Australia Embraces Pre-Crime

It is crucial to understand is that if you are willing to discard ethical values as soon as they become inconvenient, you never really accepted them in the first place.

Thus  Australia’s looming decision to take away the passports of previously convicted pedophiles because officials are sure that some of them are taking child sex “vacations” to Asian nations active in the illegal trade tells us that when it is crunch time down under, ethics is disposable.

Under a proposed new law backed by the Prime Minister and the judiciary that still needs to be approved by the Australian Parliament, registered child sex offenders will lose their Australian passports as a draconian measure aimed at preventing  pedophiles from abusing children in foreign lands. Advocates proudly call the policy a “world first” in the fight against child sex tourism.

They don’t get it, but then, many people don’t. Many American communities continue to oppress registered sex offenders after they have paid their debts to society, restricting their access to public places like libraries and parks. Vigilante groups publish their addresses so they are subject to harassment and worse. The Constitution, however, limits the extent of the abuse, though that still doesn’t make what many registered sex offenders endure just or fair. Australia has no such limitation.

“The Australian” reports that the law would affect an estimated 20,000 registered offenders who have served their sentences but are still under supervision. Last year, approximately 800 Australian registered child sex offenders traveled overseas. Half of them went to Southeast Asia, where child sex-trafficking is epidemic. Nobody knows how many of the 400 or so travelers actually engaged in the criminal activity, but never mind: Think of the children! Undoubtedly some of the past offenders were traveling to do disgusting things to innocents, and if even one child is saved….well, you know the rationalizations.  Here are the ones the Australians appear to be relying upon:

  1. The Saint’s Excuse: “It’s for a good cause”
  2. The Comparative Virtue Excuse: “There are worse things.”
  3. The Coercion Myth: “I have no choice!”
  4. The Revolutionary’s Excuse: “These are not ordinary times.”
  5. The Altruistic Switcheroo: “It’s for his own good” 
  6. The Troublesome Luxury: “Ethics is a luxury we can’t afford right now”
  7. Victim Blindness, or “They/He/She/ You should have seen it coming.”
  8. The Maladroit’s Diversion, or “Nobody said it would be easy!”
  9. The Desperation Dodge or “I’ll do anything!”
  10. TheApathy Defense, or “Nobody Cares.”
  11. The Universal Trump, or “Think of the children!”
  12. The Golden Rule Mutation, or “I’m all right with it!”
  13. The Ironic Rationalization, or “It’s The Right Thing To Do”

The primary theory here, however, is “the ends justify the means.’

“This new legislation represents the toughest crackdown on child sex tourism by any government, anywhere,” Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said, while noting that Australia is “determined to prevent the sexual exploitation of vulnerable young children overseas.” The “crackdown” means that over 20,000 law-abiding Australian citizens will have their right to travel taken away because of what some of 400 travelers to Southeast Asia might have done.

This is pre-crime. The proposed law, and there is little chance that it won’t pass, punishes people who might commit a crime before they do, taking away the basic human right to go where they want to go because they have a particular history or characteristic in common with actual offenders. Maybe some child trafficking will be curtailed.

This end does not justify the means. The fact that the culture in Australia has come to believe it does should constitute a warning that human rights are not sufficiently safe there.

 

23 Comments

Filed under Around the World, Childhood and children, Gender and Sex, Government & Politics, Law & Law Enforcement, Rights

23 responses to “Australia Embraces Pre-Crime

  1. I can’t wait to see the smearing arguments that imply or state that being against such laws means that you’re pro child sex abuse.

  2. deery

    Just so I’m clear about the reach of this law, it takes away the passports of people who are out of prison, but still under parole/court supervision? If so, and that is the extent of it, I’m ok with this law.

    • Not under parole. Just required to report their whereabouts for the rest of their lives. They cannot be sent back to jail without committing an actual crime.

      • But Australia was a prison colony, so old habits die hard….

      • deery

        After reading more about it, I realize I don’t know enough about Australia’s laws and how their sex offender registry compares to others like it in the US. It doesn’t seem like a lifetime registry, for one.

        One article I read noted that the offenders are still able to travel overseas, but that they must get permission beforehand, and it must be for legitimate business or family reasons.

