America’s Untouchables

Americans allow prisoners in its penitentiaries to get raped, despite the fact that it is a blatant violation of the prisoners’ civil rights. They even tolerate TV shows making light of the situation, which is a human rights scandal: how many times have you heard the FBI agent or police in shows like “Law and Order” or “The Mentalist” taunt an arrested criminal with the prospect that he will soon be a prison sex-toy? Never mind: American don’t really care about the abuse of prisoners. Similarly, the nation is systematically making it impossible for convicted sex offenders who have served their time to live a normal life anywhere. They might as well be in prison. Well, except then they might get raped.

Now, in addition to schools and parks, sex offenders—who might just be someone arrested for urinating in public, or an 18 year-old who had consensual sex with 15-year-old—can’t use libraries in Knox County, Tennessee. Those listed on the Tennessee Sex Offender Registry have been banned from visiting county libraries under an executive order issued Monday by Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett. They can still use the county library system’s online services and have a proxy check out and return materials on their behalf.  If caught inside the buildings, however, they face arrest.  “I just don’t want them anywhere around our kids,” Burchett said.  “The ultimate decision is how we pursue it.  I want to get out in front of this. There’s no need to toil around with it.  I don’t want them anywhere around our kids.”

If anyone is aware of a prior problem with children being molested at public libraries, I’d like to know about it. There haven’t been such incidents in Knox County.  Parents have just decided there, as they have elsewhere, that “not in my back yard” can and should be applied to human beings, especially those who have few advocates and no powerful allies. And as for the former sex offender who has served his debt to society and sincerely wants to start anew, be part of a community, and enjoy the rights of being a citizen of the United States? He’s out of luck. Eh, who cares? He’s just a pervert, right?

The treatment of former sex offenders who have served out their sentences is no less than persecution, justified, as so many abuses of government power are, by concern for children. This is an ends justifies the means solution in which the means are unconscionable. Let’s designate a level of sex offender status that warrants permanent custodial oversight, and allow the rest to serve their sentences and rebuild their lives, like other former felons. America’s principles do not permit it to have an “untouchable” class, but that is what fear and callousness are creating, in Tennessee and elsewhere.

35 thoughts on “America’s Untouchables

  1. I completely agree! The fact that we tolerate and even laugh over rape in our prisons is completely disgusting. The fact that someone can end up on the sex offenders list for public urination or otherwise consensual sex with a girlfriend around the same age is also absurd!

  2. Around ninety percent of children who are sexually abused are abused by a relative or family friend who isn’t on that list. We only convict about two percent of rapists. We tolerate employers and universities covering up sexual assault and rape.

    The sex offenders list simply creates a false sense of security and makes it look like the legal system is doing something about a problem that they are actually completely neglecting!

    • Engel, they are neglecting the problem because of something you pointed out earlier. Namely, that the rape of children by people outside the family is extremely rare. Family members who commit their crimes are, of course, prosecutable for them, but in a great many cases, those get covered up—nobody wants the perceived stigma attaching to the family name. That leaves the stranger rapists, who then get scapegoated for all the deeds of all child rapists. I’ve got no brief to offer on behalf of child molesters, and if someone did such a thing to someone to whom i have a personal connection, I would be extremely angry and would wish them great harm. But that is why these matters are supposed to be prosecuted by more disinterested and objective parties—legalized lynching is still law by lynch mob.

      • Oh, I think that you might have misunderstood slightly. That’s probably my fault for not being clearer. I’m against the sex offenders list also. My point is that any parent or woman who thinks that they are protecting their child or themselves by referencing the sex offenders list is tragically mistaken.
        I do think that we have a right to protect ourselves from extremely dangerous people. There is a fine line between that and creating an untouchable class. That is an extremely complex ethical question. I’m not going to attempt sharing my thoughts on that one in a comment. 🙂
        In practice harmless individuals are being made into scape goats on that list. And, citizens are being offered a false sense of security. Both are unethical, IMHO!

      • Around one in four children are molested. One in four adults aren’t pedophiles. It’s probably more like one or two in one hundred. The average pedophile has several victims both inside and outside of the family. Yes the family usually won’t prosecute. But, that isn’t the only option. And, most universities handle sexual assault by trying to cover it up rather than encouraging the victim to prosecute. Our current system is one that doesn’t benefit anyone in our society, except maybe the ninety-eight percent of real sexual predators who aren’t even on that list anyway!

