Susan's Blog

Sunday, September 17, 2006

What If Boo Radley Were Guilty?

I was gardening this morning when a woman stopped her car and said to me, “Did you know there’s a Level Three Sex Offender living on your street?”

Immediately I felt both scared and sad. I was scared because I do not want any harm to come to me or any of my loved ones. I was sad because I do not believe that these Sex Offender Registries are the best way to combat sex abuse and sex crimes. In fact, my suspicions are that being classified as a “Sex Offender” is a flaw-laden process, much like Death Row. I was also thinking about Tom Perrotta’s book, Little Children, about how a Massachusetts town goes crazy and into witch hunt mode over a sex offender; but he is actually guilty, too. A very disturbing book. Anyway, I think that the way the Registry works it will only stir up fear and suspicion, rather than get at helping people who are abused or who abuse. I understand that the intent is to warn people, but let’s face it, there are other crimes that are fearsome that have no such registries. Would we also want to know about local former thiefs, so that we can better protect our stuff left out in the yard? Or how about all the sex offenders who have not been caught? Or how about the neighbor who beats his wife? Or abuses drugs? People hooked on drugs and out of control scare me just as much as potential sex offenders. I am not being facetious. “Outing” people is not necessarily the way to prevent or protect. Intensive therapy is, in my book, the only real way to get people to understand why they do what they do and how to stop. But that’s a complicated answer to a complicated problem and people tend to like simple answers.

Look, I know that these terrible things occur, and I know that sex offenders are sometimes prone to committing these acts again. But when I asked who it was, my heart just sank. This woman told me that the warning posters down the hill were all about a mildly retarded man in our neighborhood. I know this man well; he is very sweet and docile. He has shown a great interest in my boys, but it always seemed that he wanted to be their friend, because they are at his cognitive level. I never let them play with him, because I always felt that he had to learn what was appropriate. I also used to let him know gently when it was time for our conversation to end (he would stay too long).

His father died last month. He told me this as I was leaving for the supermarket. I didn’t know what to say; his dad was like 93. His mother is still alive; he lives with her. He told me about the Memorial Service coming up, and my heart went out to him.

I guess what I’m saying is that it is not completely beyond possibility for me to imagine that he might have done something inappropriate. I cannot imagine criminal behavior, however. But what do I know about him, really? And yet, I also know the law, and I understand that “criminal behavior” is not always what we imagine. For instance, the whole statutory rape thing. I have learned at School Committee workshops how easy it is for a boy to get a record if his girlfriend is under sixteen, no matter how “consensual” something may be. There is no such thing as consent in minors, according to the law. I have warned Max about this.

But what makes me sad is the fact that this man has been living fairly independently all these years. He drives. He has a job. He has a pet. He has a place in the neighborhood. And now, it turns out that he may have a really terrible problem, and may be a menace to my family. It horrifies me that this could be true and that neighbors could turn against him. It reminds me of what happened to Boo Radley in To Kill a Mockingbird. And of course, I think about Nat, trying to live on his own one day, and the mistakes he might make. How they could cost him his freedom, or even his life. Or someone else’s. God forbid. For any of my children, I suppose this is a possibility. (God forbid) I just worry that Nat, if he is to be independent one day, is more vulnerable because he still has such a difficult time understanding social rules and appropriateness.

To me, these issues are never obvious and straightforward. I am forever plagued by the other side of the question, the “yeah, but, what if…”

10 comments

Oh, how sad.

I was at the library with my three children the other day. Inside, there was a man talking to himself. Kinda loud, he was inappropriately dressed for the beautiful warm weather. People were giving him alot of space. The library staff, god bless them, were just letting him be. Anyway, as we left he was standing outside by the door, still self-talking. I stopped and said, “hi, isn’t it a beautiful day?” He immediately stopped talking to himself, looked straight at me with really lovely eyes and said, with a huge huge grin, “Yes! Yes it is!. My children all smiled and we said, have a nice day!

It is all so hard.

— added by Susan on Monday, September 18, 2006 at 8:04 am

>>>He has shown a great interest in my boys, but it always seemed that he wanted to be their friend[.]<<< Yes, that’s what it always seems like. I recommend your continued vigilance, and your not allowing him anywhere near your children. (Regardless of whether his sex offense involved children, or children of your childrens’ ages.)

— added by carpundit on Monday, September 18, 2006 at 8:31 am

Susan, I understand your feelings of compassion. But I also know that the recidivism rates for sexual assault and rape is sky-high. The registry might seem Draconian, but we’ve got to somehow curb the skyrocketing rape rate in our society.

— added by Rhea on Monday, September 18, 2006 at 11:47 am

It is a fine line. I am glad you see it the way you do, Susan. I have very similar worries about Chance..for the future. How do we prevent bad things from happening? Yesterday I was sort of trying to think about what it must be like to be a murderer(after conversation with my sister-in-law about dreams that show us things in the future)…and to imagine the events in reverse…it has a parallel to this type of thing. It is probably best that this lady made you aware, disturbing as it might be…as if your eyes weren’t peeled enough.

