Are they going to feel comfortable that if they do seek help?
And if they're not going to feel that they can come forth and get help, how are we helping to prevent a problem? We're just having to pick up the pieces after the fact?
Hansen: If a man sees this program and that man has a problem in this area, what should that person do?
Dr. Berlin: There are very few resources available. We see on television all the time “if you have schizophrenia,” “if you have anorexia nervosa,” “if you have a drug problem,” “if you have an alcohol problem,” we as a society want to help you. We want to help you before you go out if you're an alcoholic and get in a car and injure an innocent person.
Where do we hear that as a society we want to reach out to people who are struggling and confused and disordered sexually? Where do they get the message this is where you can go? We're created a "we versus they" mentality. And I understand that what they do is offensive. It's aggravating. It makes me angry. But we're not going to solve the problem by pushing it further underground.
Hansen: Is there a place for these men to go to get help?
Dr. Berlin: If someone whose craving sex with children gives into that craving, hurts another person, can destroy their own life in the process. We have places like the Betty Ford Clinic for alcoholics. We have places for drug addicts to go to. There are virtually no places where people who are sexually disordered can go in our society and seek help. There are young troubled adolescents out there now today as we speak, many that are experiencing abnormal sexual cravings. They may be very troubled by that. The last thing they're going to do in our society is raise their hand and ask for assistance. And the price we pay is that we may see them ten years down the line when they're arrested after the fact, because there was no help available to them before.
Hansen: So you would argue, while you need a strong criminal justice system in place to deal with these guys, until there is a treatment network in place, we could go do this story virtually every week anywhere in the country and get the same results?
Dr. Berlin: Absolutely. We need both the attorney general and the surgeon general involved with this. How much research is being done to look at the issue of how some people become sexually disordered? There are actually people in the Congress and the Senate that say that we shouldn't fund research of that nature as though somehow by looking at what we can do to help these men, we're not caring enough about victims.
My God, prevention is the most important thing when it comes to victims. And we're only going to learn how to do that by finding out how people become sexually disordered, how to intervene before the fact and how for those who want help— that they can have access to that help before they go out and hurt an innocent person.
Hansen: Is this a problem that can be solved with more severe punishment and better legislation?
Dr. Berlin: The sense that I get is that our society today seems to feel that almost every problem can be solved by enforcing some prior statue more sternly, or by enacting new legislation. There are other things that have to be looked at. There's the role of science. There's the role of research. There's the role of treatment. There's the role of treatment providers working collaboratively with parole and probation in situations such as this. There are laws being enacted now in terms of where people who are sexual offenders can live in some states. Whereas other states are beginning to wonder if those laws are helping and are looking towards rescinding them.
Because there's so much emotion tied to this, we really need to get beyond that emotion, to think it through and to try to base public policy on facts that are going to try to lead to effective solutions.
And if I may just add one final point to that: Much of public policy today in this area is based on the exception rather than the rule—those horrible cases where there's a kidnapping, a sexual assault and a murder of a young child. That is a fraction of one percent of the big problem. And yet if we're going to base our public policy on the exception rather than the rule, it begs the question as to whether or not that's going to be the most effective public policy.
Hansen: Some prosecutors would argue that there's nothing that can be done for these men. That once arrested, once convicted, they should be locked up for the rest of their lives.
Dr. Berlin: Look, if you hear an overzealous therapist saying “We can help all of these men,” that's an extreme statement that is completely out of keeping with reality. On the other hand, if you hear somebody saying “Once an offender, always an offender,” although that may not be as easily appreciated, that is an equally extreme statement that is not in keeping with reality.
Hansen: But I have to tell you, in this particular investigation, we had numerous repeat offenders and registered sex offenders.
Dr. Berlin: Absolutely. And to some extent, it's like going to the mortuary and wanting to find out whether or not doctors ever help patients. Obviously you're going to see the ones that fail. What concerns me and what concerns me in terms of public perception is that we keep hearing about the failures but hardly ever hear about the successes.