  3. A very good post and an excellent point. There is talk about making sex offender registries in the Canadian province of Ontario public (it is an election issue here). While this may be justified for the protection of children, I fear it is the thin end of the wedge to the creation of a Canadian class of “untouchables”. I hope Ontario voters read what you have to say and consider the issue carefully.

  4. Pingback: America’s shame: our treatment of sex offenders who have served their sentences « Ethics Bob

  5. Distinctions don’t matter when it comes to sex offenses.No wonder they couldn’t find Garrido-so many on the registry that don’t belong,that they bloat it.These laws are so unjust and extreme.The self-righteous want to bring back Salem.The registry serves to frighten parents,or titillate those using it for amusement, but it’s ruining lives.Now there are so many non dangerous people on it..Some have been murdered or killed themselves. &

  6. A beautifully written and very timely article; thank you. It isn’t just television fiction that allows threats of sexual violence in prison to be expressed. Last night’s 20/20 airing about a girl and her boyfriend who killed her mother included a “victim impact statement,” in the court, in front of the judge, where the murdered woman’s brother said that what comforted him was knowing how the young man going to prison, a nice enough looking,
    slender, almost delicate looking guy, would be treated and “used” by the other inmates, and that he, the man speaking, would get his revenge through those inmates. I was stunned that this would be said in a court of law.

    • What? That is horrible confirmation that people really do see sexual abuse as part of the punishment of prison, and regard same sex rape as a legitimate aspect of the prison system. Well. It’s not—it is cruel and unusual punishment. This is a long, involved topic, and I have not written a full post on it because to do it right is going to be time consuming, but you’ve settled it. This is outrageous, and demeaning to our culture and justice system.

  7. For those folks who think, “I don’t really care, this is not my problem!” it may not be your problem today but, if someone can become a sexual offender and be awarded a place on the public registry for urinating in public, being falsely accused by a soon-to-be ex-wife or angry girlfriend, possession of prepubescent or teen suggestive or abusive images, sexting, etc and have their Constitutional, civil and human rights ignored TODAY what could they put you on a registry for TOMORROW? Think about it.

    VIcki Henry
    Women Against Registry

  8. I think we need a comprehensive reform of the criminal justice system period… too many innocents and nonviolents caught in overcrowded and dangerous prisons with not enough guards to keep the peace and criminal neglect. Too many people whose lives are completely ruined by minor infractions like dating a younger girl. But the politicians won’t do something because being “tough on crime” earns you votes from the majority. It’s barbaric.

  9. Thank you so much for bringing this issue to the surface and allowing me to comment. I am an advocate for registrants. Primarily those who are serving prison sentences for: showing an an*l cleff in public, men whose ex wifes accused them of child molest to gain custody of their children, boys who were in a relationship with a young girl at school (whose parents agreed to it until it became more than “dating”), married couples “parking” in the park, teachers patting a child on the back, men adjusting “their privates” in public and even parents turned in by film processing for having nude pics of their own child in the bath tub!
    All of these offenses have been tried and people sent to prison’s for “sex offenses”. Why? Because the courts do not require anything but the “victims” testimony to convict, due to the rape shied laws! Go figure! Just what this story is about! It protects some, but not others! This country needs to stop wasting tax payers money by incarcerating these “crimes” and by eliminating the registry! It cost my state millions of tax payers dollars to implement and maintain the registry. For what? To look at a young teen boy who thought he was in love, but betrayed by his girlfriend?
    It makes no sense! We need to open our eyes and quit voting for these politicians who claim to be “tough on crime” because they will arrest and convict us all sooner or later!

  10. What’s next are we going to start burning all sex offenders at the stakes just like the witches during the salem witch trials? We have become such a barbaric society and without cause, ryme or reason and in the name of protecting our children. What are we teaching our children by justifying our actions and rationalizing our behaviors? I urge each and every one of you who persecute sex offenders to ask yourself this, when, not if, but when your brother, father, sister, husband, child finds themselves accused of a sex crime will you still feel the same and harbor the the same level of hatred and discontent that you harbor for other sex offenders? Mind you, a sex offense constitutes anything from mooning your classmate to raping a child (both ends of the spectrum is my point) and will you judge your prankster as an equal to a rapist? Points to ponder, wake up America!!!

