America's unjust sex laws

The Economist

An ever harsher approach is doing more harm than good, but it is being copied around the world

IT IS an oft-told story, but it does not get any less horrific on repetition. Fifteen years ago, a paedophile enticed seven-year-old Megan Kanka into his home in New Jersey by offering to show her a puppy. He then raped her, killed her and dumped her body in a nearby park. The murderer, who had recently moved into the house across the street from his victim, had twice before been convicted of sexually assaulting a child. Yet Megan’s parents had no idea of this. Had they known he was a sex offender, they would have told their daughter to stay away from him.

In their grief, the parents started a petition, demanding that families should be told if a sexual predator moves nearby. Hundreds of thousands signed it. In no time at all, lawmakers in New Jersey granted their wish. And before long, “Megan’s laws” had spread to every American state.

America’s sex-offender laws are the strictest of any rich democracy. Convicted rapists and child-molesters are given long prison sentences. When released, they are put on sex-offender registries. In most states this means that their names, photographs and addresses are published online, so that fearful parents can check whether a child-molester lives nearby. Under the Adam Walsh Act of 2006, another law named after a murdered child, all states will soon be obliged to make their sex-offender registries public. Such rules are extremely popular. Most parents will support any law that promises to keep their children safe. Other countries are following America’s example, either importing Megan’s laws or increasing penalties: after two little girls were murdered by a school caretaker, Britain has imposed multiple conditions on who can visit schools.

Which makes it all the more important to ask whether America’s approach is the right one. In fact its sex-offender laws have grown self-defeatingly harsh (see article). They have been driven by a ratchet effect. Individual American politicians have great latitude to propose new laws. Stricter curbs on paedophiles win votes. And to sound severe, such curbs must be stronger than the laws in place, which in turn were proposed by politicians who wished to appear tough themselves. Few politicians dare to vote against such laws, because if they do, the attack ads practically write themselves.

A whole Wyoming of offenders

In all, 674,000 Americans are on sex-offender registries—more than the population of Vermont, North Dakota or Wyoming. The number keeps growing partly because in several states registration is for life and partly because registries are not confined to the sort of murderer who ensnared Megan Kanka. According to Human Rights Watch, at least five states require registration for people who visit prostitutes, 29 require it for consensual sex between young teenagers and 32 require it for indecent exposure. Some prosecutors are now stretching the definition of “distributing child pornography” to include teens who text half-naked photos of themselves to their friends.

How dangerous are the people on the registries? A state review of one sample in Georgia found that two-thirds of them posed little risk. For example, Janet Allison was found guilty of being “party to the crime of child molestation” because she let her 15-year-old daughter have sex with a boyfriend. The young couple later married. But Ms Allison will spend the rest of her life publicly branded as a sex offender.

Several other countries have sex-offender registries, but these are typically held by the police and are hard to view. In America it takes only seconds to find out about a sex offender: some states have a “click to print” icon on their websites so that concerned citizens can put up posters with the offender’s mugshot on trees near his home. Small wonder most sex offenders report being harassed. A few have been murdered. Many are fired because someone at work has Googled them.

Registration is often just the start. Sometimes sex offenders are barred from living near places where children congregate. In Georgia no sex offender may live or work within 1,000 feet (300 metres) of a school, church, park, skating rink or swimming pool. In Miami an exclusion zone of 2,500 feet has helped create a camp of homeless offenders under a bridge.

Make the punishment fit the crime

There are three main arguments for reform. First, it is unfair to impose harsh penalties for small offences. Perhaps a third of American teenagers have sex before they are legally allowed to, and a staggering number have shared revealing photographs with each other. This is unwise, but hardly a reason for the law to ruin their lives. Second, America’s sex laws often punish not only the offender, but also his family. If a man who once slept with his 15-year-old girlfriend is barred for ever from taking his own children to a playground, those children suffer.

Third, harsh laws often do little to protect the innocent. The police complain that having so many petty sex offenders on registries makes it hard to keep track of the truly dangerous ones. Cash that might be spent on treating sex offenders—which sometimes works—is spent on huge indiscriminate registries. Public registers drive serious offenders underground, which makes them harder to track and more likely to reoffend. And registers give parents a false sense of security: most sex offenders are never even reported, let alone convicted.

It would not be hard to redesign America’s sex laws. Instead of lumping all sex offenders together on the same list for life, states should assess each person individually and include only real threats. Instead of posting everything on the internet, names could be held by the police, who would share them only with those, such as a school, who need to know. Laws that bar sex offenders from living in so many places should be repealed, because there is no evidence that they protect anyone: a predator can always travel. The money that a repeal saves could help pay for monitoring compulsive molesters more intrusively—through ankle bracelets and the like.

In America it may take years to unpick this. However practical and just the case for reform, it must overcome political cowardice, the tabloid media and parents’ understandable fears. Other countries, though, have no excuse for committing the same error. Sensible sex laws are better than vengeful ones.

Innocent Man Freed, But Shabby Prosecutor Still Works as Judge

Reason Magazine
Bernard Baran served 22 years on dubious child molestation charges, yet the prosecutor who convicted him isn't even inconvenienced

Radley Balko | August 17, 2009

This June, District Attorney David Capeless of Berkshire County, Massachusetts announced that he was dropping all charges against 44-year-old Bernard Baran, a man who has spent half his life behind bars on child molestation charges that the state no longer has the confidence to retry.

Baran was convicted in January 1985 of molesting six children at a pre-Kindergarten daycare facility in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. He was released on bond in 2006 after an appeals court determined [PDF] that his trial attorney had been incompetent and that the prosecution may have withheld key exculpatory evidence. Baran says that during his jail term he was raped and beaten more than 30 times, necessitating six different transfers to new correctional institutions. Such is the cost the prison system exacts on an openly gay man convicted of molesting children.

Baran was one of the first people in the country to be prosecuted in the daycare sex abuse panic of the 1980s, a bizarre, nationwide hysteria fed by fears of satanism, homophobia, and a wing of child psychology that used unproven interrogation techniques critics say caused children to recount sexual incidents that never took place.

While Baran's case has been covered extensively in Massachusetts, and recently in the national media, one aspect of it still hasn't really been examined. Prosecutor Daniel Ford likely engaged in serious misconduct and open bigotry in winning his conviction of Baran. Yet in 25 years, Ford has never been investigated or disciplined for his role in the case. And since 1989, Ford has sat as a judge on the Massachusetts Superior Court. Ford's career trajectory and lack of accountability is the far too familiar product of the backward incentive structure that prosecutors work under. Convictions produce rewards, while abuse rarely comes with a penalty.

The most serious allegation against Ford in this case concerns an edited video interview with the children he presented to the grand jury that indicted Baran. According to court documents, the video shows several children alleging that Baran had sexually abused them. But edited out was footage in which some of the children denied any abuse by Baran, accused other members of the daycare faculty of abuse or of witnessing abuse, and, most importantly, depicted interrogators asking the same questions over and over—even after repeated denials—until a child gave them an affirmative answer. Some children were even given rewards for their answers.

Withholding the unedited video from the grand jury was itself an act of misconduct. And Ford may also have withheld it from Baran's trial attorney. We can only say "may" because there's never been a hearing, and Baran's trial attorney was far from competent. (Judge Ford did not respond to multiple requests for comment.) In granting Baran a new trial in 2006 [PDF], Massachusetts Superior Court Judge Francis Fecteau never moved beyond the inadequacy of Baran's lawyer. Harvey Silverglate, one of Baran's appellate attorneys (and also a Reason contributor), says Fecteau's passing over the misconduct claims was entirely appropriate. "For the purposes of judicial economy, judges only focus on what's necessary to make a ruling," he says. "Judge Fecteau is a hero, here. I don't fault him at all."

When the case reached the state appeals court, the justices there not only upheld Fecteau's ruling [PDF], they looked more closely at Ford's possible misconduct. "While the record does not settle the question whether the unedited videotapes were deliberately withheld by the prosecution," the ruling read, "there are indications in the trial transcript consistent with that contention."

The appellate court further noted that it took years for Baran's appellate lawyers to get prosecutors to turn over the unedited tapes. Baran's attorneys originally filed a motion for the tapes in 2000. For three years, then District Attorney Gerard Downing, who assisted in Baran's original trial, claimed to be unable to locate the tapes. When Downing died of a sudden heart attack in December 2003, David Capeless took over as D.A. When a court ordered Capeless to find the tapes, he was able to produce them within months. The appellate court opinion cited other examples of Ford failing to turn over exculpatory evidence, too, including evidence that two of the children who accused Baran may have suffered prior sexual abuse.

The case against Baran was also awash in homophobia. According to court documents, the first parents to come forward with accusations against Baran in September 1984 had just days earlier registered a complaint with the center upon noticing Baran was "queer" by the way he walked and talked. The boy's mother, who thought gays "shouldn't be allowed out in public" much less permitted to work at daycare centers, said that she "didn't want no homo" watching her son.