If today, we want to say “Here are ten men who are repeat offenders,” should we not also say “We've gone out and found that today there are these multitude of men who are living safely in the community in a productive way and not hurting anyone”? Wouldn't that be a more balanced and honest way of presenting the facts to the public?
Hansen: Is that accurate? Is that happening in some of these groups? In some of these treatment areas?
Dr. Berlin: The United States Department of Justice, which doesn't have an ax to grind in my opinion, because of much of this new legislation, took a look at the issue of sex offender recidivism. And I've worked in this area for many years. And the findings surprised even me because what they found was, as a group, sex offenders have a lower rate of recidivism than people who commit other kinds of serious offenses. And yet the public perception, most of public policy, the way in which we view this problem today, is based upon exactly the opposite assumption.
Hansen: But we had guys walk into our house who not only had offended before but were registered sex offenders...
Dr. Berlin: Absolutely. And if we were talking about alcoholics, there would be people who are in treatment who, unfortunately, go back out and drink. But we don't say to that we shouldn't continue to treat alcoholism. We don't say to that that no one who has a drinking problem deserves help. And we certainly don't say to that that everybody who's an alcoholic who's in treatment is almost certainly going to recidivate.
Hansen: But in this case, the stakes are high given the fact that the victim would be a 12 or 13-year-old kid who could be scarred for the rest of their lives.
Dr. Berlin: The stakes are always high. But let me tell you, and I hope to God I'd never have to make this choice. But if the choice was between a sexual offender fondling my 12 year old or a drunk driver killing my 12 year old, given that horrible dilemma, it still wouldn't take me much time to figure out which I think is more serious.
Now the point I'm trying to make is not to minimize any of this. The point I'm trying to make that as a society we've somehow come to the conclusion that the worst possible crime of any sort is anything that has to do with sex. These are horribly serious offenses. But they're not the only serious offenses that are out there. And yet it's the only situation which we say, as a group, “none of these people are deserving of help.” None of these people can be successfully redeemed.
Hansen: What makes you say that this group of people is A) deserving of help and B) can really be helped?
Dr. Berlin: Well, I think what makes me say that is simply the facts. I didn't know anything about this area before I went into it. But I've seen many men who, for example, come into treatment as a condition of parole of probation but stay in treatment long beyond when that is required. 85 percent of people in this program have remained in treatment when there was absolutely no mandate that they do so.
I prescribed sex drive lowering medication for well over 100 individuals in the course of my practice as a physician. A very serious form of treatment. In all but a handful of cases, those men took that treatment on an entirely voluntary basis. There was absolutely no mandate from the court or anyone else that they could do so. Now, again, I don't want to minimize the fact that there are people who do very bad things. I'm not suggesting that all of these people, by any means, deserve help. What I am suggesting, though, is that the opposite side of the coin, that “they're all evil people, that none of them deserve help, that there's one glove that fits all,” in my experience, simply is not accurate.
Hansen: Without the Internet, do the vast majority of these men actually show up at a house to try to molest a child?
Dr. Berlin: Well, the Internet is relatively new, so we're trying to learn more about it. The answer is that there are some men who previously set out relationships with children before there was an Internet who now use the Internet as another way of doing that. And so that's one group.
There's another group of men who seem to use the Internet simply because they're interested in visual imagery. They're looking, for example, at child pornography. For them, that's an end in and of itself. And they're not necessarily looking to go any further.
And then finally, there are a group of men who seem to have had no prior history whatsoever of trying to seek out sexual relationship with children. But now with the presence of the Internet presumably playing on some vulnerability are beginning to act in such a fashion.
Hansen: The majority of the men we found in this investigation told me something to the effect of, "I've never done this before. It's my first time." Do you buy that?
Dr. Berlin: I don't know if I buy it for the majority of men. I'm willing to believe that it may be true for some of them. And in some cases, we can simply go out and get the facts. We can see whether, for example if they were arrested. We can look at their computer and see if they've tried to talk with other people they believed were children or-- in chat rooms. But I think in some cases, it may be true. In many cases, it will turn out not to be true.