  11. The sex offender registry is not fair and should be constitutionally banned. Of course, there are those that have committed legitimate crimes against a crime- harming the child for life; but then there are the cases that are first time- no-contact crimes or romeo:juliet cases that should not be included in the severe punishment of this registry. Getting back to the library situation, in Florida while on monitored probation a SO is not allowed to go (or within 1000-2500 SF, depending on the county) of any library, school, park, day-care, or church with day care. Most SO are released from prison and then have to fulfill 5 or more years of this monitoring in addition to their registry for life requirements. In my opinion, this is absurd punishment and causes severe set-backs for those sex offenders who are trying to move on with their lives, such as finding a place to live and gaining employment. Also, in the county where I live the sex offender classes cost $100/per month plus $52/per month for probation and in order to apply for early termination of probation one must complete sex offender classes of which, the classes are geared to last the entire term. When someone gets convicted and is required to take classes there is usually and completion time- 6 months anger management, 12 months DUI, or whatever. It is almost as if the system is set up to not only psychologically and socially but also, financially negatively impact sex offenders and the offender families. Often times this scenario leaves the sex offenders who are not fortunate enough to have a family support system to assist them with these handicaps end up homeless. This is not fair and something needs to be done to change this injustice. In the meantime, the criminal justice system sees a way to profit off of someones mistakes by spending millions on setting up internet stings and undercover operations to indict them??? Confusing injustice.

  12. My son is 31. When he was 17, he had a consenual relationship with a 14 year old girlfriend in high school. When he broke up with her, she cried rape of course. He has spent time in prison and parole, and finished those outrageous penalties successfully. Now he is registered as a sex offender for the rest of his life. There are no jobs, housing, access to entertainment, church attendance and he has to advertise in big bold letters on his driver’s license that he is an offender. The sex offender counseling program was completed and it was the most humiliating and demonizing program you have ever seen. It is a self study program and when he completed it earlier than the other offenders, the counselor had the nerve to tell my son he didn’t deserve the certificate because he completed the program earlier than the others and they were upset. The sexual questions in this program were prepared by some deviant, you just can’t imagine. To sit and watch your own child deteriorate from a happy ambitious young man to a lonely paranoid recluse is heartbreaking. Not only my son, but thousands of people in this country are undergoing the same cruelty and lifelong punishment.

  13. Your story is heart wrenching. The sex offender system has accomplished what is trying to do to all sex offenders and that is not to treat them fairly or give them the tools to move on instead, it is to demoralize them into an isolated life. The sex offender class techniques are immoral and due exactly the opposite of what they should be doing. This week they were role playing. One participant was the victim and the other was the perpetrator in the act of child molestation vocally they had to demonstrate in act in front of everyone. What kind of treatment is that and how can that be rehabilitative?

  14. There is a saying that is frequently used to legitimize demonizing and marginalizing sex offenders–“for the children”. On even cursory examination, it is clear that the sex offender laws have nothing to do with protecting children. They are about revenge and guilt. Children are hurt by sex offenders. The “wronged” want revenge. Others in society feel guilty because those children could not be protected. The guilt is so strong that it is projected back onto the person who committed the crime who then becomes a “monster”. Its “OK” to create this untouchable class because then we don’t have to feel guilty. The monsters been thrown out of town, the children are safe and we have saved the day. The problem with this story is that it is not true. Sex offenders are people, not monsters. The children are not safe because we have ignored the causes of sex crimes and have done nothing to prevent them. In fact, we have left the initial conditions completely intact for others who may be getting ready to offend as well as creating conditions that are ripe for reoffends by putting people who have already served their debt to society in situations where their very instability repeats the internal conditions that led to offense. So we create an untouchable class that puts undamaged children in more danger so we don’t have to feel guilty about the ones who have already been hurt… Does anyone else think this is crazy?

  15. The warden and officers CHOOSE to IGNORE this behavior for fear of an up-rising and basically feel the inmates are sub-equals to them. They are the ones that should be on trial for allowing these things to happen. As far as the Registry and SO-CALLED treatment PROFESSIONALS, well folks that’s all about JUSTIFYING your existence (or job). It keeps people employed and creates jobs for more LAW ENFORCEMENT officers. You can get any law passed if you say “protecting children” is it’s purpose AND get re-elected for doing it. It doesn’t matter if hundreds of thousands have to suffer a “NOTHING LIFE” and MILLIONS of family members right along with them. The WHOLE judicial system in this country needs a OVERHAUL. I served and protected our rights and laws for over 21 years but that was before the politicians and judges starting making laws to keep their jobs and keep their lawyer friends in business…

  16. Nothing much to add, thanks to all the intelligent comments. After we get through actually defining, categorizing, and meting out appropriate punishment for that plethora of incredibly varying “offenses,” let’s get on to other kinds of abuse that go unidentified and thus unpunished.

