Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Sex panic laws create more victims.

When the populace is in panic mode bad laws are made. The panic may be created by a real incident but that doesn’t matter. Panic stricken voters coupled with moronic politicians are a dangerous combination. Certainly the reaction to 9/11 proves that. The net result is that often the “solutions” are worse than the problem they set out to cure.

There are adults who sexually abuse minors. That is a fact. But in a moral panic politicians pass asinine laws which have the unintended effect of harming innocent people. Often the victims are the very people such laws purport to protect.

We have covered numerous such cases on this site. There was Matt Bandy, a 16-year-old who was hounded by the fanatical Andrew Thomas, prosecutor in Phoenix. Thomas tried to force the boy to register as a sex offender for showing Playboy to some classmates. (For the record: Thomas is an ass. But I insult asses everywhere so perhaps I should retract it.) Two minors in Utah who had sex were arrested for molesting each other. A young boy was thrown out of school for telling a teacher she is sexy (he thought the word meant pretty). Another child is expelled for asking for a hug.

Because sex can be used as a weapon to harm individuals we have these anti sex Puritans running amuck. The issue is really quite similar to guns. A firearm can harm or protect. Which depends entirely on the person holding the weapon not on the weapon itself. Sex can be harmful or pleasurable and again it depends entirely on the individuals involved.

The prohibitionist simply sees the thing itself as bad and not the use to which it is put. So the loony Left wants to ban guns and the Theopublican Right wants to ban sex. (I should note in fairness that many extreme feminist types are allies of the Theopublicans on sex issues.)

And this brings us to what, at first, appeared to be a case of sanity after some years of insanity.

Genarlow Wilson was put in prison in the Theocratic Republic of Georgia because the high school student had oral sex with a girl two years younger than himself. It was considered a felony. Remember Georgia was the location where Michael Hardwick was arrested for having gay sex some years ago and the state fought all the way to the Supreme Court for the right to incarcerate gay people. (The law, which was upheld in that case, was later overturned by the Supreme Court.)

Now many states have provisions that recognize that adolescents have sex with one another and that the situation is different than an adult doing so. And Georgia has something similar. If Wilson had intercourse with the girl it would have only been a misdemeanor. But oral sex remained punishable as a felony. Allegedly no one thought of excluding it.

I don’t believe that myself. I think the exclusion was intentional. Georgia is filled with fundamentalist nutters who think oral sex is contrary to God, Country and the American Way. Certainly the zeal with which the state of Georgia defended its sodomy laws proves that. And when you get to the end of this account you’ll have further proof of this. Only lots of negative publicity from the Wilson case pushed the legislature to change the regulations.

Wilson was sentenced to 10 years in prison. An outrage to say the least.

Yesterday the Wilson case was brought up in court again. And a judge, another one of those evil activist judges who protect us from insane government, threw out the mandatory sentence. He said it was cruel and unusual punishment for what had happened. He said the “crime” was a misdemeanor and that Wilson had served more than enough time and should be released. He said: “If this court, or any court, cannot recognize the injustice of what has occurred here then our court system has lost sight of the goal.”

Wilson’s mother, and his attorney, were ecstatic. They thought the honor student would be coming home. Attorney General Thurbert Baker immediately dashed the hopes of those pushing for justice for Wilson. He filed an appeal to keep Wilson in prison for another seven years. By the way folks, Baker is a Democrat. But Democrats, like Republicans, will pander to religious fanaticism if that is what keeps them in power.

Everyone knows that what was done to Wilson was wrong. The state legislature was even able to figure it out. They changed the law and closed the loophole that incarcerated Wilson. But politicians never make mistakes so they refused to make the law retroactive.

The prosecutors know they did wrong. They offered Wilson a plea bargain to get him out of prison. Of course their plea bargains are always used to indicate that they are right. In this case Wilson would be required to register as a sex offender for life. Wilson had no choice but to turn down that requirement. Being labelled a sex offender in the US is like being labeled a witch in 1692 Salem.

The law, meant to register dangerous predators, has been inflated to such an extent that tens of thousands of people who shouldn’t be there at all are mixed in with true criminals. It is used to restrict where people can live. It is used to deny them jobs. It is used to force them to report to the police regularly and with any sex crime in the area they get hassled by the police. (Perhaps that is good when they are real predators but an increasing percentage of “sex offenders” are not predators but were arrested on consenting morals charges of one type or another.) And these sex offender lists have been used to harass and even kill people found on them.

State agencies around the US routinely list all “sex offenders” on the internet. They tell local vigilantes the name and address of the individual. They usually include a photograph just in case the vigilante is confused as to who to harass. This encourages violence and harassment. And remember that many of these people are people no more dangerous than Wilson or Matt Bandy.

At some point it will eventually seep into the thick skulls of the public that the “sex offender” status is often a political tool used by cruel politicians like Andrew Thomas. Perhaps it will take a few more tragedies. William Elliot was a young man who had sex with his girlfriend. Had he waited a couple of days it would have been legal. Young love, or lust, sometimes can’t wait. He was arrested for it and had to register as a sex offender. The state of Maine put Elliot’s name, photo and address on the internet and branded him a “sex offender”. Stephen Marshall saw this web site. He noted down the address and went to Elliot’s home and knocked on the door. When Elliot answered he was shot to death. Marshal then went to another address also gleaned from the “sex offenders” list and killed that man as well. And this isn’t the only such case.

It should be noted that numerous states now report that these laws actually make it harder to track sex offenders. Previously the police knew who such people were but the information wasn’t made public. With publication of the information harassment and threats rose to such levels that many offenders simply leave and don’t let police know where they are. The number of offenders who police can’t find has actually increased because the publication of their home address is so frightening that many go into hiding.

Wilson had no choice but to turn down the plea bargain offered. Registering as a sex offender, for consenting sex with a girl from his own high school, would lead to a life of harassment and possibly murder. We have to recognize that the over-application of these laws, passed by politicians wanting to cash in on a public moral panic, is not helping the situation. We are making matters worse and we are harming people who are not criminals. Yes, some offenders are real criminals, perhaps many of them. But once again this is a case of government killing flies with sledgehammers. It works! But the damage done in the process is frightening.

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