Hansen: A lot of the men told me, sure, they had an obscene conversation with somebody they thought was a child, But they really weren't going to do anything.
Dr. Berlin: Let me put it this way. I'm very worried that a man in this situation could have gone through with the fantasy. And we do, as a society, need to protect children. Now having said this, in my experience, some of these men are confused. They're ambivalent. They're not sure whether it will or won't be a child. Some of them may not themselves know what they actually would have done had a child been there.
So we need to err on the side of playing it safe in my judgment and protect children by having laws that assume that they might have acted. But speaking now as a physician, some of them indeed may have been confused, ambivalent and troubled in the bright light of day may not have actually done so.
Hansen: So some of these guys might have been telling me the truth.
Dr. Berlin: Yeah. Some of them may have.
Hansen: We saw the entire spectrum. A 65-year-old man who said that there really was nothing wrong with him having sex with a 13-year-old boy. A 43-year-old teacher who came in and said, "I'm a sick son of a bitch. Take me away."
Dr. Berlin: Well, what these men likely share in common is the fact that they are sexually attracted to children. But that doesn't tell us anything whatsoever about other aspects of their character, their temperament, their personality and so on. Some will be introverted, some extroverted.
Some may be generally kind. Some may be cruel. Some may have good insight into the fact that it can harm children. Others may be blind to that fact. And so, again, there's a tremendous disparity in terms of who these people are as human beings.
The difficult thing that I find in our society today, is even speak of any of them as human beings because one can immediately be accused of being insensitive to issues of child abuse, of not caring about victims. My god, we all care about victims. The real issue is this: How can we most effectively protect society? And in order to do that, we're going to have to learn more about these men. And given that we can't lock them all up forever, how at least in some instances we can help them to become productive and safe citizens.
Hansen: You're not suggesting that these men shouldn't be arrested or put in prison.
Dr. Berlin: Absolutely not. We need a very strong criminal justice approach when it comes to this area. But in addition, not instead but in addition, we also need to have a strong public health approach. If the only thing we do with men who are having sexual cravings for children is put them in prison and do nothing more, prison won't erase those cravings or help them more successfully resist acting on them.
It really does amaze me, to be candid about it, that in our society we treat the person who's stolen from somebody, who's cheated on his taxes, and who's sexually desirous of children in exactly the same way, as though we can just punish them all, teach them a lesson and everything's going to be fine. If only the world were that simple.
Hansen: What is it going to take to set up a treatment program for guys like this? One that's effective?
Dr. Berlin: I think it will take a change in our collective mindset. Right now there seems to be this sense in my judgment that either we're concerned for victims or we're concerned for offenders. And that the people that are concerned for offenders must somehow not care enough about victimization. We're all on the same side here. And the best favor we can do a potential victim is to keep he or she from being victimized in the first place. And the only way society can do that is to learn more about how many men are sexually disordered, how they became to be such, to provide them, as we do with alcoholics, places to go if they need help. Until we do that, if we keep just thinking, "One more law, one more stern punishment is going to solve the problem," I think we do all of ourselves a tremendous disservice.
By SCOTT JASON
Jesse Rodriguez can be labeled many ways: father, boyfriend, two-strike felon, ex-con, homeless, a 43-year-old. The list goes on.
But three numbers, 290, have defined his life for the past three years.
Two-ninety serves as a euphemism for sex offenders. It refers to the penal code section that requires them to register with the state so law enforcement officers can track them.
Rodriguez was convicted in 1981 of a sex offense when he was 15 years old. He calls it an assault in juvenile prison that he said was meant to test his manhood. He won the fight, but lost the war.
A 2001 drunken driving conviction put him in the slam for several years. It also dredged up his teenaged crime and cast a long shadow on his life when he was released.
While a homeless life may be romanticized, as it is in folk songs such as Burl Ives' "Big Rock Candy Mountain," Rodriguez doesn't sleep near cigarette trees or lemonade springs.