    Of course, since we are tied up with Obama care, a recession, a new jobs bill that will create no jobs, and now a “snitch-site” for anti-Obama citizens to be identified by others (set up by the Obama administration itself, I might add), I’m pretty sure we just won’t get there.

  17. I am one of those untouchables. And I’m not one of those ones that everyone agrees shouldn’t be on the registry.

    When I first got out of prison and was on probation there was no sex offender registry and wouldn’t be for most of the five years I was on probation. I was able to find work easily, a place to live and had a large support group of family and friends who were aware of my offense and were there for me and helped to ensure that I fulfilled my probation community service and therapy requirements. Once I was on the public registry, 90 % of those people disappeared as they didn’t want to suffer the consequences of guilt by association. Right before my probation ended, the sex offender registry law was passed. Since that time the laws have changed so much, and the interpretation of those laws by the State Police who run the registry has varied so much, that the requirement for me to register and whether I would be on the public or private registry has bounced back forth numerous times from not having to register, to having to register but not be on the on line registry, to having to register and be on the public registry, plus bouncing back and forth between having to register every year to having to register every 90 days. Also when the law was first passed I was suppose to be on it for ten years, but they changed that law to everyone has to be on it for life unless you have a judge remove you …but that’s almost impossible.

    I lived in the same apartment building for ten years with no problems. Then two months into the lease of my tenth year someone posted a copy of my registry page in the lobby and I was informed by the manager my lease wouldn’t be renewed when it expired. She also told me that the only reason was because I was on the registry. And that if I wasn’t, even with my crimes she would gladly rent to me. But after that It was impossible to find another place to live. Every apartment asked if I was on the registry and if I said yes, my application was denied. After a couple of denials and the expense of the application fees I gave up and ended up sleeping on a relatives couch. Eventually we were evicted from that apartment and I ended up living in a run down hotel. I am lucky that a friend who was aware of my being on the registry, although I was unaware she knew at the time, offered me her condo as a place to live.

    My job opportunities have disappeared where once they were numerous even with my felony conviction. I got a great new job recently , the man who hired me was aware of my convictions and my being on the registry, but two weeks into the new job the national office came back and said no. I was fired.

    I use to be able to get out in the community, participate in volunteer activities with my friends, work and have relationships. Now I can’t volunteer anywhere, I have a small handful of friends, work is hard to find and keep and since I was put back on the public registry the number of women who will date me has dried up when before, even with knowing my crime, there were women who were willing to have a relationship with me but wouldn’t do it once my crimes were out there on the internet.

    Now I go to work and come straight home and lock my door and I don’t answer it for anyone unless I know them. My blinds are always shut and I never open the windows. Before the registry even with my horrible crime I was able to reintegrate into society. Since the registry came into existence I’ve become more and more isolated and paranoid. Every interaction I have with every person is clouded with “do they know and if they do is that why I didn’t get the job, the apartment, the invite to the party” etc etc etc.

    And I know its not going to get better; its only going to get worse. There will come a time when I won’t be able to find work and a place to rent. At that point I will have a choice between being unemployed and homeless, and getting money wherever and whenever I can by any means I can to allow me to rent some cheap hotel room.

    I’ve finally said to hell with worrying what people think about me. If people like me fine, if they don’t fine. I don’t care anymore. As long as I don’t do any harm to anyone I don’t care what anyone thinks about me any more and I know that the only one who is going to look out for me is me.

    So society has to ask itself, Which makes you safer? Me pre-registry, where I had a stable well rounded life of friends and activities or me post registry enactment, paranoid, isolated , and only concerned with insuring my own survival?

  18. Yes by all means. While I won’t post my email here , please post a link to your site and if there is a way to contact you I will so I can answer any questions you may have.

      This is our site; it is literally just now finished being redone and still has some missing pieces. I’m not even 100% certain the link works yet to the public, but it will in a day or two if it doesn’t now.
      I am working out how we can get in touch with each other through the site; I’ll get back to you.
      Mr. Marshall, thank you for your kindness.

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