When that child later tested positive for gonorrhea of the throat, Ford used the test against Baran at trial, even though A) the child never accused Baran of forcing him to perform oral sex, B) the child, in fact, specifically denied having sexual contact with Baran on the witness stand, C) Baran tested negative for gonorrhea, D) the boy had told his mother two months prior that his stepfather had orally raped him, and E) on the very day Baran was convicted, charges against the stepfather were turned over to the D.A.'s office for possible prosecution. Baran's counsel was never informed of the allegation against the stepfather. Addressing the gonorrhea issue in his closing arguments, Ford implied that Baran's "lifestyle" made it probable that he contracted gonorrhea at other times and knew how to quickly eradicate it to cover his tracks.

In his closing argment, Ford likened Baran's job at a daycare center to a "chocoholic in a candy store," and hypothesized that in the "five or ten minutes" he was able to be alone with a child without being seen by other staff or children, Baran "could have sodomized and abused those children whenever he felt the primitive urge to satisfy his sexual appetite." The appeals court that eventually overturned the conviction ruled that the incompetence of Baran's counsel "facilitated the speculative, stereotypical, and deeply insidious links between homosexuality, gonorrhea, and child molestation."

An affidavit signed by Baran's boyfriend at the time also paints Ford as a homophobe. According to the document, the D.A. spent an inordinate amount of time asking Baran's boyfriend about his own sex life, employing variations of the word faggot, and a mocking, drawn-out pronunciation of homosexual. The affidavit alleges that in the ensuing months, Baran's boyfriend was pulled over by police officers and further harassed on a daily basis, and that Ford told him, illegally, that if he spoke with Baran or Baran's defense attorney, he would be arrested. This of course is just an accusation. But it's a serious one, particularly against a sitting judge. And it has never been properly investigated.

In upholding the ruling that granted Baran a new trial, the appeals court added in a footnote that if the state wanted to retry him, Baran could file a motion for a hearing on Ford's possible misconduct. By dropping the charges, the D.A. avoided that hearing. "In my opinion, the possibility of an embarrassing hearing into misconduct by a former prosecutor and now sitting Superior Court judge was the main reason, if not the reason, they decided to drop the charges," Silverglate claims. "The appeals court opinion cut a bit too close to the bone for them."

So while Bernard Baran is free after 22 years of incarceration, at the moment there is no plan to look into the actions of the prosecutor, now a sitting judge, responsible for the conviction. In his position on the Massachusetts Superior Court for the last 20 years, Ford has presided over some of the state's most serious criminal trials. He also serves on a committee that helps determine the state's rules and guidelines of criminal procedure.

Baran has said he isn't sure he wants to endure a lawsuit, but even if he did such a suit would still be unlikely to get to Ford. Prosecutors enjoy absolute immunity from civil rights lawsuits, even in cases of misconduct that lead to false convictions. And they're rarely disciplined in other ways, either. Appeals courts rarely even mention prosecutors by name when criticizing their conduct. (Ford wasn't named in the Massachusetts appellate court's decision.) Courts and bar associations also rarely hand down professional sanctions. According to a study released earlier this year by the advocacy group The Justice Project, "Despite the prevalence of prosecutorial misconduct all over the country, states have consistently failed to investigate or sanction prosecutors who commit acts of misconduct in order to secure convictions."

The only way Ford's actions in the Baran case could now be examined would be for one of the state's legal ethics boards to open an investigation, either on its own or in response to a complaint. Silverglate says that if there's no action in the coming months, he may file a complaint himself.

Radley Balko is a senior editor at Reason magazine.

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Bullets and Barrels

The New York Times
June 21, 2009


The popular uprising unfolding in Iran right now really is remarkable. It is the rarest of rare things — more rare than snow in Saudi Arabia, more unlikely than finding a ham sandwich at the Wailing Wall, more unusual than water-skiing in the Sahara. It is a popular uprising in a Middle Eastern oil state.

Why is this so unusual? Because in most Middle East states, power grows out of the barrel of a gun and out of a barrel of oil — and that combination is very hard to overthrow.

Oil is a key reason that democracy has had such a hard time emerging in the Middle East, except in one of the few states with no oil: Lebanon. Because once kings and dictators seize power, they can entrench themselves, not only by imprisoning their foes and killing their enemies, but by buying off their people and using oil wealth to build huge internal security apparatuses.

There is only one precedent for an oil-funded autocrat in the Middle East being toppled by a people’s revolution, not by a military coup, and that was in ... Iran.

Recall that in 1979, when the Iranian people rose up against the shah of Iran in an Islamic Revolution spearheaded by Ayatollah Khomeini, the shah controlled the army, the Savak secret police and a vast network of oil-funded patronage. But at some point, enough people taking to the streets and defying his authority, and taking bullets as well, broke the shah’s spell. All the shah’s horses and all the shah’s men, couldn’t put his regime back together again.

The Islamic Revolution has learned from the shah. It has used its oil wealth — Iran is the world’s fifth-largest oil producer, exporting about 2.1 million barrels a day at around $70 a barrel — to buy off huge swaths of the population with cheap housing, government jobs and subsidized food and gasoline. It’s also used its crude to erect a vast military force — namely the Revolutionary Guard and the Basij militia — to keep itself in power.

Therefore, the big question in Iran today is: Can the green revolution led by Mir Hussein Moussavi, and backed by masses of street protestors, do to the Islamic regime what Ayatollah Khomeini and the Iranian people did to the shah’s regime — break its spell so all its barrels and bullets become meaningless?

Iran’s ruling mullahs were always ruthless. But they disguised it a bit with faux elections. I say faux elections because while the regime may have counted the votes accurately, it tightly controlled who could run. The choices were dark black and light black.

What happened this time is that the anger at the regime had reached such a level — because of near-20 percent unemployment and a rising youth population tired of seeing their life’s options limited by theocrats — that given a choice between a dark black regime candidate and a light black regime candidate, millions of Iranians turned out for light black: Mr. Moussavi. The Iranian people turned the regime man into their own candidate, and he seems to have been transformed by them. That is why the regime panicked and stole the election.

The playwright Tom Stoppard once observed that democracy is not the voting, “it’s the counting.” Iran’s mullahs were always ready to allow voting, as long as the counting didn’t matter, because a regime man was always going to win. But what happened this time was that in the little crack of space that the regime had to allow for even a faux election, some kind of counter-revolution was born.

Yes, its leader, Mr. Moussavi, surely is less liberal than most of his followers. But just his lighter shade of black attracted and unleashed so much pent-up frustration and hope for change among many Iranians that he became an independent candidate and, thus, his votes simply could not be counted — because they were not just a vote for him, but were a referendum against the entire regime.

But now, having voted with their ballots, Iranians who want a change will have to vote again with their bodies. A regime like Iran’s can only be brought down or changed if enough Iranians vote as they did in 1979 — in the street. That is what the regime fears most, because then it either has to shoot its own people or cede power. That is why it was no accident that the “supreme leader,” Ayatollah Khamenei, warned protestors in his Friday speech that “street challenge is not acceptable.” That’s a man who knows how he got his job.

And so the gauntlet is now thrown down. If the reformers want change, they are going to have to form a leadership, lay out their vision for Iran and keep voting in the streets — over and over and over. Only if they keep showing up with their bodies, and by so doing saying to their regime “we cannot be bought and we will not be cowed,” will their ballots be made to count.

I am rooting for them and fearing for them. Any real moderation of Iran’s leadership would have a hugely positive effect on the Middle East. But we and the reformers must have no illusions about the bullets and barrels they are up against.

A Never-Ending Sentence for the Sex Crime You Have Yet to Commit

Reason Magazine

Bill Flanigen
June 22, 2009

The Supreme Court has announced that it will hear arguments over a federal law that allows the government to confine "sexually dangerous" prisoners in mental hospitals after they've served out their sentences. According to the Department of Justice, 95 federal prisoners have been "identified as possible candidates for post-sentence detention." Back in January, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the law as unconstitutional. The 4th Circuit's justification:

The Constitution does not empower the federal government to confine a person solely because of asserted "sexual dangerousness" when the Government need not allege (let alone prove) that this "dangerousness" violates any federal law.

A commenter at Sentencing Law and Policy (linked above) points out probably the strangest element of the law in question (18 USC 4248): It allows the government to detain "sexually dangerous" persons regardless of their crime:

Section 4248 does not require that the potential committee has ever been convicted of a federal sex offense, or indeed ANY sex offense. All it requires (on this issue) is that the govt prove, by clear and convincing evidence, that the person has at some time in his or her life engaged in child molestation or sexually violent conduct (both as defined by BOP regs).

Sexually Violent Predator Legislation Introduced by Assemblymember Pedro Nava

Ed: But what do we do about the "worst-of-the-worst" politicians?

California State Assembly member Pedro Nava announces the introduction of legislation to protect victims and our communities from sexually violent predators.

"We need to make sure that the worst of the worst offenders do not inflict more harm on our neighborhoods," said Nava. "This measure provides vital protections to victims, their families and communities from sexually violent predators."