Before he goes anywhere for any length of time, he calls his parole officer to clear it. Under state law, he must keep far from schools and parks. His curfew is 9 p.m.
Rodriguez' parole ends in March 2010, which means he'll be free to move about Merced County or leave, as he plans. He can then hand in his ankle bracelet, a digital shackle. Despite a rap sheet and daily temptations, he's committed to playing it straight.
"I don't want my life to be a locked door," he said. "I want to hold my own keys."
Because he's scared about becoming a target for violence both for being homeless and a registered sex offender, the Sun-Star agreed to not use his real last name or to show his face.
He remained nervous about being profiled, but hopes telling his story will bring him to terms with what he's done. "Maybe this is me washing my hands," he said, "asking for forgiveness."
Of the 515 registered sex offenders in Merced County, 30 are listed as transient, and about 80 are serving out parole. The state puts the most dangerous ones without a place in a group home to protect the public.
The more stable ones like Rodriguez live along Black Rascal Creek on railroad land in their own colony.
While the city recently found a short-term fix to house the homeless at the Merced Rescue Mission, a way to give sex offenders on parole a roof and bed remains elusive. That's the result of the stricter restrictions put in place when voters overwhelmingly approved Jessica's Law, a 2006 ballot measure.
A homeless task force is bouncing around ideas of what can be done to keep them off the street. It hopes to offer a report to the Merced City Council by the end of February.
- Why not fix the laws, and do away with the residency restrictions? No study has shown that where someone sleeps at night, has anything to do with committing another crime. So the very law, is the problem!
The three shelters available to the homeless -- the D Street shelter, the mission and Sierra Presbyterian Church -- can't house sex offenders.
After the law was enforced, statewide the number of paroled sex offenders registered as transient shot up to 1,056, a 600 percent increase from 88, according to a report by the Sex Offender Management Board released in December.
Locally, agents kicked them out of the 16th Street motels where they'd been staying because that residence didn't follow the law. Rodriguez was among them.
Few Mercedians muster any sympathy for sex offenders, but keeping them on the streets isn't the solution.
- Correct, it only adds to the stress, and increases the risk of another victim!
The state's sex offender board warns, "The body of literature and research to date indicate that a lack of stable and appropriate housing can contribute to recidivism."
In other words, the public is probably less safe with sex offenders roaming the streets.
A hidden community
A couple dozen homeless people live in camps between Black Rascal Creek and a set of railroad tracks that are only used for parking train cars.
Treated sewer water from the Beachwood neighborhood's plant flows through the creek, making the air acrid with the stench of musty detergent.
Some of the people string rope between trees to use as a clothesline. Rodriguez had hung a thermometer, which read 50 degrees mid-afternoon. In the evenings, the needle swings close to 30 degrees. Stuffed garbage bags line the road. It looks like a 21st century Hooverville -- the desperate camps of the Great Depression.
Rodriguez sleeps on a $20 inflatable mattress inside a 10-foot-by-20-foot tent along Black Rascal Creek. The air-mattress was a recent upgrade he bought after working some odd jobs.
He relieves himself in a portable camping toilet. He charges his ankle bracelet and cell phone with a friend's gas-powered generator. He pedals around town on a bicycle.
Rodriguez took home $35 a day for holding signs advertising the big-box store's close-out sales. Last week, he dug up a pipe for $40 and collected another $75 for weed-whacking and raking a vacant home's yard.
Food stamps pay for his meals. He tries to save his cash for clothes or other essentials. Many of the homeless do their basic shopping at Wal-Mart, just a quick walk away. They fill up their water jugs at a spigot near the car wash.
In the center of his campsite, Rodriguez has a patio table missing its glass top. In its place rests a plastic window shutter, where he keeps a jar of extra crunchy Skippy peanut butter, mustard, mayonnaise and raspberry preserves. Two pots and two saucepans, both dirty, also sit on the table.
