Monday, February 14, 2011

Secret Sex Offender Lists: Is Your Kid on It?

James is a single man who just never found a woman he wanted to marry. But he did decide to adopt. A few years ago he was introduced to a boy who have been horrible abused his whole life.

The boy was twelve at the time. His history showed that from the ages of 4 to 9 his mother was a drug addict and his stepfather beat him and abused him sexually. When it was discovered what was being done to the boy he was sent to live his biological father. Watching television one day the then 10-year-old touched his younger stepbrother. When his father learned of these he beat the boy and sent him to hospital because of the injuries. The father was charged with a crime and was trying to defend himself—could it be he made up an excuse he hoped they would swallow?

What no one knew is that based on the father's claim, used to justify the beating, the 10-year-old boy was put on a secret, non-public government database as a sex offender. He was never charged with a crime. He never appeared in court. He never had a chance to defend himself. He was never convicted of anything. He was 10-years-old.

Neither the young boy, nor the adopting father, knew this list existed, let alone knew that the boy was on it.

The father had been approved to adopt two children. And he wanted a brother for his son. So he began the process of adoption over again only to be told he could not adopt as his son was a sex offender. A social worker wrote that they had "reason to believe" the boy, when 10-years-old, had touched another child. "Reason to believe," is not evidence. It is not judicially determined. There is no trial, or courtroom, or rules of evidence, or judge, or defending attorney, or right to defend one's self. All there is is one petty bureaucrat making a decision entirely without any protections for the accused. In this case the accused didn't even know he was being accused.

Since adoption the boy has grown into a 15-year-old young man. He is described as "an affable teenager who has achieved academic success and adores karate and art. The father and son are active in their church and in the Boy Scouts."

James has been trying to appeal the accusations made against his son but is running into the typical, uncaring bureaucratic red tape that makes life a living hell for anyone caught up in the "child protective services" net.

"He appealed to the protective services department, but it ruled that the findings against his son would stand. He asked for a hearing from the State Office of Administrative Hearings, which issues decisions on appeals of agency findings, and said he was told that he should expect to wait two years to have his case evaluated."

He even had the boy go through a professional psychological evaluation which said there was very little chance he would sexually abuse anyone. But James was told his license allowing him to adopt was revoked and he that his son would never be allowed to have a brother.

What irks me most is the bullshit the social workers involved in the case are saying. According to them they protecting "innocent" children from getting adopted into a home with a sex offender—this in spite of the fact, already noted, that the boy was never charged with any crime. He was a victim.

But there are two potent myths that are floating around regarding this matter. One is that a child who has been "sexually abused" will grow up to be a sex offender. This is a lie. While this lie has been repeated and is now seen as common wisdom there is no real evidence to back this up. This myth started because of studies of children who were beaten, or suffered violent abuse at home. There was a correlation showing that kids who were beaten by their parents tended to become adults who beat their children. The study was not about sex, but about violence. But since the word "abuse" is used in both cases it was quite easy to find multiple quotes saying children "who were abused as children grow up to be abusers."

The second myth is that kids, or adults for that matter, who sexually "offend" (widely defined these days to include peeing on the side of the road, streaking, of having sex with someone you own age, etc) are mostly incapable of avoiding reoffending. For people who are actually convicted of a real offense, the re-offending rate is one of the lowest of all people convicted of crimes.

There is a related myth, though not one as important: it is the idea that sexual interest by children is a sign they are being abused. Kids are naturally curious and while they may not know that what they are expressing is "sexual" they still have a natural curiosity about the bodies of others. In addition, contrary to wide-spread perceptions they do feel a sexual attraction to others, even if it is not driven by adolescent hormones. A very high percentage of children play doctor at one time or another, but under current US law they are all sex offenders.

The Handbook of Human Sexuality notes:
Many children "experiment" with one another sexually. Approximately half of the mothers in the Sears study (1957) reported some activity that could be identified as sex play. Some play was between brothers and sisters, some with neighbor children, some with children of the same sex, and some with the opposite sex.
The expert authors of this work warn against saying "that a preadolescent or adolescent is 'molesting' a younger child is neither a fair nor precise definition in many cases."

But, if these truths came out the justification for this sex offender lists would vanish. What we are doing to kids today is astoundingly barbaric. This boy should not have been put on a sex offender list, even a secret one hidden from public view. He and his father have now been punished, by limiting the right to adopt, because some bureaucrat thought it "reasonable" to conclude the boy was a risk as a sex offender. It is not reasonable to conclude that at all. And it is unjust to do that, in a setting with legal ramifications, such as this one, without any sort of open hearing with rules of evidence and a defense.

This list, being kept by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services is used by various government agencies for different purposes. If the young boy later wished to work as a teacher, even if his record was spotless, without even a hint of scandal, hiring schools would run his name through the data base and would turn him down for a position. He may never even know why he is being turned down.

I can easily see these lists being used to investigate alleged sex crimes so that the boy later finds himself frequently questioned by the police. Given that various government agents have access to the files it would be easy for the boy's status to become public which often leads to harassment, and in some cases into physical assault or murder. In addition, every time politicians want to appear tough on crime, for their own political ends, they change the laws and make them even worse. It could well be that this secret list would one day be put on the Internet as are other sex offender lists. And while the other lists now routinely list crimes as "sex offenses" which clearly are not, such a teenagers who take erotic photos of themselves, this list is even more vague.

Other sex offender lists, as horrific and unjustified as they may be, at least wait until someone is convicted of a crime, even if the law itself is ludicrous. But this list requires no conviction, only a faceless bureaucrat who thinks their conclusion is "reasonable." With the other sex offender lists one has a chance, even when being railroaded, to offer up some sort of a defense, to demand evidence and to be heard with an impartial judge or jury. The secret list gives no such protections.

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