Harriet Salarno, Chair of Crime Victims United of California, said, "Crime Victims United of California commends Assemblyman Nava for his persistence in addressing issues of concern related to juveniles and sexually violent predators. The nature of sex crimes committed by juveniles provides good insight into the individual´s potential sexual and violent tendencies as an adult. Research seems to show that many sex offenders began their sexually abusive behavior as juveniles. AB 168 would provide the appropriate agencies charged with assessment of offenders with more information about SVP candidates to assist in more accurately assessing the threat they pose to the public."

Said, Jim Provenza, Special Assistant to Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley, "AB 168 will permit sealed juvenile records of violent sex criminals to be reviewed by mental health professionals to help determine if the offender should be confined for mental health treatment at the end of his or her prison term. Without this law prosecutors will be unable to prevent the release of some sexually violent predators into our communities."

AB 168 - Sex Crime Disclosure Act

The Sex Crime Disclosure Act permits the courts access to the full history of sex crimes committed by the most violent sex offenders when prosecutors are trying to civilly commit them after their prison sentence has been completed. Records of these offenses contain sociological and psychological reports that are valuable tools for inspection and use in a Sexual Violent Predator (SVP) proceeding. By having this information available during an SVP proceeding, it will enable those who have committed the most egregious acts to be civilly committed and prevented from inflicting more harm on our communities.

AB 61 ? The Sex Crime Loophole Closure Act

Last week Assemblymember Nava announced the introduction of AB 61, The Sex Crime Loophole Closure Act, which will prohibit authorities from granting "deferred entry of judgment" to juveniles who have committed sex offenses. Deferred judgment can be used to "launder" or expunge egregious sex crimes from a juvenile´s record. This measure will stop the practice of sending juveniles straight to probation if they have committed egregious sex crimes.

Assemblymember Nava, Crime Victims United and the public safety community believe that these measures are necessary to provide more tools to keep the most violent predators off our streets.

Life Without Parole For Rape at 13 Cruel and Unusual?

A man who was convicted of rape at age 13 (he is now 33) and sentenced to life without parole is petitioning the Supreme Court to consider whether his sentence is a violation of the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. Sentencing Law & Policy has more. You may read his petition for a writ of certiorari here. From the New York Times:

In 1989, someone raped a 72-year-old woman in Pensacola, Fla. Joe Sullivan was 13 at the time, and he admitted that he and two older friends had burglarized the woman’s home earlier that day. But he denied that he had returned to commit the rape.

The victim testified that her assailant was “a colored boy” who “had kinky hair and he was quite black and he was small.” She said she “did not see him full in the face” and so would not recognize him by sight. But she recalled her attacker saying something like, “If you can’t identify me, I may not have to kill you.”

At his trial, Mr. Sullivan was made to say those words several times.

“It’s been six months,” the woman said on the witness stand. “It’s hard, but it does sound similar.”

The trial lasted a day and ended in conviction. Then Judge Nicholas Geeker, of the circuit court in Escambia County, sentenced Mr. Sullivan to life without the possibility of parole.

“I’m going to send him away for as long as I can,” Judge Geeker said.

Mr. Sullivan is 33 now, and his lawyers have asked the United States Supreme Court to consider the question of whether the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment extends to sentencing someone who was barely a teenager to die in prison for a crime that did not involve a killing.

People can argue about whether the punishment in Mr. Sullivan’s case is cruel. There is no question that it is unusual.

According to court papers and a report from the Equal Justice Initiative, which now represents Mr. Sullivan, only eight people in the world are serving sentences of life without parole for crimes they committed when they were 13. All are in the United States.

And there are only two people in that group whose crimes did not involve a killing. Both are in Florida, and both are black.

Joe Sullivan is one; Ian Manuel, who is in prison for a 1990 robbery and attempted murder, is the other.

About 1,000 people under 15 are arrested on rape charges every year, according to Justice Department data. But none of them have been sentenced to life without parole since Mr. Sullivan was. Indeed, no 13-year-old has been sentenced to life without parole for any crime that did not involve a killing in more than 15 years.

Florida’s attorney general, Bill McCollum, waived his right to file a response to Mr. Sullivan’s petition to the Supreme Court, a sign suggesting that he considers the case insubstantial if not frivolous. Sandi Copes, a spokeswoman for Mr. McCollum’s office, declined to discuss the case.

Last month, the court indicated that it found the case more interesting than Florida does, requesting a response from the state. That probably means that at least one justice considered the case significant or difficult. But it is nothing like a guarantee that the court will agree to hear it.

On the other hand, the question of whether life without parole for juveniles is constitutional is the logical next step following the court’s 2005 decision in Roper v. Simmons, which struck down the death penalty for crimes committed by 16- and 17-year-olds. Writing for the majority in that case, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy said that even older teenagers are different from adults. They are less mature, more impulsive, more susceptible to peer pressure and more likely to change for the better over time.

Last year, in Kennedy v. Louisiana, the court issued another ruling that helps frame Mr. Sullivan’s case. That decision said crimes against individuals that did not involve killing, including the rape of a child by an adult, may not be punished by death.

In 2007, after Mr. Sullivan had served almost two decades in prison, a Florida appeals court declined to have another look at his case. The Roper decision, the appeals court said, “established only one new constitutional right, the right for a juvenile not to be given the death penalty.”

Douglas A. Berman, an authority on sentencing law at Ohio State, said it was time for the Supreme Court and the legal system to widen its relentless focus on capital cases and to look at other severe sentences as well. Cases involving the death penalty receive careful review at multiple levels, he said. Life sentences can receive almost none.

Mr. Sullivan’s trial, for instance, lasted a day. He was represented by a lawyer who made no opening statement and whose closing argument occupies about three double-spaced pages of the trial transcript. The lawyer was later suspended, and the Florida Bar’s Web site says he is “not eligible to practice in Florida.”

There was biological evidence from the rape, but it was not presented at the trial. When Mr. Sullivan’s new lawyers recently sought to conduct DNA testing on it, they were told that the state had destroyed it in 1993.

“I absolutely believe he is innocent,” Bryan A. Stevenson, the executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, said of Mr. Sullivan. Mr. Stevenson said he believed that one of the older youths who committed the burglary with Mr. Sullivan and who testified against him was probably the actual assailant.

But the point made by Mr. Sullivan’s brief to the Supreme Court is not that he is innocent. It is not even that he should be released after 20 years in prison. It is only that he should someday be allowed to make his case to the Florida Parole Commission.

“I don’t think it’s possible to say that a 13-year-old will never change and that life without parole is an appropriate punishment,” Mr. Stevenson said.

Aside from Mr. Sullivan’s case, it seems there is only one other appeals court decision about whether young teenagers may be locked away forever for rape. It was issued 40 years ago in Kentucky, and it involved two 14-year-olds. The court struck down the part of the sentences precluding the possibility of parole.

Juveniles “are not permitted to vote, to contract, to purchase alcoholic beverages or to marry without the consent of their parents,” the court said. “It seems inconsistent that one be denied the fruits of the tree of the law, yet subjected to all of its thorns.”

Moral Panics – Particularly Those Concerning Children – Always Serve Some Hidden Purpose

Judith Warner, New York Times
The Myth of Lost Innocence

At a journalism conference a couple of years ago, I met Linda Perlstein, the author of “Not Much Just Chillin’: The Hidden Lives of Middle Schoolers.” This meeting occurred right in the middle of the “rainbow party” craze – that is to say, the media frenzy around the alleged oral activities of oversexed (and lipsticked) tweens.

Rainbow parties hadn’t actually played any part in Perlstein’s book. But that, she told me then, hadn’t stopped TV producers – representing “Oprah,” from “The Dr. Phil Show,” from a Katie Couric special – from calling and cajoling her to come on their shows to talk about them.

“I’d say, ‘No one is doing that,’” she told me when I called her this week to refresh my memory of her story. “Even the sluttiest kids I knew, when I told them about that said, ‘Ewww. No one does that.’ This really prurient stuff was being way overblown.

“Believe me, I wanted to be on ‘Oprah.’ I had a book to sell. I’d say, ‘There’s lots of stuff to talk about. Stuff that really should be talked about, that’s more nuanced and complex.’ They were like ‘Thanks, but no thanks.’”

I found myself thinking about Perlstein’s media follies this week, when I read Tara Parker-Pope’s article “The Myth of Rampant Teenage Promiscuity” in Science Times on Tuesday. For me it not only raised the issue of myth and reality (teens are, in truth, having sex less and later than they did a decade or two ago), but also brought to mind the stories that we tell and what people are willing to hear.

Two sociologists in Philadelphia, Kathleen A. Bogle, of La Salle University, and Maria Kefalas, of St. Joseph’s University, both specialists in teen sexual behavior, told Parker-Pope that they’d had to struggle mightily to get people out of their “moral panic” mindset, and make them understand that teens are not “in a downward spiral” or “out of control.”

“They just don’t believe you. You might as well be telling them the earth is flat,” Kefalas told me when I called to follow up with her this week.

