Saturday, November 7, 2009

To Catch A Non-Predator: Are Online Stings Locking Up The Innocent?

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By Anna N.

According to a long, disturbing article in Vanity Fair, online predators who seek out sex with kids are much less numerous than we think — and police efforts to catch them may be imprisoning innocent men.
- This was also determined to be the case in this study.

Mark Bowden tells the story of J, a 42-year-old man who spent a year in jail for using a chat room to set up an assignation with a mother and her underage daughters — except that the "mother" was Detective Michele Deery, the daughters didn't exist, and J swears he was never interested in children in the first place. A lot of things about J make him seem untrustworthy — he was using steroids at the time, which gave him a runaway sex drive. He spent hours in cybersex chat rooms, playing out involved sexual fantasies with strangers while his wife slept. And he was willing to describe graphic sexual scenarios with children. But there's also a lot of evidence to suggest J was entrapped.

J says he had learned from experience that in order to interest women in chat rooms, you had to be willing to entertain their particular fantasies. Deery, masquerading as a user named "heatherscutiepies," seemed to want to talk about someone having sex with her daughters — so he indulged her. When the time came to set up a real-life meeting, he kept trying to make a date with just "Heather," but she kept bringing the girls back into it. She said things like,

-ur flip floppin its confusing me ... i mean it just seems like ur more into me then all of us..thats all


-u say ur not really just into me, but it is still odd to me that you just wanna meet ME..


-here is a tidbit of info ... i can do all that w out you here ... so clearly you are more into me then all of us whch is fine but u should be upfront about that from the get go

As Bowden mentions, these statements could be seen as Deery offering J an out, giving him a chance to say that he was really only interested in adult women so that she could leave them alone. And it was certainly stupid and reprehensible for J to respond as he did — repeatedly reassuring "Heather" that he was interested in her daughters after all. Even worse, he agreed to have sex with all of them — first with Heather alone, and then with the girls when they came home from school. J swears his plan was to flee after sleeping with Heather, but this claim didn't get him out of jail time, the dissolution of his marriage, or a lifetime on a sex offender registry.

It's hard to tell if J is telling the truth. He claims that everything he said about the girls was just an attempt to give Heather what she wanted so that she would sleep with him, but most right-thinking people would probably balk at offering to commit statutory rape just to get laid. On the other hand, unlike most child molesters, J didn't have any child porn on computer, and there's no evidence he ever hurt an actual child. J may be a bad guy, or least a sick one, but he also may have been a waste of a detective's time.

Bowden writes persuasively that the hysteria over online child predators is misguided. Some of it, he says, is based on faulty statistics — like the idea that one in five kids has been sexually solicited over the Internet. Bowden writes,

[H]alf the solicitations came from other teenagers. Not a single solicitation led to actual sexual contact. Violent sexual predators hunting children are out there, as they have always been, yet they remain blessedly rare, and most young people flee such strangeness instinctively. Only 3 percent of the contacts reported in the survey resembled the one most feared by parents, the adult stranger attempting to seduce a child.

And, somewhat disturbingly, Bowden reveals that people like J are "many times more likely to be locked up for approaching detectives than children." Would J have gone on to molest children if Deery hadn't "caught" him? It's possible, but it doesn't seem all that likely, and children face much more pressing dangers than J (Bowden also notes that missing children are more likely to have gotten lost or been kidnapped by a family member than abducted by a sex offender). The image of the online predator is a convenient one — a wholly evil person whose capture and punishment makes children safer. But protecting children is more complicated than that, the dangers they face more various and amorphous than a bad man lurking in a chat room. Unfortunately, nobody wants to stand up for men like J, and so the practice of creating false scenarios to catch sex offenders will probably continue — even if it means making sex offenders of some men who wouldn't be otherwise. But law enforcement energy might be better spent elsewhere, and perhaps we as a society should redirect our attention to problems that actually harm actual children — not men who solicit made-up girls.

"The mood and temper of the public in regard to the treatment of crime and criminals is one of the most unfailing tests of a civilization. We must have a desire to rehabilitate into the world of industry, all those who have paid their dues in the hard coinage of punishment." - Winston Churchill (United States Constitution, Bill of Rights)

© 2006-2009 Sex Offender Issues , All Rights Reserved

FL - Supreme Court to Examine Life in Prison for Juveniles

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The Supreme Court is being asked to say that locking up juveniles and throwing away the key is cruel and unusual -- and thus, unconstitutional.

_____ was sent away for life for raping an elderly woman and judged incorrigible though he was only 13 at the time of the attack.