        Some states here ban felons from voting even after they’ve served their time, or makes them jumps through a lot of hoops to regain that right. And that’s all felons, not just the sex offender ones.

        I find I’m a little torn here. Is a restricted ability of someone to who has already committed the crime that lead to the restriction (so not exactly pre-crime) worth the protection of hundreds of innocent children? Are after-prison release restrictions on people ethical? Is that considered part of the “sentence”? Don’t know yet. Will have to ponder a bit more.

        • That is correct: They are supposed to inform authorities if they travel.

          The banning of convicted felons from voting is some states isn’t pre-crime; it’s part of the punishment for the previous crime, and on the books as such.

          • deery

            But wouldn’t that be the same case in Australia once the law is enacted?

            • The stated and explicit rationale for the proposed law, as in the quote included, is to prevent future sex trafficking. “This new legislation represents the toughest crackdown on child sex tourism by any government, anywhere,” Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said, while noting that Australia is “determined to prevent the sexual exploitation of vulnerable young children overseas.” So additional punishemnet is not the rationale nor the justification. Pre-crime restrictions of rights is.

              But yours is a very good question.

              • Chris

                Interesting that the stated rationale/justification of the law matters in this case, but not in the case of Trump’s travel ban…

                But no, placing restrictions on people who are convicted felons is not pre-crime, it is post-crime. And this is much more defensible than preventing convicted felons from voting, as there is a much stronger connection between travel and child molestation than there is between voting and knocking over a 7-11.

    • I’m not sure how it works in Australia, but in the United States, a sex offender on a registry who has served his sentence is no longer in prison, nor is any longer on probation or parole. But the registration requirement lingers. In Wyoming, registration is for life, but if the crime was considered not so severe, an offender can petition to be removed from the registry after 10 years or 25 years (depending on the offense) of clean behavior. So, no, these offenders are not necessarily on parole. The supervision I would guess (and please correct me, if I’m wrong) refers to the fact the offenders still have to register with authorities and notify them when leaving the country.

      In my research into sex offense laws, I have found registration of sex offenders to be a way to re-sentence sex offenders without having to go through courts. A sex offender on registration may not have his name on the internet or publicly disseminated because he was originally deemed low risk, but find his name put on the internet when the state decides to abolish risk categories and put all offenders on the web. This happen in Wyoming 2007. The rules about where a sex offender can live can change. It might start at 750 feet from a school, and later increase to 1000 feet from a school, park, or daycare. Some states have put it at one to two miles from any place where minors might congregate. Every time some politician decides he wants to make a stand against sex offenses, he can push for new legislation that effectively forces all sex offenders on the registry to follow even stricter regulations. Recidivism rates for sex offenders are pretty low, much lower than most other crimes. This means that, effectively, every time a new law is passed requiring offenders on the registry to follow even more strenuous guidelines, they are either being sentenced again for the crime they’ve already been sentenced for, or they are being sentenced for a crime they have not yet, and most likely will not even commit.

      The correct way to handle the situation is to pass laws saying, “Starting at [X date in the future], all offenders convinced under [these statues] and sentenced after [X date in the future] will no longer be issued a passport.” Yes, it means that some sex offenders who will go on to re-offend will get passports to other countries. But let’s examine for a minute what goal we’re trying to achieve. If we want to make sure no one at all travels to another country to molest children, why not revoke everyone’s passport, since there are undoubtedly people who have not been caught who are traveling to other countries to molest children? If we admit that we cannot completely stop the practice, but can at least curtail it, why not go the route that does not continue to trample on people who wouldn’t commit another crime anyway?

      It is political grandstanding, taking measures that are not particularly effective, but using a group that is universally loathed as a punching bag to earn political points.