This reminded me of how the developmental psychologist Joseph Mahoney – and others – have had to fight to convince people that another much-discussed creature of our time, the Overscheduled Child, isn’t as common or as stressed-out or even as busy as we commonly think. (I myself didn’t believe him at first, and wasn’t too nice about it.) It reminded me, too, of the Boy Crisis – how hard it has been for scholars who have taken a hard look at the boy/girl achievement numbers to counter the popular wisdom that boys are falling behind. And it reminded me of the Overmedicated Child, that particular trope of child corruption, soul theft and performance pressure that has for so long fascinated me.

In each of these examples, real problems – that some girls are engaging in too-young, risky and degrading sex, that some children are being stressed excessively and stifled by nonstop structure, that some boys (poor and minority boys) are doing badly in school, that some children are getting really reckless mental health services – are grossly simplified and, via the magical thinking of dogma and ideology, are elevated to the level of myth. Real complexities and nuances – details concerning exactly which children are suffering, flailing or failing, and in what numbers, and how and why, and what we can do about it – are lost.

That’s no accident. After all, moral panics – particularly those concerning children – always serve some hidden purpose. “Modern ideas about the innocent child have long been projections of adult needs and frustrations,” Gary Cross, a professor of modern history at Penn State University, writes in his 2004 book, “The Cute and the Cool: Wondrous Innocence and Modern American Children’s Culture.” “In the final analysis, modern innocence has let adults evade the consequences of their own contradictory lives.”

All the examples of child myth-making that I’ve mentioned here have to do, at base, with the perceived corruption of childhood, the loss of some kind of “natural” innocence. When they depart from kernels of reality to rise to the level of myth, they are, I believe, largely projections that enable adults to evade things. Specifically, the overblown focus on messed-up kids affords parents the possibility of avoiding looking inward and taking responsibility for the highly complex problems of everyday life.

In the case of the allegedly lascivious Lolitas, Kefalas sees this flight from reality very clearly: “People don’t want to hear about the economic context, the social context” to young teen sexual activity and teen pregnancy, she told me. “For a 14-year-old to be having sex it’s usually a symptom of a kid who’s really broken and really hurt. Those who are having sex without contraception are a distinct set: they’re poor, from single-parent households, doing poorly in school, have low self-esteem. Teen pregnancy is so high in America compared to other places not just because of access to contraception but because we have a lot of poverty. But Americans don’t want to see themselves as a poor society. They want to make a moral argument: if only teens had better values.”

Certain kinds of children have certain kinds of vulnerabilities that make them particularly susceptible to the toxic elements of our culture. This is true of those who do or don’t fall victim to stress and anxiety, and it’s true of those who do or don’t engage in too-early, too-risky sex. Certain kinds of policies can help children. (Abstinence-only sexual education clearly does not help in combating teen pregnancy.) Certain kinds of parenting can help or hurt, too.

Having a family life that’s so atomized and disconnected that children have the physical and emotional space to upload nude pictures of themselves onto the Internet, and lack the self-esteem and self-respect to know better is obviously undesirable. Being a stressed and frantic, frazzled and depressed parent is harmful, too. (“We are a mess,” Suniya Luthar, the Columbia University psychologist, once told me, explaining why she saw overscheduling as a symptom rather than a cause of family distress. “We are the ones running around like freaking chickens without a head…. It’s the situation where the captain of the ship has lost control.”)

If we parents hadn’t created a world this high-pressured, if we hadn’t, for decades, voted in policymakers who stripped away regulations that protected us, we wouldn’t be so certain that other parents are “drugging” their kids to make them more high-performing, and we wouldn’t have to be so fearful of the influence of Big Pharma.

Luthar is right: we – the adults in this society – are “a mess.” I think it’s time to stop projecting our dysfunction onto our children.

'That paedo is going to get it': Drunken vigilante's threat to police moments before he knifed child porn suspect to death

Victim: Geoffrey Harries, a former policeman charged with child pornography offences, was allegedly stabbed to death by Daniel Williams

A former police officer facing child porn charges was stabbed to death by a drunken neighbour, a court heard today.

Geoffrey Harries, 49, died after Daniel Williams attacked him in the street with a heavy-duty hunting knife,a jury was told.

Williams, 30, had drunkenly boasted to police that he was going to 'get' Harries moments before carrying out the crime.

'That paedo is going to get it. I'm going to have him,' he reportedly told officers. 'If you don't do something about it then I will.'

Head of N.D. S.V.P. Program Sentenced to Seven Years

From Dr. Karen Franklin's blog,  Forensic Psychologist.

Those of you who followed the case I reported on in December 2007, involving the sexually violent predator evaluator who was addicted to child pornography, may be interested in the outcome:

Joseph Belanger, who ran North Dakota's Sexually Dangerous Individual (SDI) civil commitment program, has been sentenced to seven years in prison after pleading guilty to charges of receiving and possessing materials involving the sexual exploitation of minors.

The arrest of the state psychologist prompted a review of more than 100 cases in which he had opined that sex offenders were dangerous and should be civilly committed, and an appeal before the North Dakota Supreme Court.

An interesting but possible unanswerable question is whether Belanger's work in the field somehow triggered his interest in child pornography.

The Associated Press story is here

Man found dead in cold was turned away from shelters in past because he was sex offender

Ed: Of course, most people won't care, convinced as they are that sex offenders are necessarily beasts undeserving of living or, for that matter, any of the rights everyone else in the U.S. enjoys. Not only is this predictable (I did so here several months ago at the onset of winter amid reports that S.O.s were being refused entry to homeless shelters) but what is also certain is that these policies will continue into the foreseeable future without the slightest concern for their murderous consequences. It's just as certain that states like California, in the midst of its worst fiscal crisis in decades, will continue to imprison sex offenders whom they have permanently detained in Coalinga State Hospital after they have completed their long prison sentences at a cost of nearly a half million dollars each PER YEAR. One no longer expects rational public policy when the topic is sex offenders. For too long we have been under the spell of the hysterics. And able deprogrammers are nowhere on the horizon...

GRAND RAPIDS -- A man found dead on the streets Monday had tried in recent weeks to gain admittance to at least one of two Heartside missions, but was denied a bed because he is a registered sex offender.

Officials say its possible Thomas Pauli might be alive today except for a state law prohibiting him from establishing a residence even for one night within 1,000 feet of a school, in this case, Catholic Central High, also located in the Heartside district.

"It's heartbreaking. I have a hard time even talking about it," said Marge Palmerlee, executive director at Degage Ministries.

Palmerlee said she had talked to at least two people who told her Pauli had tried earlier this month to secure a bed at one or both missions.

Bill Merchut of Mel Trotter and Bill Shaffer of Guiding Light agreed that Pauli may have tried to gain entrance, but that their missions risk fines and loss of license if they admit sex offenders. They do not track everyone who applies for a bed, only those who are admitted, so while they were sure Pauli had not been admitted, they couldn't be sure if he had tried.

They both decried a system where there are no exceptions to the so-called Megan's Law, which sets boundaries and restrictions for those on the list.

"We have to follow the law, but ethically, it feels like were responsible," said Merchut.

Added Shaffer, "These men and women are clearly 'The Scarlet Letter' folks of our day. And where do they go? I have no answer."

Pauli, 52, served 11 years in prison for a 1991 conviction in Grand Traverse County for second-degree criminal sexual conduct, state records show. He was released in 2003 and was required to register as a sex offender.

Results of an autopsy are not yet available.

How the faceless and amoral world of cyberspace has created a deeply disturbing... generation SEX

Ed: You're NOT a prude? You are the DEFINITION of a prude! And I think the shocking behavior exhibited here was by your own daughter who felt justified in physically assaulting the lad engaging in entirely voluntary sex with her friend. I shudder to imagine what your hypocritical reaction would have been had the BOY slapped around your DAUGHTER! While you, no doubt, fail to recognize in yourself your own prudishness, let's be clear that that is the moral panic with which you are afflicted. And the motivations behind your moral outrage are deeply suspect, as they have always been for ALL prudes. Adolescents HAVE sex; now GET OVER IT! And tell your damned daughter to mind her own business. The same goes for you! ]

How the faceless and amoral world of cyberspace has created a deeply disturbing... generation SEX

By Olivia Lichtenstein
Remember that Hilaire Belloc cautionary tale - Matilda told such dreadful lies, it made one gasp and stretch one’s eyes? I used to love it as a child when telling lies was one of the naughtiest things you could do: Matilda ended up getting burned to death.

These days, however, everything has changed and it’s the truths that children tell that make one gasp and stretch one’s eyes.

A couple of years ago, my daughter Francesca, then aged 13, told me about a party she had been to one Saturday night. Insight: Olivia (left) and daughter FrancescaIn the course of the evening, she came upon one of her friends, also aged 13, performing oral sex on a boy in the garden. The boy was standing and videoing the event on his mobile phone.

My daughter, in whom the feisty gene has always found strong expression, pulled her friend off the boy, knocked the phone out of his hand and slapped him round the face.