_____, implicated in armed robberies when he was 16 and 17, was given a life sentence by a judge who told the teenager he threw his life away.

They didn't kill anyone, but they effectively were sentenced to die in prison.

Life sentences with no chance of parole are rare and harsh for juveniles tried as adults and convicted of crimes less serious than killing. Just over 100 prison inmates in the United States are serving those terms, according to data compiled by opponents of the sentences.

Now the Supreme Court is being asked to say that locking up juveniles and throwing away the key is cruel and unusual -- and thus, unconstitutional. Other than in death penalty cases, the justices never before have found that a penalty crossed the cruel and unusual line. They will hear arguments Monday.

_____, now 22, and _____, now 33, are in Florida prisons, which hold more than 70 percent of juvenile defendants locked up for life for nonhomicide crimes. Although their lawyers deny their clients are guilty, the court will consider only whether the sentences are permitted by the Constitution.

The Supreme Court's latest look at how to punish young criminals flows directly from its 4-year-old decision to rule out the death penalty for anyone younger than 18.

In that 2005 case decided by a 5-4 vote, Justice Anthony Kennedy's majority opinion talked about "the lesser culpability of the juvenile offender."

"From a moral standpoint it would be misguided to equate the failings of a minor with those of an adult, for a greater possibility exists that a minor's character deficiencies will be reformed," Kennedy said.

Yet Kennedy also acknowledged the possibility that for the worst crimes and the worst offenders, "the punishment of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole is itself a severe sanction, in particular for a young person."

Both sides point to the same basic facts -- the rare imposition of draconian prison terms on people so young -- to make their point.

The state of Florida, backed by 19 other states, argues it should retain flexibility in sentencing so that "particularly heinous acts that stop short of causing death" can be punished vigorously.

Life without parole "is appropriately rare and reserved only for the worst of the worst offenders," crime victims' groups said in court papers.

Most victims of juvenile violence also are young, the victims groups said, citing Justice Department statistics. "Softening sentences for juvenile offenders puts actual children in harm's way -- innocent ones, not those who have committed violent crimes," the victims' groups said.

Opponents of such sentences said, however, that most states have in practice rejected life terms for juveniles when no one was killed. The 109 juveniles serving terms of life without parole are in Florida and seven other states -- California, Delaware, Iowa, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska and South Carolina -- according to a Florida State University study. More than 2,000 other juveniles are serving life without parole for killing someone.

Only 9 people in the country are serving life sentences for crimes committed when they were 13. The number rises to 73 when 14-year-olds are added in.

No other country allows life sentences for young offenders, opponents say.

Beyond the infrequency of such punishment, lawyers for _____ and _____ argue that it is a bad idea to render a final judgment about people so young.

"They are unfinished products, works-in-progress," said Bryan Stevenson, who will argue _____'s case at the high court.

Actor Charles Dutton, former U.S. Sen. Alan Simpson and others who committed crimes as teenagers have weighed in against life without parole sentences. Corrections officials, psychologists, educators and even some victims also have taken _____'s and _____'s side.

"The crimes that these guys committed were grotesque," Simpson said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "I'm sure people will say Simpson's gone soft in the head."

The Wyoming Republican served 18 years in the Senate, but as a teenager, he pleaded guilty to setting fire to an abandoned building on federal property and later spent a night in jail for slugging a police officer.

Simpson said he sees no good argument for refusing even to review their sentences after the passage of time.

"When they get to be 30 or 40 and they been in the clink for 20 years or 30 or 40 and they have learned how to read and how to do things, why not?"

If a prisoner shows he is not fit to be released, "throw him back in," he said. "That's better than saying 'Sorry, we can't look at that file because you were sent here for life."'

As their cases come to the court, _____'s and _____'s interests are not strictly aligned. The justices could, for example, decide that life sentences may be inappropriate for 13-year-olds, but allow them for older teenagers.

Such a decision could help _____ and another Florida inmate, Ian Manuel, who wounded a woman in a shooting when he was 13. But it could leave _____ with his sentence unchanged.

The cases are _____ v. Florida, 08-7621, and _____ v. Florida, 08-7412.

"The mood and temper of the public in regard to the treatment of crime and criminals is one of the most unfailing tests of a civilization. We must have a desire to rehabilitate into the world of industry, all those who have paid their dues in the hard coinage of punishment." - Winston Churchill (United States Constitution, Bill of Rights)

© 2006-2009 Sex Offender Issues , All Rights Reserved

RUSSIA - Underage Sex Flourishes in Russia

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Statistics in Russia show more and more teenagers start having sex at an early age. While some believe it's a personal choice there are those who are convinced quick action is needed to curb the dangerous trend. One out of ten Russian children has had sex under the age of fifteen.