He lives among other sex offenders and, just as he doesn't like to be judged, doesn't ask much about their crimes. "I don't even let my mind get there," he said. "It ain't my call."
It's a life he's accepted.
A life of mistakes
Rodriguez organizes his life by crimes and dates, summarizing it like this:
He was born in the City of Commerce and moved to the San Luis Obispo area in the mid-'70s when he was 10 because doctors told his parents the Southern California air was choking their asthmatic son.
After a few years there, his family settled in the Bay Area. His dad, a speed freak, abused him and his mom.
Trouble caught up with him in junior high, just about the time his parents split. He hung out with runaways, gang members and other troublemakers. He dressed to the nines in pleated pants, Stacy Adams shoes and collared shirts.
By 13, he had tried PCP, began boozing and even sniffed paint. All this, and some other run-ins with the law, sent him into the state's juvenile justice system, where he bounced around.
There, boys were often "punked." That's when one would show his dominance by rubbing against another boy. Sometimes they'd be raped. "You had to protect your manhood," Rodriguez explained.
In 1981, at the Karl Holton Youth Correctional Drug and Alcohol Treatment Facility, he was cornered by one teen.
He went on the offensive, dropping his pants and yanking the boy's head to his crotch. "Suck it!" he recalls yelling at the 15-year-old.
That angry act changed his life forever.
Rodriguez was convicted of oral copulation, a crime that has followed him around.
Three years later, after getting released, he cold-cocked a man in a parking lot, stealing about $100. He was convicted of robbery.
In 1991, he beat a homicide charge. He and a friend were crossing a dark overpass when they collided with two gang members. Knives were drawn. One member was killed. An inch-wide scar shows where Rodriguez was stabbed in the hip. He was arrested for the death.
"(My attorney) was a beautiful man," he said. "He just said I have a chance."
He beat the charge, but his wife left him, taking his son with her. He moved around some more and ended up in Merced and Mariposa, where he dated a woman.
Her father gave him a rifle as a gift. He was popped for a parole violation. In 2001, he was drunk and with a friend. They were racing down Sandy Mush Road and landed in a canal bank when he took a 15 mph turn at about 65.
He was sentenced to 32 months in prison, which was upped to 40 months after he went on the lam for 16 months.
After serving the term, he was released on parole and told, because of the nature of his sex offense, he had to register as a sex offender. He wept in the state office, feeling like a marked man.
"My whole life changed," he said. "I wasn't going to be able to spend time with my nieces and nephews. I'd be missing out on their lives."
Though his sex offense dated back decades, he was still a convicted sex offender on parole, even if it was for a different crime.
Because the crime happened when he was a juvenile, he isn't listed on the Megan's Law Web site. But it still meant staying 2,000 feet from schools and parks, an ankle bracelet and public scorn.
Community partnership key
Though many sex offenders see their relationship with parole officers as us-versus-them, Rodriguez believes the officials just doing their job and plays by their rules.
That's echoed by David Domico, Merced's parole office manager, who explained that voters sent a clear message when they approved Jessica's Law. It lumped sex offenders together and added more restrictions to their lives.
"It doesn't differentiate between child molesters or someone convicted of indecent exposure in 1980," he explained.
The office held community meetings after the law passed and urged paroled sex offenders to get their lives together. In August 2007, officers forced them out of the 16th Street motels. Seventeen declared themselves transient that day.
- How do you "get your life together," when the system won't let you?
Parole remains the only law enforcement agency in the county enforcing the 2,000-foot distance from schools and parks that registered sex offenders must follow. Most agencies are waiting to see whether the courts hold the requirements legal.
The state isn't responsible for housing parolees or sex offenders, though it maintains some homes, Domico said. The key, he said, is finding solutions by involving the community.
Other states have begun finding ways to help sex offenders get back on their feet through transitional housing, according to a state report.
Colorado sponsors group homes that house two-to-three convicts each. They're able to support one another and learn social norms.
In Suffolk County, New York, sex offenders are put in mobile homes that are moved to different parts of the county every few weeks to keep from burdening any one area.