I apologise for shocking you, but then there are a number of things shocking about this event: the casual nature in which such an intimate act is performed in public, the young age of the participants and last, but by no means least, the fact that it is being filmed.

This not only signals the boy’s disassociation from the physical experience, it also indicates his intention to replay the event and, no doubt, to share his triumph with his friends as one might brandish a trophy above one’s head for all to see.

Nor was this the only such event on this particular evening. I am no prude, but Francesca painted a picture of Bacchanalia that certainly made me gasp.

Brutal Murderer Of Sex Offender Sentenced

A Macclesfield dad of three has been jailed for life for brutally murdering his 60-year-old flatmate after learning he was a convicted paedophile.

Ex-butcher [Ed: I'd say that he's a "current" butcher] Lea Mason, 33, formerly of Turnock Street, will serve a minimum of 17 and a half years after launching a "violent and frenzied attack" on his victim.

Mason used knives to stab, and a frying pan to bludgeon, Darren Presley – until they bent or broke – then stamped on his head, which left "huge gaping holes" and soaked the killer’s trainers in blood, a judge heard.

Mason and co-defendant Stephen Brian Kidd, 37, originally from Stoke, both pleaded guilty to murder at Preston Crown Court and were sentenced last Thursday (January 22).

Mason was a thug well-known to police in Macclesfield through a string of violent offences stretching back 15 years.

He admitted the murder after being captured by police in Blackpool.

New Bill Aims to Force Cell Camera Sounds, Protect Children

No, we're not joking. The Camera Phone Predator Alert Act (H.R. 414) is the real deal. Fresh off the legislative desk of New York Representative Peter King (R), the bill--currently cosponsored by goose egg--would require an audible tone to accompany all cellular phones with an installed camera that are created in the U.S. This tone, likely a clicking noise of some sort, would sound, "within a reasonable radius of the phone whenever a photograph is taken with the camera in such phone." And don't think that evildoers would be able to conceal their predatory ways by flicking an iPhone-style audio toggle switch. Any mobile phones built after the bill becomes a law would be prohibited from including any way to eliminate or reduce the volume of said noise.

And the reasoning for this legislation? But a single sentence: "Congress finds that children and adolescents have been exploited by photographs taken in dressing rooms and public places with the use of a camera phone."

While this bill might very well age into irrelevance within the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, it's not as far-fetched as it might sound. Camera phones in Japan already have features like this enabled by law: A rude awakening to new phone owners that would like a way to turn off--or turn down--shutter noises that have had their volumes jacked up for this reason specifically.

Sex Crime Loophole Closure Act Introduced

Ed: Yes, those pesky "loopholes" which have provided judges with some level of discretion in sentencing are the target of yet another ambitious legislator. Although lacking imagination ("worst-of-the-worst", "sexually violent predators", etc.) he will, no doubt, effectively conjure forth the 'anti-demons' amongst Californians and his constituency and rally the press behind his distorted view of reality. A reality that defines "sexually violent" as having sex with someone under the age of 14 - no further "violence" necessary. And of course he's talking about JUVENILE OFFENDERS. Hmmm.... sounds like kids fooling around to me. But I'm sure Pedro Nava NEVER engaged in sexual exploration as a child! Surely not!

Sex Crime Loophole Closure Act Introduced by Assemblymember Pedro Nava

Sacramento–California State Assemblymember Pedro Nava announced the introduction of the Sex Crime Loophole Closure Act, a measure to protect our communities from sexually violent predators.

"We need to make sure that the worst of the worst offenders do not inflict more harm on our neighborhoods," said Nava. "This measure provides vital protections to victims, their families and communities from sexually violent predators."

AB 61, The Sex Crime Loophole Closure Act, will prohibit authorities from granting "deferred entry of judgment" to juveniles who have committed sex offenses. Deferred judgment can be used to "launder" or expunge egregious sex crimes from a juvenile´s record. This measure will stop the practice of sending juveniles straight to probation if they have committed egregious sex crimes.

Said Harriet Salarno, Chair, Crime Victims United of California (CVUC), "Crime Victims United of California appreciates Assemblyman Nava´s commitment to ensuring juveniles who commit sex crimes have complete records by eliminating their opportunity for deferred entry of judgment. The nature of sex crimes committed by juveniles provides good insight into the individual´s potential sexual and violent tendencies as an adult. Research shows that many sex offenders began their sexually abusive behavior as juveniles. It is for this reason CVUC supports AB 61 and the protection from these offenders it offers to victims."

Said Ron Cottingham, President of the Peace Officers Research Association of California (PORAC), "AB 61 will close the longstanding loophole created by Proposition 21 in 2000 that allows juveniles who are sexually violent predators to get a "slap on the wrist", be allowed on local probation and have these violent crimes erased from their records. Proposition 21 prevents these juvenile offenders from obtaining necessary treatment and further endangers the citizens of their community."

In Memorium: Daniel Carleton Gajdusek, 1923 – 2008

Daniel Carleton Gajdusek, Nobel prize winner for his groundbreaking work in isolating and identifying the bizarre and deadly cause of "kuru", a disease affecting especially those of New Guinea, and closely related to Creuzfeld-Jacob, Scrapie, and B.S.E. ("Mad Cow Disease") died December 12, 2008. Later, he was convicted and served time in a U.S. prison after it was revealed that he had had sexual relationships with boys. He remained unapologetic for these relations and contended that the laws punishing those having such relationships were unjust. Subsequent to his release, he spent the remainder of his years in Europe where he felt attitudes were less puritanical (sadly, this seems no longer to be true).

His contribution to our understanding of neurodegenerative disorder as caused by prions was most valuable and one can only speculate as to further advances he might have achieved had he not been prosecuted and imprisoned. His brilliance will be missed.

Revisit Jessica's Law

Editorial From the Los Angeles Times

The sex-offender statute is unaffordable and doesn't improve safety. If it can't be dropped, it should be rewritten.

Of all the ill-considered ballot initiatives approved by California voters over the years, few can match Jessica's Law for sheer self-destructiveness. The measure, billed as a way to protect children from sexual predators when it appeared on the ballot in 2006 as Proposition 83, is worsening the yawning state budget gap amid zero evidence that it's protecting anyone -- in fact, according to a state panel, it may be threatening public safety.

This page warned that the initiative would be an expensive mistake, but that didn't stop 70% of voters from approving it. That may be because sexual predators are nobody's idea of a good neighbor, and voters thought that forcing sex offenders to wear GPS tracking devices for life and forbidding them to live within 2,000 feet of schools and parks would keep them at bay. What they didn't consider were cost and practicality.

Among its many failings, the measure doesn't distinguish between criminals who are at high risk of re-offending and those who aren't. That means a teenager convicted of having sex with his underage girlfriend, as just one example, is subject to GPS monitoring and residence restrictions for the rest of his life, even if he never commits another crime. It also fails to specify what agency is responsible for monitoring those thousands of former inmates, or to devote money to pay for it.

State corrections officials announced Jan. 12 that they are now monitoring all 6,622 paroled sex offenders with GPS devices, after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger set aside $106 million in last year's budget for the program. Where the state will come up with the money while facing a $42-billion shortfall over the next 18 months is an open question. What's more, the state will monitor sex offenders only for as long as they remain on parole -- after that, it's up to municipal agencies, none of which have the staff, equipment or spare funding to do the job.

The expense might be worthwhile if Jessica's Law were actually reducing sex crimes. Yet research has found no connection between where a sex offender lives and the likelihood that he'll offend again, nor is there any evidence that GPS monitoring lowers recidivism. Further, it's very hard for parolees to find homes that aren't near schools or parks, leading to a 12-fold increase in the number of homeless sex offenders since the law was passed in 2006. A lack of stable housing only increases the odds that an ex-con will return to crime -- or as the state Sex Offender Management Board put it in a report Tuesday: "Residency restrictions that preclude or eliminate appropriate offender housing can threaten public safety instead of enhancing it."

Lawmakers rarely show the courage to fix problems created by get-tough-on-crime voter initiatives, but there will never be a better time to improve Jessica's Law. The state budget and the prison system are in crisis and must be reinvented, and amending this law -- which the Legislature can do with a two-thirds vote -- would benefit them both. Ideally, the measure should be overturned, but at a minimum the Legislature should create a review process that allows low-risk offenders to escape the residency and monitoring rules. California simply can't afford to pay more to be less safe.

Lawmakers consider implanted chips for tracking sex offenders

[Ed: Well now, I suppose we shouldn't be surprised. One could have predicted this easily enough as the next logical step-if there be any logic about it-in the unfolding holocaust against sex offenders.

An alien race just arriving from a distant galaxy would surely conclude that these "sex offenders" everyone is so obsessively preoccupied with must surely pose a clear and present danger to the immediate survival of the human species and that all other threats are nothing in comparison.

