Thursday, August 09, 2007

Should a naked jogging priest be listed as a sex offender?

The sex offender hysteria that has robbed Americans of their common sense may claim yet another victim. Now lets get it straight. If someone rapes another person they are a legitimate sex offender. If someone attacks a child they are legitimate sex offender. But the term has become so inflated that it is covering wide numbers of people who legitimately don’t qualify.

That actually undermines the purpose of the registry but that is too difficult for the panic-mongers to understand. Here is the problem. At the rate they are going a huge percentage of the population will be on those registries sooner or later and many who aren’t there would qualify. As more and more non-violent, non-predatory people are put on this list the list itself becomes more meaningless. People dismiss presence on the list as being important because so many non-important offenses qualify for inclusion.

One such person is Father Robert Whipkey of Frederick, Colorado. It was 4:30 in the morning and very dark. The priest said he went to the high school track to jog and but that jogging makes him sweaty so he ran in the nude. He also said that at that time of the morning the place is empty. No one could see him. But a police officer did see him and he was arrested and charged with indecent exposure.

Good thing those cops don’t go through the local park near by. On a warm summer day like today it would have a couple of hundred nude sunbathers there. But not in America. But I digress.

Father Whipkey, I suspect, was concocting a story. It is far more likely that he got his jollies by being outside naked. But other than the police no one seemed to notice and it was dark. It certainly was non-violent and there is no reason to assume this priest poses a danger to others, based on this incident alone. And perhaps there is a place for preventing men running around neighborhoods in the dark while naked. Those are other issues worthy of discussion.

My problem is that for his little job the priest would have to register as a sex offender in Colorado. He would be branded for life and put into a list along with rapists for instance. I’ve looked at these sex offender lists and they don’t allow people to know the actual nuances of the case. The law is a blunt instrument.

Here are two different scenarios. A man invades a school yard and rips off his clothes screaming obscenities at children and masturbating himself. He is guilty of indecent exposure. Another man runs down a street in the middle of the night naked and is only spotted by the police. He is not witnessed in any sexual act nor has he done anything to anyone else except perhaps to the police officer who saw it. He too is guilty of indecent exposure. Both men are listed in the sex registry as offenders of equal status.

I might find the priest odd. But I wouldn’t immediately assume he is a threat. The other man would be someone I would find troubling. But with them listed on equal levels in the registry the normal reader can only do one of two things. He may assume the worst of the priest and thus make life far worse for the many than it really ought to be given the situation. Or he may dismiss the situation with the real offender as unimportant. You either have be over diligent about the one or under diligent about the other.

Long term with more and more inconsequential offenses landing people on the roll of sex offenders the tendency will be for people to under value names on the list. For many of the people on that list they will be right. But it can also mean they under concern themselves about some people who are actually nasty characters and do pose a potential harm. And then problems will accrue. And it will happen because the politicians and prosecutors have been too anxious to apply the “sex offender” label not because someone actually poses a threat to others, but because they did something stupid. If stupidity is going to get on listed then add the prosecutors and politicians to the list.