Sex offenders in Washington stay in houses or apartments leased by the government and are supervised correctional officers.
With the help of $32 million in foundation grants, Minnesota built 3,000 housing units for homeless people.
Domico's office works with Continuum of Care, a network of groups that help the homeless. It hasn't yet been approached about the new task force, which formed two weeks ago. It still needs to be approved by the Merced County Association of Governments.
Merced Rescue Mission executive director Herb Opalek chairs the committee and has begun seeking what can be done to house homeless sex offenders.
- Get the state to fix the laws, remove the residency restrictions, which do nothing, except make people homeless!
Besides checking with other counties, he's trying to learn if there are any foreclosed homes far from schools and parks that could be bought by local government. "All we can do is suggest," Opalek said. "We hope we'll bring the issue to the forefront and get something done."
Any group home requires a permit from the city or county and the acceptance of neighbors, who typically aren't comfortable with sex offenders living next door.
A map the city drew up shows a few slivers of land within Merced's city limit where violent and nonviolent sex offenders could live.
- And when they move there, people raise hell because they are there. So the shuffle cycle continues on and on and on.
Rodriguez went to a mobile medical bus Tuesday to get his aching molar looked at by a doctor. Waiting to be called, one of his fellow sex offenders said he should request Valium, which he could sell on the street for a few dollars a pill.
"Oh yeah, then I'll live the high life selling pills," Rodriguez shot back sarcastically.
He came out of the checkup with a baggie filled with ibuprofen and an appointment with a dentist for the next day.
Every day is filled with temptation that he's dodging. When his parole ends, he plans to move to Hawaii, where one of his brothers lives.
"I don't want to be in trouble. My life just gets harder," he said. "I'm determined to do this correctly."
By MICHAEL ANICH, The Leader-Herald
Green admits to Rail Trail slaying
JOHNSTOWN - A defiant Randy Lee Green pleaded guilty this morning in Fulton County Court to second-degree murder stemming from last summer's brutal hunting-knife stabbing death of Gloversville resident _____.
The defendant faces 22 years to life in state prison.
After telling police they were "crooked" and blurting out "[Expletive], are you happy?" to the victim's family, Green settled down and entered his guilty plea before Judge Polly A. Hoye at the County Courthouse. The plea followed some confusion. Green either didn't understand or did not want to sign a document negating his right to appeal, which he eventually signed.
Hoye set Green's sentencing for the guilty plea to the felony count for 10:30 a.m. April 2. According to a plea arrangement worked out between the prosecution and defense, Green will receive 22 years to life in state prison. If convicted at trial, he could have faced the maximum 25 years to life.
Green, 27, of 19 Wilson St., Gloversville, had been charged with second-degree murder in connection with the early morning stabbing death of the 63-year-old _____ on a Rail Trail bridge near Foster Street Aug. 15.
Green also had faced one count of first-degree assault, two counts of second-degree assault, criminal possession of a weapon and felony tampering with physical evidence. The guilty plea to the murder charge settles all charges against Green.
In addition to stabbing his victim, one of the assault counts claimed Green struck _____ in the head with a board.
After the plea, _____'s tearful daughter, _____, said, "I'm relieved he'll be behind bars the rest of his life. I'm relieved he's getting what he deserves."
_____, _____'s niece, said the proceeding illustrated how Green is "imbalanced."
Following the 25-minute plea proceeding, District Attorney Louise K. Sira said she still has no motive for Green being irate at his victim and the subsequent murder of _____.
"I don't know the basis for the argument," she said.
Defense attorney Robert Abdella of Gloversville had no comment after the proceeding.
Hoye repeatedly attempted to focus Green on the proceeding. She told him he was pleading guilty to second-degree murder in full satisfaction of other charges against him.
When she asked if he understood his sentence, Green initially responded "yup."
But when it came to signing his waiver to appeal, the defendant appeared confused and somewhat defiant. His lawyer, Abdella, explained to him that "if you sign the waiver, you can't go back to court."