After all, what sane civilization would allocate so unstintingly vast material and emotional
resources to fighting an enemy that is hardly its gravest threat? Surely these humans have rationally identified sex offenders as such and are taking appropriate measures in ensuring the future survival of the human race? ]

OLYMPIA, Wash. -- Lawmakers are considering a controversial bill that would outfit sex offenders with a surgically-implanted device that tracks their movement.

The devices would replace the ankle bracelets that are currently used to track offenders. The bracelets have been criticized as a lacking device as offenders have successfully removed them in the past before disappearing off of the radar.

"(The devices would) be a little more difficult to take off," said Rep. Maralyn Chase, D-Edmonds.

Chase is among a handful of lawmakers are looking into radio chips that can be planted under the skin. Some of the designs are no larger than a grain of rice.

The radio chips would allow police to track an offender from a sex offender using the same technology used at the Tacoma Narrows bridge toll.

"Right now, we get a postcard at home every few weeks saying we have a sex offender moving into the neighborhood. But unless you know where they live and what they look like how are you going to have protection?" said Chase.

The Department of Corrections admits even with the current devices, officers often lose signal. DOC officials also note that no tracking device can prevent crime.

"It certainly is not prevention. It certainly is not 100-percent," said Anna Aylward with the state DOC.

The bill is currently in committee.

If passed, the bill would allow the state to hire the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs to determine whether chip implants would be more effective.

Similar technology is used to track criminals in the U.K. and school children in Japan.

Civilly Commited Sex Offenders Denied Conjugal Visits

Ed: It is essential to understand several things in these cases. 

1. "Sexually Violent Predator" does not require actual "violence". In every state using the term (and that's most of them) it means having any kind of sex with someone under the age of 14 or 13 (depends on State). The mere act of having sex with someone under that age is, in the State's definition, "sexual violence". 

2. Civil commitment of a sex offender for an indefinite period of time following the completion of their prison sentence was previously unknown in our society. A decade or more ago, before these civil commitments, they would be back home anyway. To argue that these men (and virtually ALL are men) are less deserving of conjugal visits than state PRISONERS who have not yet completed their prison terms and who ARE currently being punished is demonstrably unjust and gives lie to the conceit that Civil Commitments "are not being punished, but simply being removed from society for its protection". ]

Private nookie time for sexually violent predators in state treatment facilities is a no-no, a New Jersey appeals court has ruled.  [Ed: the writer here, ostensibly a "journalist", is obviously, like most journalists, an ignorant asshole]

The state's policy of banning conjugal visits was challenged by a predator who was committed after being convicted of kidnapping and rape, among other crimes.  Identified in court papers only as R.R., the patient called the policy "excessively restrictive," given that he was involuntarily committed to a rehabilitation and treatment facility instead of sent to prison. 

He requested "new rules" that would allow him some alone time with his wife.  Otherwise, he claimed, he was being denied "the pursuit of life, liberty, happiness, privacy, and procreation associated with lawful marriage" under rules that govern prison inmates.  

R.R. already was in the process of being commmitted when he got married in September 2004, court papers show.  After being sent to the unnnamed treatment facility, he asked the state Department of Corrections in May 2005 to grant him "marital privacy and conjugal visitation." 

That request was denied, as were subsequent bids each of the following two years. So he turned to the courts.  The justices agreed with state officials: Violent predators must be treated differently from patients who are, say, mentally ill or suffer from tuberculosis -- if for no other reasons than the safety and security of residents, staff and visitors, they said.  In their decision, published yesterday, the justices cited a previous ruling, in which they said: "Individuals are civilly committed...because they pose a danger to the public health and safety due to their behavior."  

The point of their being there in the first place, the panel added, is because a judge determined they were likely to commit a violent sex crime again and needed to be removed from society for the greater good.  And even though these facilities aren't intended to be run as prisons, the judges noted, state officials are responsible for protecting anyone else who might work in or visit the place.  

" not denied other contacts with his spouse," reads the opinion, published yesterday. "During that time, kissing and hugging can occur at the commencement and conclusion of the visit.  "Additionally, hand holding is allowed, and both visitors and residents are permitted to place their arms around the shoulders of others and to place their heads on another's shoulder."  "Clearly," the judges concluded, "the DOC has an interest in monitoring interaction between residents and visitors in order to ensure that contraband is not passed to residents, that safety is maintained, and that treatment goals are not compromised."  Beyond that, they said, none of R.R.'s arguments "warrant further discussion."

Civilly Confined Sex offenders can't have conjugal visits, court rules

Ed: It is essential to understand several things in these cases. 1. Sexually Violent Predator does not require actual "violence". In every state using the term (and that's most of them) it means having any kind of sex with someone under the age of 14 or 13 (depends on State). The mere act of having sex with someone under that age is, in the State's definition, "sexual violence". 2. Civil commitment of a sex offender for an indefinite period of time following the completion of their prison sentence was previously unknown in our society. A decade or more ago, before these civil commitments, they would be back home anyway. To argue that these men (and virtually ALL are men) are less deserving of conjugal visits than state PRISONERS who have not yet completed their prison terms and who ARE currently being punished is demonstrably unjust and gives lie to the conceit that Civil Commitments "are not being punished, but simply being removed from society for its protection". ] Private nookie time for sexually violent predators in state treatment facilities is a no-no, a New Jersey appeals court has ruled. The state's policy of banning conjugal visits was challenged by a predator who was committed after being convicted of kidnapping and rape, among other crimes. Identified in court papers only as R.R., the patient called the policy "excessively restrictive," given that he was involuntarily committed to a rehabilitation and treatment facility instead of sent to prison. He requested "new rules" that would allow him some alone time with his wife. Otherwise, he claimed, he was being denied "the pursuit of life, liberty, happiness, privacy, and procreation associated with lawful marriage" under rules that govern prison inmates. R.R. already was in the process of being commmitted when he got married in September 2004, court papers show. After being sent to the unnnamed treatment facility, he asked the state Department of Corrections in May 2005 to grant him "marital privacy and conjugal visitation." That request was denied, as were subsequent bids each of the following two years. So he turned to the courts. The justices agreed with state officials: Violent predators must be treated differently from patients who are, say, mentally ill or suffer from tuberculosis -- if for no other reasons than the safety and security of residents, staff and visitors, they said. In their decision, published yesterday, the justices cited a previous ruling, in which they said: "Individuals are civilly committed...because they pose a danger to the public health and safety due to their behavior." The point of their being there in the first place, the panel added, is because a judge determined they were likely to commit a violent sex crime again and needed to be removed from society for the greater good. And even though these facilities aren't intended to be run as prisons, the judges noted, state officials are responsible for protecting anyone else who might work in or visit the place. " not denied other contacts with his spouse," reads the opinion, published yesterday. "During that time, kissing and hugging can occur at the commencement and conclusion of the visit. "Additionally, hand holding is allowed, and both visitors and residents are permitted to place their arms around the shoulders of others and to place their heads on another's shoulder." "Clearly," the judges concluded, "the DOC has an interest in monitoring interaction between residents and visitors in order to ensure that contraband is not passed to residents, that safety is maintained, and that treatment goals are not compromised." Beyond that, they said, none of R.R.'s arguments "warrant further discussion."

Report Calls Online Threats to Children Overblown

[Ed: Of course it's overblown. It's a "moral panic", "hysteria", and a "witch hunt". But don't you see? That doesn't matter. It doesn't matter that EVERYTHING which has fueled this 30 year hysteria, from the daycare witch hunts, to the "missing kids" hysteria, to the child porn panic to the "cyber threat", is a web of LIES! People believe what they want to believe and what they want to believe is that there are BOOGEYMEN all over the place!. It doesn't matter what the facts are, the facts will have no effect on anything. Our vast, ignorant population is going to continue to fall all over itself to relinquish what little liberty remains in this country. ]

The Internet may not be such a dangerous place for children after all.

A task force created by 49 state attorneys general to look into the problem of sexual solicitation of children online has concluded that there really is not a significant problem.

The findings ran counter to popular perceptions of online dangers as reinforced by depictions in the news media like NBC’s “To Catch a Predator” series. One attorney general was quick to criticize the group’s report.

The panel, the Internet Safety Technical Task Force, was charged with examining the extent of the threats children face on social networks like MySpace and Facebook, amid widespread fears that adults were using these popular Web sites to deceive and prey on children.

But the report concluded that the problem of bullying among children, both online and offline, poses a far more serious challenge than the sexual solicitation of minors by adults.

“This shows that social networks are not these horribly bad neighborhoods on the Internet,” said John Cardillo, chief executive of Sentinel Tech Holding, which maintains a sex offender database and was part of the task force. “Social networks are very much like real-world communities that are comprised mostly of good people who are there for the right reasons.”

The 278-page report, released Tuesday, was the result of a year of meetings between dozens of academics, experts in childhood safety and executives of 30 companies, including Yahoo, AOL, MySpace and Facebook.

The task force, led by the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University, looked at scientific data on online sexual predators and found that children and teenagers were unlikely to be propositioned by adults online. In the cases that do exist, the report said, teenagers are typically willing participants and are already at risk because of poor home environments, substance abuse or other problems.

