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You, your neighbors and other perverts


They’re lurking in the shadows, and behind every corner. They’re tirelessly, ceaselessly plotting and scheming, just waiting for the first opportunity to make their move. They’ll destroy you and all that you hold dear. I am talking, of course, about sex offenders.


You see, sex offenders aren’t just the rapists and pedophiles that hog all the publicity. They’re also flashers, exhibitionists, people who couldn’t “hold it” and sought relief in what they thought was an empty alley, couples who thought they were alone in the woods, and guys who really, really didn’t go over well with the parents—you know, people just like you and me. The only difference, in these cases, is that they were caught. Well, maybe I shouldn’t speak for you.

And that's not even taking into account the fact that an accusation of sexual wrongdoing will likely narrow a jury's view of "reasonable doubt," making for many convictions based solely on an accuser's testimony.

So, let me make this clear, before I continue: I’m not here to defend rapists, who I, in fact, advocate far tougher sentencing for. And I’m not here to say that there’s any excuse for a proven pedophile to be walking the streets, ever. Call me simple-minded and old-fashioned, but I think if someone is a danger to society, they shouldn’t be released from prison. I’m not here to defend predators. I’m here to defend perverts.

Furthermore, I believe that only by acknowledging our own inner perverts can we all get our collective heads on straight enough to tell the difference between a rape and an expression of poor judgment or taste.

I happen to live in California, where a sex offender is required to register if they have committed, for instance: Indecent exposure, lewd or lascivious acts, sodomy (not to be confused with “sodomy with force or violence,” with someone who is drugged or unconscious, or in conjunction with a criminal offense, which are separate violations,) oral copulation (same distinctions again not made,) penetration with a foreign object (ditto,) annoyance of a child under 18 (look up the legal definition of “annoy,” I beg you,) assisting someone else with indecent exposure (look out, look-outs,) and the catalog of offenses that fall under the laughably-broad umbrella of statutory rape. As a result of this, um, rigid standard, there are over 100,000 registered sex offenders in the State of California. Simply forgetting to renew their yearly registration can result in a sentence of 25 to life. Admittedly, I forgot to send in my car registration once, and the penalty was nearly as severe.

I know what you’re thinking: These non-violent offenses are vetted by the courts to ensure that registration is only required if they are committed in conjunction with a violent or traumatizing crime. Unfortunately, unicorns and zero calorie chocolate cake will be plentiful before all judges are fair, or honest.

Raw Story readers may recall the case of the man who grabbed a girl’s arm while yelling at her for walking in front of traffic and as a result, was forced by a judge to register as a sex offender—even though he wasn’t even convicted of a crime. Was it appropriate for a grown man to grab a strange girl’s arm, and yell at her in public? No. But it hardly constitutes a danger to society. Only the justice system could be so perverse as to sexualize this sort of contact.

We’ve also all read or heard tales of 18 year old boys convicted of having intimate contact with their 17 year old girlfriends. Is it a good choice for an 18 year old boy to engage in sexual—or merely “lewd”—acts with a 17 year old girl? No. But, unless she’s drugged, forced, or severely disabled, this doesn't amount to anything more than one of those terrible old after school specials.

In the event of a hurricane, the state of Florida would have these people wear an ID badge and report to the nearest prison, as they have been barred from hurricane shelters. This bit of histrionics beat out an earlier plan, which would have offered no shelter to convicted sex offenders. Florida: Our state legislature can out-crazy yours.

Under laws in some states, these people would have to post signs in their front yards for years, or even the rest of their lives, announcing to their neighbors that they had committed a sex crime. What logical purpose this serves is beyond me. “Watch out, kids, the man living there was convicted of public indecency—and he eats children! He might jump out at any moment!” I’m waiting for the first kid to be hit by a car while walking a wide circle around one of these houses. Not that it would be the first death attributed to this rather splashy take on criminal justice; people have committed suicide over these signs.

The Napa Sentinel, a local publication that can charitably be described as a rag and rather desperately wants to think of itself as the last standing member of the free press, went so far as to publish the photographs of 42 local sex offenders, without taking the time—or showing the responsibility—to list the offenses involved. How many alley-pissers were shamed in front of their community as deviants or sexual predators? How many of them have wives, husbands, and children whose lives were also destroyed? How many of them had wives, husbands and children that didn’t know? (Okay, that last one doesn't help my argument, but could have been one hilarious episode of "Everybody Loves Raymond.")

But these are obvious reasons to remove the popular, but shameful, sex offender registries in this country. Want one maybe you haven’t thought about? Have you ever considered that you might be a sex offender? Okay, so you’ve peed, drunk, behind a dumpster. But most COPS would understand (unless they happen to be irritated at you for some reason, which can sometimes include things like the color of your skin,) and a Judge might not make you register—it’s not like you own kiddie porn or anything.

Or do you? The September 1984 issue of Penthouse magazine published compromising photographs of then-Miss America Vanessa Williams. Williams lost her title because of the ensuing fallout. Several films and hit singles later, I think we can all agree she got the last laugh, but the issue obviously made its way into many a household before it blew over.

That same magazine, purchased not just by regular readers, but news junkies, pop-culture addicts and any curious lookie-loo who wanted to see the beautiful Ms. Williams topless, also featured nude images of Traci Lords, an adult film starlet born in 1968. I’ll give you a moment to do the math… That’s right, everyone who bought that headline-making issue—and every collector purchasing one since—came into possession of child pornography. Most (since that one was obviously a “keeper,”) still are.