— added by mrs. gilb on Monday, September 18, 2006 at 12:11 pm

It seems draconian to me, and I am close to someone who both abused me sexually at one point (knowing it was wrong) and managed to escape the registry by reforming to a significant degree.

I think both he and I would also both find it highly offensive, however, for someone to assume that because he has a developmental disability (and he happens to, he even happens to be autistic), that he didn’t know what he was doing was wrong.

I’m against those registries for a number of reasons.

Including that I don’t honestly believe the psychiatry-influenced idea that sex crimes are the worst crimes possible, and we don’t have a “murderers registry” — I have a problem with the fact that sex crime is more stigmatized than murder. When you think of it, that’s like saying that the person I know would have been better off killing me than molesting me. And I just can’t agree with that.

I also don’t think it’s right to stamp something like that on someone for the rest of their life, because of the also-psychiatry-influenced idea that people are incapable of reforming. It’s just a more sophisticated way of the old versions of shaming people.

And I don’t think it really keeps anyone as safe as they think it does. Most sex offenses are not by strangers. They’re, like most of those that I’ve experienced, within the family or close friends. This kind of thing provides a false sense of security in people who probably won’t ever be targeted by the registered strangers on their street anyway.

It also in many ways keeps sex offenders from being able to reform or start over. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. I know of people who can’t get jobs (not ones working with children, but other jobs) because they’re on the registries. How does keeping people unemployed prevent crime?

But, I don’t take the “oh poor thing he doesn’t know what he’s doing, he’s just a child in his mind” angle that most people do about developmental disabilities either. I find that disgusting. Adults simply aren’t “mental children” no matter how you try to frame it.

— added by ballastexistenz on Monday, September 18, 2006 at 12:28 pm

To me, this glosses over the larger issue–why is a person considered dangerous and likely to reoffend out of jail in the first place?

A person who’s able to drive, work, and live independently is certainly capable of knowing right from wrong when it comes to sexual conduct.

I agree that, because of “age of consent” laws, a person’s reputation could be unfairly tainted. But it doesn’t seem to be the case here.

— added by Anonymous on Monday, September 18, 2006 at 2:30 pm

It is sad to think that someone can be stigmatized like this. We don’t have a sexual predator registry in Canada. At least not one that’s public. I have a conundrum on my hands.
On one hand I think they’re wrong and harmful because they don’t allow the offenders to properly reform.
On the other hand, I would want to know if someone who plays with or is around my daughter was a previous offender.

It’s a double edged blade it is.

— added by Jen on Monday, September 18, 2006 at 2:37 pm

I think maybe the answer is that it’s right to tell people who a molester is, but it’s also good to be kind to them where possible, but not leave them alone with your children.

I’d love to know if there are convicted drug dealers in my neighborhood as well as convicted murderers and child abusers. My guess is that many child abusers after being caught can’t get their hands on relatives, so they’d have to go after strangers. I totally believe that some child molesters can stop, and do stop molesting children, but it’s such a sneaky crime. I think it’s much more common than murder and while not worse than murder, it can have a horrible affect on people’s lives.

I know some can “move on” very effectively, but some can’t. I think maybe the mom’s who let their husbands/boyfriends have access to kids
*when they have suspicions or the child has asked for help and the mom ignored it*
ought to have their faces put on the posters, too, for fairness.

I know someone (might be on the spectrum) who told a psychiatrist that he thought about having sex with young girls… he had been molested by a couple of men at different times when he was a boy. The pyschiatrist then called the place where this man was working (a forest service type camp that had teenagers working there) and reported that the man (about 23 years old) might be someone to be concerned about.

It turned out OK. The people who run the camp told him that they had been called, and the man said it wasn’t a problem… But who knows what might have happened with that information…

In this case the guy I know wasn’t really planning on having sex with little girls, it had been in his head, though. He got married and to my knowledge never molested anyone.

The first man who molested the guy I know was his neighbor. I think the parents would have protected my friend better if they had known about the neighbor.

— added by Camille on Monday, September 18, 2006 at 3:59 pm

I guess it depends on what type of sex offense it was. However the recidivism rate for all level 3 offenders is very high over time. Check out this link for the facts:

http://www.csom.org/pubs/recidsexof.html

— added by Anonymous on Monday, September 18, 2006 at 10:35 pm

” I recommend your continued vigilance, and your not allowing him anywhere near your children. (Regardless of whether his sex offense involved children, or children of your childrens’ ages.)”

Bingo. If your child did get raped by someone who was too mentally disabled to know it’s wrong, would you sympathize with your child and his or her misery or would you tell your child “it doesn’t count because he didn’t know better, now stop complaining about those wounds/flashbacks/STDs/unwanted pregnancy/etc.”?

— added by MArk on Wednesday, May 19, 2010 at 4:10 pm

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