Not everyone was happy with the conclusions. Richard Blumenthal, the Connecticut attorney general, who has forcefully pursued the issue and helped to create the task force, said he disagreed with the report. Mr. Blumenthal said it “downplayed the predator threat,” relied on outdated research and failed to provide a specific plan for improving the safety of social networking.

“Children are solicited every day online,” Mr. Blumenthal said. “Some fall prey, and the results are tragic. That harsh reality defies the statistical academic research underlying the report.”

In what social networks may view as something of an exoneration after years of pressure from law enforcement, the report said sites like MySpace and Facebook “do not appear to have increased the overall risk of solicitation.”

Attorneys general like Mr. Blumenthal and Roy Cooper of North Carolina publicly accused the social networks of facilitating the activities of pedophiles and pushed them to adopt measures to protect their youngest users. Citing studies that showed tens of thousands of convicted sex offenders were using MySpace, they pressured the networks to purge those people from their membership databases.

The attorneys general also charged the task force with evaluating technologies that might play a role in enhancing safety for children online. An advisory board composed of academic computer scientists and forensics experts was created within the task force to look at technologies and ask companies in the industry to submit their child-protection systems.

Among the systems the technology board looked at included age verification technologies that try to authenticate the identities and ages of children and prevent adults from contacting them. But the board concluded that such systems “do not appear to offer substantial help in protecting minors from sexual solicitation.”

One problem is that it is difficult to verify the ages and identities of children because they do not have driver’s licenses or insurance.

Prosecuted For Taking Pictures Of Fully Clothed Children

[Ed: This is really extraordinary! This guy is being prosecuted for taking pictures of young girls at a public event without their parent's permission. The girls, obviously, were fully clothed and yet the photos were alleged to be "sexually suggestive". Yeah, right. They weren't even posed. The girls were running around being kids. So because someone thought he was suspicious, the police were alerted and he was arrested, prosecuted and will have to register as a sex offender. So apparently, U.S. laws which had previously allowed anyone to photograph anyone or anything else in public without fear of arrest has been thrown out the window. When did this happen? Does anyone give a shit anymore? ]

Ex-LAPD officer who photographed young girls pleads guilty

Ralph Lakin surreptitiously took more than 90 sexually suggestive photos at a Garden Grove festival in 2007. He gets four years' probation and must register as a sex offender.
By Susannah Rosenblatt

1:09 PM PST, January 13, 2009

A former Los Angeles Police Department officer pleaded guilty today in Orange County Superior Court to charges he took sexually suggestive photographs of young girls at the Garden Grove Strawberry Festival in 2007.

Ralph Cameron Lakin, 55, of La Palma pleaded guilty to eight misdemeanor counts and was sentenced to four years' probation and 100 hours of community service. He also must register as a sex offender.

According to Orange County prosecutors, Lakin surreptitiously snapped digital pictures of nine girls, ranging in age from about 4 to 13, at the outdoor family carnival on May 26, 2007.

The officer took more than 90 such photos that morning, eventually following a 5-year-old girl to photograph her as she climbed out of a wagon in a dress. A witness alerted the girl's father, who detained Lakin until police arrived.

Authorities found nearly 150 similar photos of little girls on Lakin's home computer, including one image of a nude toddler, prosecutors said.

Lakin retired from the LAPD last February after 10 years. At the time of his arrest, he worked downtown reviewing excessive force cases.

Lottery winner attacked; one man taken into custody

Ed: Usually, the envy one feels when someone other than you wins the lottery does not extend to actual physical assault. But as we know, when that "someone else" is a sex offender, some feel compelled to express both their hatred of sex offenders as well as their jealousy and fury, in a very different way. Never mind that the sex offender bought the lottery ticket and took his chances just like everyone else. Anything he might do, even though it be something that everyone else is free to do, can be used, in this case LITERALLY, as a club against him. Jews in Nazi Germany were attacked with impunity on the streets by resentful "Aryans" who had been thoroughly programmed to despise them and their alleged wealth and power. Prior to the mass deportations to the death camps, Jews were increasingly and systematically excluded from taking part in much of German society. They were barred from schools, parks, buses and trams, universities, government offices, swimming pools, and much more. Without exagerrating, one can say that the sex offender in America today is facing an identical oppression. ]

The winner of the state's first half-million dollar lottery was severely beaten on a downtown street Tuesday afternoon by a man wielding a tire iron or metal pipe, according to Anchorage police.

Police say Alec Ahsoak, 53, was attacked in the 400 block of D Street at about 3:30 p.m. when a man, accompanied by two women, approached him to ask if he was the man who won the $500,000 jackpot.

Whether the attack was motivated by Ahsoak's winning the lottery, which was held to benefit an advocacy group for sexual abuse victims, or the widely distributed reports that Ahsoak is a three-time convicted sex-offender was unclear.

"There was no apparent attempt at robbery," police Lt. Dave Parker said. "He was struck eight to 10 times, and then he threw his Pepsi at the assailant and he ran for Phyllis' Cafe and the assailant ran off."

By Tuesday evening, Ahsoak had been discharged from the hospital. In a show-up, Ahsoak identified the suspect as his attacker, but the man in custody had not yet been charged with a crime, Parker said. Police had also identified one of the two women and were treating her as a witness, Parker said.

Ahsoak told officers he had been stopped by a white man believed to be about 21 and wearing a blue and white checked shirt, blue jeans and a white baseball cap as he entered the 5th Avenue Mall. The stranger asked if he was the lottery winner, and Ahsoak said he was, then went into the mall.

When he walked out minutes later carrying a Pepsi, the man approached him, saying nothing more, and began hitting him on the head with the weapon, police said.

"Oh my God, I was so afraid something was going to happen to him," said Nancy Haag, executive director of Standing Together Against Rape, the nonprofit that benefitted from the lottery. "I'm just very sorry to hear that this has happened. ... Nobody deserves to be a victim of any kind of violence, and that's our stand."

Ahsoak was transported to a local hospital to be treated for his injuries, which did not appear to be life-threatening, police said.

"There were injuries to his head -- lacerations, that kind of stuff," Parker said. "Nobody knows how bad it is until doctors do their job, but he was talking and able to communicate with the officers."

There were "loads of witnesses" to the attack, but none of them were immediately able to identify the man, Parker said. It did not immediately appear that the attack had been caught on any surveillance cameras, he said.

The lottery, billed as the first of its kind, was conducted under Alaska law that allows games of chance that benefit a charity. The charity must get at least 10 percent of what's left after the prize is paid out, and organizers have estimated STAR stands to get between $2,000 and $20,000.

Ahsoak claimed $350,000 in prize money after taxes, and, the day he came forward, pledged to give $100,000 of it to STAR, the owner of Lucky Times, Abe Spicola, has said. Spicola did not return a call seeking comment Tuesday.

Ahsoak came forward as the lottery winner Saturday, and reports that he is a convicted sex offender were soon publicized by KTUU Channel 2 News and picked up by other outlets, including the Daily News. By Monday, Ahsoak's victims were telling the media they thought Ahsoak should not benefit from the lottery, which was conducted by Lucky Times Pull Tabs to benefit the nonprofit Standing Together Against Rape.

Asked whether the media should have publicized that Asoak was a convicted sex offender, Haag said, "I think it put him, obviously, at greater risk because there are people who like to take justice into their own hands."

Ahsoak was convicted in 1993 of molesting two girls under the age of 13 and sentenced to four years in prison, according to court records.

Police arrested him again in March 2000 for molesting a different young girl he was baby-sitting. He was sentenced to six years in prison on a single count of sexual abuse of a minor in a plea deal that took another sex abuse charge and a charge of failing to register as a sex offender off the table.

Ashoak has finished his time in prison and is now on probation, but he is registered as a sex offender on a state-run public database. He told KTUU on Saturday that he's worked hard to turn his life around and has been in treatment for the past year.

A message left on the cell phone of Ahsoak's attorney was not returned Tuesday.

In reports that began surfacing Monday, some of Ahsoak's victims and their parents expressed an interest in suing him since he won the lottery, saying the money should go to his victims instead of benefitting a convicted sex offender.

One victim, who was molested in the early 1990s while Ahsoak, a family friend, was staying at her home, said Tuesday she thinks Ahsoak should not have gotten the money, especially since the money benefits STAR. But it was out of her hands and she doesn't think she'll sue, said the woman.

"I'm in shock that happened. That's terrible," she said upon hearing of the attack. "I don't wish that on anybody. The only thing I wished for him is that he would get better. ... I just think it's crazy the way that everything happened."

Find James Halpin online at or call him at 257-4589. 

Esther Rantzen: Fear of paedophiles is harming children

'Now people are treating abuse as if it goes on behind every tree.'

Esther Rantzen

Esther Rantzen has admitted she blames herself for raising fears of paedophiles to such a degree that adults are now scared to help crying children.

The veteran broadcaster, who founded the counselling service ChildLine, warned that young people are now being harmed by the widespread suspicion that anyone who has contact with children could be a child abuser.