But it doesn’t end there. Of Lords’ 50+ adult films, just one was filmed after her 18th birthday. The only reason prosecutors failed to convict her employers was that she had used a US passport to “verify” her age—the government had made the error. Video companies lost millions destroying her films, but does anybody seriously believe that the average video voyeur either searched their collection for Lords’ name and destroyed all copies, or intended to possess child pornography? Let's face it, a sixteen year old, especially a naked one, does not look a child in most cases. (I say this because clothing choices often indicate age, not because I've seen a statistically solid sample of nude sixteen year olds.)

It’s unlikely that, in the case of Lords, a video owner would be prosecuted. But if you believe this is an isolated incident, I fear you’re quite naïve. The world wide web has swung the doors of exhibitionism wide open for minors to post images of themselves almost anywhere. Not only are there adults (who should clearly be located and arrested,) distributing images of minors online, but teenagers themselves are sharing images of their naughty bits with each other in cyberland. You could easily be surfing Google images, Altavista, or even Rupert Murdoch’s Myspace and end up with kiddie porn on your PC. And, you’d be a sex offender of the worst kind.

Even given these examples of how bureaucratic idiocy is destroying lives as you read this, the best argument against the sex offender registry is still the most obvious: Why is there a need? Pedophiles and rapists have a tendency to repeat their crimes. Call me crazy, but I say that the best solution is simply not to release them back onto the streets unless we’re damned certain they won’t strike again. While researching this piece, I came across a phrase I’d never seen before, “misdemeanor child molestation.” Let me repeat that, so that you can really take it in: Misdemeanor child molestation. How on earth does that work? The damage done by child molestation is a breaking of trust and boundaries between and adult and child to exploit the child, leading to a lifetime of sexual trauma to work out. It isn’t the kind of thing that can be done “just a little.”

We make up excuses about overcrowded prisons, but next to murder, rape is the most grievous crime one could commit. Meanwhile, prisons are flooded with non-violent drug offenders because politicians wanted to look tough. I’m thinking we could make room for the rapists, if we really wanted to. Sadly, the simple fact of the matter is that we don’t.

To put it bluntly, society wants a sex offender registry more than it wants safe streets. It isn’t about threat at all. I, for one, would rather know if my neighbor had been convicted of breaking-in entering than indecent exposure. It’s about using the justice system to satisfy the prurient interests of the masses, pure and simple. It’s the Scarlet A for flashers and peeping toms, because we, like all societies, get off on the sexual indiscretions of our neighbors. The song used to ask, “Who’s Cheatin’ Who?” It’s a very true, telling lyric. We want to know who’s doing the things that at once repulse and excite us, in some sick way, deriving vicarious pleasure from it. Today, it would have to have the unfortunately wordy title, “Who’s Had Sex With That Girl Who Blacked Out at a Frat Party?”

These bizarre repressed urges have lead us to do far more vile things than a sex offender registry, but it is part of the same phenomenon. Unfaithful women have been subjected to rape in many societies, or sexual desecration by an entire town. Sexual humiliation has always been the first choice of punishment for women who behaved improperly.

And nobody can turn sexual excitement into holier-than-thou fervor better than modern-day“gay bashers,” both at home and abroad. Here, assaults on homosexuals often include rape, usually involving an entire group of men on one battered and traumatized, outnumbered victim. Can we say, “Reaction formation,” boys and girls? Studies have also indicated that men who express strong negative feelings about homosexuality in fact respond physically to gay porn, while those who do not are able to stand freely during the climax of “How the West Was Hung.” More disturbing are the tales out of Iran, where men convicted of homosexual acts claim they were regularly raped as part of their torture. News flash, boys: If you’re putting it in another guy, that’s gay, no matter how you dress it up. And if you can manage, you like it, and you’re gay, too. The only difference is how you express it.

Again, I can hear people saying that these are not fair comparisons. I would remind them that Lawrence v Texas is just months behind us (pardon the phrase,) and that there are those among us who would consider breastfeeding indecent exposure. What is perverse one year, or to one person, is perfectly acceptable another. Our means of acting out these impulses have changed, but the real problem has remeained the same. And, at some point in the future, they’ll be flabbergasted at the crude standards we use to distinguish statutory rape, the same way we are by any number of puritan laws. It all seems so obvious, from a distance.

So, to those who say that sex offender registries are necessary because of a proclivity for relapse, I say, work harder to get the dangerous criminals off the streets. More importantly, let go of the morally wrong, and logically flawed idea that any crime that is sexual in nature is a threat to public safety.

And, though I don’t want to get particularly preachy or sanctimonious… Please, do the justice system a favor, and embrace your inner pervert. Accept it before it does something stupid—like making someone put a sign in their yard because they got caught administering oral sex behind a 7/11 to someone they just met in a bar. Accept that the babysitter does have some physical attributes that your middle-aged wife may now lack, and accept that you cannot under any circumstances act on those urges. And let go. Because there are real, dangerous criminals out there, and we need desperately to be able to tell one from the other.

Avery Walker is a Managing Editor of Raw Story. He can be reached by e-mail at [email protected].


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