They're young, they're glamorous and they're sexy – in fact the Velvet project is exactly the kind of image today's teenagers are so eager to buy into.

But there are fuelling concerns in Russia that children these days are being tempted to grow up far too quickly and irresponsibly.

However, one of the Velvet group members, eighteen year-old Rumiya, says it’s strongly individual.

Some are ready for sex at the age of fifteen, some are still hesitant about it at the age of 25. But I personally think, if you want something, you really should try it at least once,” says Rumiya Niyazova.

Such an attitude is only increasing concerns of the older generation who believe society is being corrupted.

Latest statistics shows the age of first sexual experience in Russia has dropped over the past ten years.

Forty-two per cent of girls and 68 per cent of boys have sex with someone they don't know well.

Nineteen per cent of sexually active 14-year-olds get pregnant, which leads to abortion in 95 cases out of 100.

Minors who have intercourse are usually sexually ignorant. They don't know how dangerous it is for them in the sense of getting a venereal disease which, if not discovered and cured at an early stage, leads to sterility,” says Margarita Rakhmatulina, STD specialist.

The age of consent differs in countries throughout the world: from twelve in Chile to 21 in Madagascar. Russia raised the age from 14 to 16 in 2003 and may increase it further.

But doctors say a proper social campaign is needed to educate youngsters, rather than another law.

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"The mood and temper of the public in regard to the treatment of crime and criminals is one of the most unfailing tests of a civilization. We must have a desire to rehabilitate into the world of industry, all those who have paid their dues in the hard coinage of punishment." - Winston Churchill (United States Constitution, Bill of Rights)

© 2006-2009 Sex Offender Issues , All Rights Reserved

VA - A.G. urges dismissal of petition to clear teen in rape-recant case

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Attorney general's office seeks dismissal of petition in teen's recantation case

Stafford attorney Denise Rafferty provided effective counsel to a former Aquia Harbour teen whose victim recanted her rape allegation after his conviction, according to the state Attorney General's Office (Contact).

The office's response is part of a motion to dismiss a petition by the boy's attorneys, who are seeking to clear his name and get him off the state sex offender registry. The response was filed in Stafford County Circuit Court this week.

The teen served about 17 months in a Department of Juvenile Justice facility after pleading guilty to rape and breaking and entering charges in Stafford Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court in 2007.

Though he maintained his son's innocence, Edgar Dulaney agreed to have the boy accept a plea agreement to ensure he didn't risk winding up in an adult prison.

The prosecution had sought to try him as an adult.

About two weeks after the boy's commitment to the Department of Juvenile Justice was confirmed, the alleged victim told her mother she hadn't been raped and he hadn't broken into their home.

Since then, the girl's mother has sought to rectify what she considers to be an injustice.

The girl was 14 at the time of the June 2007 incident; the boy was 15. Both lived in Aquia Harbour at the time.

As part of the petition, the boy's attorneys claim Rafferty violated his constitutional right to effective counsel.

Specifically, they claim she failed to investigate the claims against her client, failed to interview him, failed to investigate his and his accuser's backgrounds, misrepresented the evidence against him and ignored an eyewitness. Their petition included affidavits from school officials stating the girl previously made false accusations.

The boy is represented by a team of attorneys, including Deirdre Enright, director of the Innocence Project (Contact) at the University of Virginia law school, and Andrew K. Block, legal director of JustChildren, a program of the Legal Aid Justice Center in Charlottesville.

This week, Assistant Attorney General Gregory W. Franklin filed a motion to dismiss the petition on grounds that the juvenile justice department no longer has custody of the boy, the petition wasn't properly filed and that Rafferty provided effective counsel.

The motion included a nine-page affidavit from Rafferty, laying out steps she said she took as court-appointed counsel for the teen.

She said she spoke with her client one-on-one in an attorney room in the Stafford courthouse prior to a hearing on July 19, 2007, and that he told her he had sexual relations with the girl after pushing her down on a bed.

"He told me he did not want his parents to know what he had done," Rafferty wrote.

Franklin argued in his motion that that information explains Rafferty's actions.

"Counsel had no basis to think that the victim's account was false because her client essentially confirmed its truth," he said in his motion.

Rafferty also states that she spoke to Dulaney by phone and three times spoke to the case detective.

Further, the alleged victim's account relayed by Detective Gerald Lloyd and Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner Gail Perkins was consistent with the charges and the boy's comments, Franklin claims.

The prosecution proceeded on the grounds that the girl did not have the mental capacity to consent to sexual intercourse, but the boy's attorneys contend the pair were intellectual peers.