Hoye told Green to conduct himself "appropriately" after he swore at several of Green's family in the back of the courtroom. She also told him he didn't have to enter a plea today.
"The cops are crooked," said Green, who added that "I wouldn't let that happen" when the judge asked if anyone threatened him.
Green told the judge he's "never denied" killing Green.
In another exchange with the judge, he blurted out, "Why does the Gloversville police hide evidence regarding tapes? Listen, I don't lie for no reason ... I'm going to take the plea. There's no way to defend myself because they took all my channels away."
Green admitted to stabbing _____ Aug. 15 in a brief explanation in court of what happened.
_____ was a Level 3 registered sex offender living in Gloversville, and was found dead on a bridge on the Rail Trail, his body riddled with stab wounds.
Prior to his death, authorities had listed _____'s address as _____.
Gloversville police have said Green claimed he was upset about child pornography he believed _____ had, but Sira said police found no evidence of child pornography in _____'s apartment.
Green allegedly had been socializing with _____ in the days leading up to the murder. He was arrested later that same day.
Police said Green, _____ and another unidentified individual were walking on the trail on their way to Price Chopper when Green pulled out a hunting knife and stabbed _____. The pair had been drinking and arguing throughout the day, police said, and began arguing again as they walked on the trail.
The indictment revealed that in addition to multiple stab wounds to his heart, lungs and kidneys, which killed him, _____'s throat also was slashed, Sira said.
After the stabbing, police said Green went to a camp on the Great Sacandaga Lake in Mayfield, where he tried to burn his clothing and the knife he used to stab _____.
Both _____ and Green had histories with local police.
Green had been arrested on a number of charges since 2001, including three charges of disorderly conduct, second-degree assault, criminal mischief, second-degree harassment and violating parole.
_____ was arrested by Johnstown police in 1990 and later convicted of second-degree sodomy for an incident involving a 13-year-old boy. He was sentenced to serve two to six years in state prison. Since 2001, _____ had been arrested four times. He was charged with petit larceny, trespassing, and was arrested twice for failing to notify police when he changed his address.
By Judith Warner
At a journalism conference a couple of years ago, I met Linda Perlstein, the author of “Not Much Just Chillin’: The Hidden Lives of Middle Schoolers.” This meeting occurred right in the middle of the “rainbow party” craze – that is to say, the media frenzy around the alleged oral activities of oversexed (and lipsticked) tweens.
Rainbow parties hadn’t actually played any part in Perlstein’s book. But that, she told me then, hadn’t stopped TV producers – representing “Oprah,” from “The Dr. Phil Show,” from a Katie Couric special – from calling and cajoling her to come on their shows to talk about them.
“I’d say, ‘No one is doing that,’” she told me when I called her this week to refresh my memory of her story. “Even the sluttiest kids I knew, when I told them about that said, ‘Ewww. No one does that.’ This really prurient stuff was being way overblown.
“Believe me, I wanted to be on ‘Oprah.’ I had a book to sell. I’d say, ‘There’s lots of stuff to talk about. Stuff that really should be talked about, that’s more nuanced and complex.’ They were like ‘Thanks, but no thanks.’”
I found myself thinking about Perlstein’s media follies this week, when I read Tara Parker-Pope’s article “The Myth of Rampant Teenage Promiscuity” in Science Times on Tuesday. For me it not only raised the issue of myth and reality (teens are, in truth, having sex less and later than they did a decade or two ago), but also brought to mind the stories that we tell and what people are willing to hear.
Two sociologists in Philadelphia, Kathleen A. Bogle, of La Salle University, and Maria Kefalas, of St. Joseph’s University, both specialists in teen sexual behavior, told Parker-Pope that they’d had to struggle mightily to get people out of their “moral panic” mindset, and make them understand that teens are not “in a downward spiral” or “out of control.”
“They just don’t believe you. You might as well be telling them the earth is flat,” Kefalas told me when I called to follow up with her this week.