Her fears were confirmed by an experiment she helped conduct in a busy shopping centre, which found that 99 per cent of adults chose to walk on by rather than going to the assistance of two children who looked lost and distressed.

Even the handful who did stop admitted they were worried that people would assume they were trying to abduct the children.

This comes amid growing concern that in the wake of high-profile cases such as the disappearance of Madeleine McCann and the Soham murders, all adults are now viewed as paedophiles unless they can prove themselves innocent.

There are now no men under 25 teaching in state-run nurseries, such is the fear of being branded a child molester, while from next year 11.3 million adults will have to have their backgrounds checked by the Independent Safeguarding Authority before they can work or volunteer with under-16s.

Even malicious allegations made against teachers or priests must now be kept on file until they retire, while council officers are questioning the motives of any lone adults who walk through a public park.

Rantzen asked of the results of the test, to be shown on TV tonight: "What does that say about our attitude to children now? Have we unwittingly put up barriers protecting ourselves, but harming them?

"It seems to me that many adults may now actually be putting children at risk, because we are so afraid someone will suspect us of having sinister motives if we help them.

"I blame myself for a lot of this. Thirty years ago most people didn't realise that abuse ever happened, so abusers just got away with it. But in 1986 we made a programme called Childwatch in which we pointed out that abuse is far more common than most people realise, but of course it's a secret crime, it happens mainly in children' homes, within the family.

"Now people are treating abuse as if it goes on behind every tree."

She added: "The tragedy is there are people who hurt children, and we must protect them against pain and abuse. But unless we hang on to our common sense the whole of child protection is going to suffer, so many of these rules and attitudes are designed to keep adults safe, to keep jobs safe, to keep organisations safe, to keep councils safe. Our priority should be to keep children safe."

In the experiment, to be shown on ITV1's Tonight programme, two child actors were left alone in a London shopping mall looking upset while hidden cameras were set up to observe how many people offered them assistance.

A total of 1,817 people walked past the children, a seven-year-old girl and a nine-year-old boy, but only five did something to help.

Almost 500 people walked past the boy before one of them informed the shopping centre manager about his plight, and more than 100 ignored the girl before one of them stopped to ask if she was OK.

In addition, the five adults who did stop to help all admitted they had been worried their would be seen as suspicious.

Mark Williams Thomas, a child protection expert and former policeman, said: "It does concern me that no member of the public is even asking this child are they OK. They actually had to walk around them."

One Of Hundreds Who Are Arrested Weekly For The Crime Of Not Registering

[Ed: In essence, the government created his "crime". His was a "status" crime: The government stripped him of rights other citizens still (for the time being) possess and despite the fact that he had already served his time in prison. His "crime" was simply to assert his liberties and to insist that they could not be permanently shorn from him.

By not staying on the short leash they had decided to tie him up with, he became a "criminal" charged with a felony for NOT doing something that the rest of us take for granted: the right to be "let alone". By doing nothing, he committed a "crime" and will pay for it with what little freedom he possesses.

If he's lucky, he will get out of prison before he dies. If he's very unlucky, he will be attacked by real criminals who sate their own bloodlust and elevate their own deservedly wretched sense of importance by torturing or killing "molesters".

By refusing to acknowledge the government's control over him in a way that no other free citizen would tolerate, by making the decision to "disappear" from the radar of the police state because his life had become so intolerable, he will likely never see the outside of a prison cell again.

Ask yourself this question: if your rights had been stripped from you and you were forced to be treated by all of society as scum, often for little reason (which is what many sex offenses amount to) wouldn't you want to disappear, too? ]

Wisconsin fugitive arrested in Idaho

GARDEN CITY, Idaho (AP) -- Idaho police say they have apprehended a sex offender who eluded Wisconsin authorities for 14 years.

Garden City police say 65-year-old Dale Dolan was arrested Saturday at a local trailer park.

The Wisconsin Department of Corrections says Dolan was convicted in Dane and St. Croix counties in 1985. He was charged with two counts of second-degree sexual assault of a child. He fled the state following his parole in 1994.

Dolan was supposed to register as a sex offender for life. Officials say he has been living in several states the last 14 years.

Wallace says the arresting officers acted on a tip that Dolan was living in Garden City, located just west of Boise.

Dolan is in jail awaiting extradition to Wisconsin.

Washington A.G. Says All Pedophiles Use Child Porn

Ed: Yes, and all witches float when thrown into a body of water. Attorney General McKenna is a very wise man indeed, for he knows what many thousands of psychologists do not, namely that all pedophiles are obliged to consume child pornography. It is expertise such as his that has lead us to a state of hysteria in which criminal justice is guided by emotion and vengeance rather than reason and information, where pedophilia is conflated, without discrimination, with child abduction and murder, and where the worst amongst them determines the fate of all. Welcome to the witch hunt with none of the encumbrances of the 17th century and all of the conveniences of the 21st. ]

When state lawmakers launch the 2009 legislative session in Olympia next week, Attorney General Rob McKenna has a long wish list for them. Most of the proposals would cost little, but he said they would have a big impact on criminals, crime victims, consumers and struggling families. Among his proposals: Create a new crime of "viewing child pornography." People view it now, McKenna said, but try to foil prosecution by not downloading the files to their computer hard drives. "While not every user of child pornography is a pedophile — yet — every pedophile is a user of child pornography," McKenna said. The bill also calls for a study of the feasibility of a state "digital forensics lab" to aid porn investigations. "We want to catch these guys earlier, before they can actually physically harm a child," McKenna said, "and put them somewhere where they can get help." Among the bill's early backers: Rep.-elect Matt Shea, R-Mead. Impose tougher penalties for repeat domestic abusers. Some 25 years after lawmakers passed the first domestic-violence protection act, McKenna said, "our laws do not treat domestic violence with the seriousness it demands." He wants past offenses to count toward longer sentences for abusers, instead of seeing chronic criminals get "an effectively painless timeout in a local jail." Require Open Meetings Act training for elected officials, and allowing judges to order officials to record their closed-to-the-public executive sessions if they're caught wrongly discussing public business in such meetings. Clamp down on prison inmates who've made a "cottage industry" of filing spurious requests for public records to collect money for any violations. "These requesters gum up the works for everyone else," McKenna said. He cited the cases of several prisoners, including one who made 788 records requests and allegedly bragged he was using the law to try to harass prison officials into transferring him. Expand the new-vehicle lemon law, extending its protection for three years or 36,000 miles, among other changes. Extend state disclosure laws on mail prizes and promotions to the Internet and clamp down on "free-trial" offers that end up signing you up automatically for payments. "It's all about providing transparency for consumer protection," said state Rep.-elect Kevin Parker, R-Spokane, who's sponsoring the bill. Toughen sentences for preying on older or disabled adults.

Prosecutor: Accused Sex Offender Died While Fleeing Vigilante Gang

[Ed: The U.K. continues to lead the world in levels of unbridled hysteria over sex offenders with mob justice becoming increasingly more common.

I find it interesting that the English, renowned for their historically harsh mistreatment, both physical and psychological, of their children and, of course,
their stoicism, can become so irrational when the topic turns to kids and sex.

The Queen herself and Prince Phillip are reported to have treated their own children with an icy coldness which would be almost unimaginable today. And this was a model loosely emulated down the ladder of class which, upon arriving at its bottom, frequently took the form of actual child-beating.

Of course, I must hasten to add that, over the last several decades, major cultural shifts have occurred in the British Isles and that parental treatment of children has vastly improved. That
the froideur reserved for children in the past has become an anachronism in today's Britain, is certainly to the good and laudable.

But there are other characteristics, admirable qualities, which have diminished as well and I rather miss them. There was a rationalism and objectivity which seem to have completely vanished amongst
the paroxysms of grief expressed in the aftermath of Princess Diana's death. And, as in the States, the freedom of children to roam about unchaperoned by fussing adults has virtually disappeared. And then there's the blind rage which we see now today when the subject turns to "paedophiles".

I wonder if these cultural shifts are
somehow connected. One thing I am sure of: television has something to do with it. ]

A British man suspected of sexually abusing a teen fell to his death while trying to run from a group of five vigilantes, a prosecutor said Thursday.

Several individual showed up at the apartment of 44-year-old Scott Campbell in July 2008, hours after a 13-year-old boy claimed Campbell sexually assaulted him, the Manchester Evening News reported. Prosecutor Peter Cadwallader told a Manchester Crown Court that the group was armed with a variety of weapons, including a baseball bat, hammer and bicycle chain.

Campbell was able to close his door before the group could force their way in to his second floor apartment and tried to climb over his balcony in an attempt to escape as the gang banged on his front door, the Daily Mail newspaper reported. But he lost his grip on a rail and fell to the ground, dying instantly.

The five suspects allegedly tried to hide their weapons from CCTV cameras, which also captured Campbell's death.

"The only sensible conclusion is that they intended to give the man a beating,” the Manchester Evening News quoted Cadwallader as saying. “This was a vigilante group seeking revenge.”

The five suspects have been charged with manslaughter.