  3. Steve-O-in-NJ

    Hmmmm. This isn’t per se punishment the way prison time or a fine is, but it isn’t simply the stripping of a privilege the way taking away one’s driving privilege or voting privilege might be. This is a deprivation of liberty, and should be treated as such. That said, I wouldn’t call this pre-crime, since it’s not ONLY depriving someone of liberty because of what they MIGHT do. All of the individuals in this matter appear to have something on their records already that marks them as dangerous and deviant. Presumably, however, whatever custodial sentences were going to impose have been imposed and served. However, as adding an additional punishment it appears to be an ex post facto law, adding a new punishment onto a crime already adjudicated by legislative means. This was specifically disallowed by the Constitution. POSSIBLY an argument could be constructed that this is only an administrative penalty, therefore the same protections that apply for custodial sentences shouldn’t apply, like the right to trial by jury only attaching if 6 months imprisonment or an equivalent is at stake, however, I think the stripping of someone’s right to leave the country is close enough to that level of custodial sentence that all protections should apply.

    I am the last person to think convicted actual child rapists should be cut any kind of break. If you are an uncle who regularly took nieces into the woods and had your way with them, or a clergyman who tricked or intimidated altar servers into servicing YOU, or anything similar, then you deserve to rot in jail for life, or if you get out, to be marked as a danger to society. Those are the kind of offenders who shouldn’t even be considered for release if they have gotten very old, because they could still play the nice grandfather type and reoffend. That said, not all offenders rise to this level. Like sexual assault, abuse of children comes in a lot of gray areas that can produce disproportionate response. The guy who looked at pictures online where models were underage but not marked as such, the guy who thought no one else was around and urinated in an alley just as some kid came to the window, etc., while worthy of being scorned as stupid, are not worthy of extremely heavy consequences.

    It’s also not really one country’s role to protect the people of other nations from its own citizens, any more than it was Belgium’s role during the GWB administration to give itself sweeping powers to arrest, try, and punish any human rights abuse, anywhere in the world, which it only backed off when threatened with the loss of NATO headquarters. It’s for the governments of Thailand and Cambodia and the Philippines to crack down on sex trading within their own borders, and it’s their shame that it is still rampant, particularly with underage girls. It’s for the governments of Russia and eastern Europe to curb rampant pornography and worse in their nations. It’s also for these nations to decide who they will allow in. I would have no problem with any Western nation marking someone’s passport with a barcode or whatever that the individual was a convicted sex offender, so that when the immigration officer runs the passport, the information will pop. If the authorities wherever decide that, based on that, they don’t want to let you enter their nation, well, then that’s their prerogative. Your own nation doesn’t get to say that you can never leave, though.

    Something inside me really blenches at writing some of this, I have to say. As a photographer, I know it’s all too easy to take an image of someone you don’t even know, including kids, who doesn’t even know they are being photographed, and later use it for nefarious purposes. As a longtime follower of classical crossover music, where they regularly trot out underage girls in gowns and makeup like grown women, singing in faux-operatic voices, I’ve seen the gushing posts on webpages by men old enough to be these artists’ dads and the gatherings of fans with varying degrees of gray in their hair and fat around their middles…and not a wife or girlfriend in sight. As someone who’s in touch with popular culture I’ve seen the rich, the good-looking, and the powerful have their pick of lovers and spouses a LOT younger than the 1/2+7 that is considered socially acceptable, which they cheerfully use and discard. It all disgusts me, and the idea of someone who’s done worse than that travelling into the east to pick up some 16yo and have his way with her for money disgusts me still more. That said, laws like the failed attempt here in NJ to criminalize photography of any child not one’s own, proposals like one to limit the sale of concert tickets for certain performers to men, and so on are worse, because they are attempts to overregulate ordinary behavior, and a law like the proposed one is still worse, for the reasons outlined above.

    • Mrs. Q

      “It’s for the governments of Thailand and Cambodia and the Philippines to crack down on sex trading within their own borders, and it’s their shame that it is still rampant, particularly with underage girls. It’s for the governments of Russia and eastern Europe to curb rampant pornography and worse in their nations. It’s also for these nations to decide who they will allow in. I would have no problem with any Western nation marking someone’s passport with a barcode or whatever that the individual was a convicted sex offender, so that when the immigration officer runs the passport, the information will pop. If the authorities wherever decide that, based on that, they don’t want to let you enter their nation, well, then that’s their prerogative. Your own nation doesn’t get to say that you can never leave, though.”

      I couldn’t agree more.