This reminded me of how the developmental psychologist Joseph Mahoney – and others – have had to fight to convince people that another much-discussed creature of our time, the Overscheduled Child, isn’t as common or as stressed-out or even as busy as we commonly think. (I myself didn’t believe him at first, and wasn’t too nice about it.) It reminded me, too, of the Boy Crisis – how hard it has been for scholars who have taken a hard look at the boy/girl achievement numbers (PDF) to counter the popular wisdom that boys are falling behind. And it reminded me of the Overmedicated Child, that particular trope of child corruption, soul theft and performance pressure that has for so long fascinated me.
In each of these examples, real problems – that some girls are engaging in too-young, risky and degrading sex, that some children are being stressed excessively and stifled by nonstop structure, that some boys (poor and minority boys) are doing badly in school, that some children are getting really reckless mental health services – are grossly simplified and, via the magical thinking of dogma and ideology, are elevated to the level of myth. Real complexities and nuances – details concerning exactly which children are suffering, flailing or failing, and in what numbers, and how and why, and what we can do about it – are lost.
That’s no accident. After all, moral panics – particularly those concerning children – always serve some hidden purpose. “Modern ideas about the innocent child have long been projections of adult needs and frustrations,” Gary Cross, a professor of modern history at Penn State University, writes in his 2004 book, “The Cute and the Cool: Wondrous Innocence and Modern American Children’s Culture.” “In the final analysis, modern innocence has let adults evade the consequences of their own contradictory lives.”
All the examples of child myth-making that I’ve mentioned here have to do, at base, with the perceived corruption of childhood, the loss of some kind of “natural” innocence. When they depart from kernels of reality to rise to the level of myth, they are, I believe, largely projections that enable adults to evade things. Specifically, the overblown focus on messed-up kids affords parents the possibility of avoiding looking inward and taking responsibility for the highly complex problems of everyday life.
In the case of the allegedly lascivious Lolitas, Kefalas sees this flight from reality very clearly: “People don’t want to hear about the economic context, the social context” to young teen sexual activity and teen pregnancy, she told me. “For a 14-year-old to be having sex it’s usually a symptom of a kid who’s really broken and really hurt. Those who are having sex without contraception are a distinct set: they’re poor, from single-parent households, doing poorly in school, have low self-esteem. Teen pregnancy is so high in America compared to other places not just because of access to contraception but because we have a lot of poverty. But Americans don’t want to see themselves as a poor society. They want to make a moral argument: if only teens had better values.”
Certain kinds of children have certain kinds of vulnerabilities that make them particularly susceptible to the toxic elements of our culture. This is true of those who do or don’t fall victim to stress and anxiety, and it’s true of those who do or don’t engage in too-early, too-risky sex. Certain kinds of policies can help children. (Abstinence-only sexual education clearly does not help in combating teen pregnancy.) Certain kinds of parenting can help or hurt, too.
Having a family life that’s so atomized and disconnected that children have the physical and emotional space to upload nude pictures of themselves onto the Internet, and lack the self-esteem and self-respect to know better is obviously undesirable. Being a stressed and frantic, frazzled and depressed parent is harmful, too. (“We are a mess,” Suniya Luthar, the Columbia University psychologist, once told me, explaining why she saw overscheduling as a symptom rather than a cause of family distress. “We are the ones running around like freaking chickens without a head…. It’s the situation where the captain of the ship has lost control.”)
If we parents hadn’t created a world this high-pressured, if we hadn’t, for decades, voted in policymakers who stripped away regulations that protected us, we wouldn’t be so certain that other parents are “drugging” their kids to make them more high-performing, and we wouldn’t have to be so fearful of the influence of Big Pharma.
Luthar is right: we – the adults in this society – are “a mess.” I think it’s time to stop projecting our dysfunction onto our children.
About Judith Warner
Judith Warner's book, "Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety" (excerpt, NPR interview), a New York Times best-seller, was published in February 2005. "Domestic Disturbances" appears every Friday.