No date has been set for a hearing in the case, but last month, the boy's attorneys filed a motion for discovery.

They are seeking to take depositions from Rafferty, Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney Eric Olsen, who prosecuted the case, Detective Lloyd, Aquia Harbour police, two Stafford sheriff's deputies and two social workers.

"The mood and temper of the public in regard to the treatment of crime and criminals is one of the most unfailing tests of a civilization. We must have a desire to rehabilitate into the world of industry, all those who have paid their dues in the hard coinage of punishment." - Winston Churchill (United States Constitution, Bill of Rights)

© 2006-2009 Sex Offender Issues , All Rights Reserved

PA - Proposed Law Would Protect The Falsely Accused

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Good, we need this in all states.


By Susan Brinkmann

The persistence of an Abington teacher whose life was nearly destroyed after being falsely accused of raping a student, has led to the proposal of a new law that could make would-be accusers think twice before filing a false claim.

A chance encounter at a seniors meeting at St. David’s Church in Willow Grove last spring between the wife of retired Abington School District teacher _____, 71, and Rep. Tom Murt (Contact), R., Montgomery/Philadelphia, led to the introduction of H.R. 2600. The bill, introduced on Sept. 25, will upgrade the offense for giving police false information about a crime from a second or third degree misdemeanor to a third degree felony.

It’s very painful to see someone get charged unfairly,” Rep. Murt said. “I don’t know why people would ever do that and I don’t know why anyone would go after someone like _____ because I’m sure he was a very dedicated and very caring teacher. But sometimes people just do cruel things.”

More than 10 years ago, the lives of _____ and _____ were turned upside down when a student accused _____ of repeatedly raping her while she was a fifth grade student at Willow Hill Elementary.

It was December of 1997 when two detectives showed up at my house to say there was a complaint against me and I’d have to come down to the station,” Mike recalled.

He was told that the student had accused him of raping her more than 20 times during the 1985-86 school year.

He knew the charges were untrue, but that didn’t stop police from arresting him on Jan. 22, 1998.

I was thrown in jail for a couple hours, then paraded in handcuffs to the District Justice’s office with every major news channel there,” he said. “I remember Vernon Odom sticking a mike in my face and asking, ‘Are you guilty of this crime?’

For the next 10 months, he lived a teacher’s worst nightmare, suspended without pay, racking up $45,000 in lawyer fees and, worst of all, watching his good name scorned and his family humiliated.

In the end, the student’s story unraveled and law enforcement realized it was all a lie.

She was never charged and walked away scot free.

The _____ didn’t have it so easy. They were left with the tattered remains of their life and a conviction that something needed to be done to help other victims of the same injustice. For years, they helped others who were falsely accused, and lobbied Pennsylvania lawmakers to toughen penalties for those who knowingly make false allegations.

While statistically difficult to pin-point, national figures for false reports of rape range anywhere from two to 50 percent only because most reports don’t distinguish between women who deliberately misreport and women who mistakenly identify innocent men.

The FBI’s Uniform Crime Report states that eight percent of reports of forcible rape are found to be false, but that pecentage doesn’t include cases where an accuser fails or refuses to cooperate in an investigation or drops the charges.

No one knows better than _____ that every statistic represents a life forever changed, so when Rep. Murt came to a senior’s meeting at St. David’s church in Willow Grove last spring, Mrs. _____ didn’t hesitate to ask if he thought there might be any interest in the House in upgrading the offense for making a false report.

Rep. Murt looked into the issue and discovered that there had been attempts to pass a similar law prior to 2007, but the effort did not succeed. He decided it was worth another try and assembled a bi-partisan coalition of 20 co-sponsors who were willing to sign on to H.R. 2600. The bill has been referred to the Judiciary Committee.

We think the bill has merit,” Rep. Murt said. “I think it will discourage people from making untrue claims about somebody with a motive of ‘shaking the money tree.’ It’s a pretty serious thing to damage someone’s reputation and integrity with a charge that’s not true.”

It will also cut down on the amount of wasted time and resources spent by law enforcement chasing down false claims, he said. “This is time and money that can be spent on patrol work and crime prevention.”

But for families like _____ and _____, this law will spare innocent citizens something even more precious than time and money - their good name.

"The mood and temper of the public in regard to the treatment of crime and criminals is one of the most unfailing tests of a civilization. We must have a desire to rehabilitate into the world of industry, all those who have paid their dues in the hard coinage of punishment." - Winston Churchill (United States Constitution, Bill of Rights)

© 2006-2009 Sex Offender Issues , All Rights Reserved