  4. DC Guy

    This is a classic example of the one-way ratchet, which is a looming threat to any disfavored group. Politicians run on ratcheting up punishments for pedophiles because it’s easy, politically popular, and no one can ever oppose it without being accused of being unconcerned with child abuse.
    And not only does the ratchet go unopposed, it’s impossible to ratchet back down, because no politician would ever run on a platform of reducing sentences for pedophiles. And so every time a politician wants an easy victory, the punishment just gets ratcheted up and up and up with no relief. Despite having served their time, convicted pedophiles will always be at risk for new laws like this.

    And this is wrong. In order to be just, punishment must be proportional; a conscientious society recognizes that overpunishment is itself unjust, and so we have at least some constitutional safeguards against it (even apart from the 8th Amendment, the ex post facto and double jeopardy provisions protect against this kind of thinking). But political expediency is what it is, and in order to avoid being labeled soft on crime, politicians ratchet and ratchet and ratchet, and we get laws like this.

    • DC Guy wrote, “And this is wrong. In order to be just, punishment must be proportional; a conscientious society recognizes that overpunishment is itself unjust, and so we have at least some constitutional safeguards against it (even apart from the 8th Amendment, the ex post facto and double jeopardy provisions protect against this kind of thinking). But political expediency is what it is, and in order to avoid being labeled soft on crime, politicians ratchet and ratchet and ratchet, and we get laws like this.”

      Interesting viewpoint on how we got to where we are.

    • John Billingsley

      DC Guy wrote, “In order to be just, punishment must be proportional; a conscientious society recognizes that overpunishment is itself unjust, and so we have at least some constitutional safeguards against it (even apart from the 8th Amendment, the ex post facto and double jeopardy provisions protect against this kind of thinking).”

      Twenty states and the federal government have laws that allow for an individual convicted of a sexual crime to be committed to a mental institution for an indefinite period of time after serving all of their original criminal sentence. In some cases, these civil commitment laws were passed after the individual had already been convicted of the original crime. To me this would seem to raise both double jeopardy and in some cases ex post facto concerns, but the Supreme Court has ruled that it does not.

      Basically, an individual who has served all their judicial punishment can be taken to a civil hearing where the standard of proof is preponderance of the evidence and potentially be locked up for the rest of their life. There have been many people confined under these laws. This appears to me to be another way the state has found to “overpunish” these individuals.

      The American Psychiatric Association has taken a stand against these laws as representing an assault on the integrity of psychiatry in bending civil commitment laws to serve non-medical purposes. I don’t know what the length of sentences should be for various sexual crimes, but if society feels the sentence should be life in prison, throw away the key, then write the statute that way and sentence the perpetrator after a proper criminal trial.

  5. We had a man down the street from us arrested for sexual abuse of high schoolers a few years ago. Having a child myself I got interested in the case, and the followup to it and the rules. There are some really horrible people out there, and anyone who sexually abuses a kid should be thrown in jail and left there. On the other hand, those that were for lesser sex offenses, tend to have low recidivism rates, and an amazing amount of them were put on the registry as minors themselves (usually Romeo & Juliet situations, or having pictures of another minor). Who then are labeled as sex offenders for the rest of their lives in a lot of states. Since the sex offender registry is not considered a punishment (it’s considered a civil law for safety), it’s continued. Even though the laws based on being on it have gotten very severe. It’s a tough one, as while some people deserve being on it, most of the rise in this has come from the safety hysteria gripping everyone. I don’t even think it’s effective, as nothing stops someone from committing a crime if they want to. It’s more a drain on money and police resources then anything else.

    Didn’t the US pass their own law recently about passports? I thought they would now have the actual words “Sex offender” printed on their passports. They used the same justification as Australia, that some of them may be going overseas to engage in sex trafficing.

  6. LF wilburn

    The same holds true for felons in this country. No voting rights, no matter the felony. Unable to get good jobs because of background checks. Now there is talk of taking away food stamps from felons just because they committed a crime, got arrested, and served their time but are unable to get a job. Even if the charges are dropped the arrests stays on the background check. It’s so hypocritical when our own citizens are treated this way but we like to present ourselves as a compassionate country. Even a misdemeanor can disqualify them from some places of employment. Additionally, in the area where I live if you every get arrested you are guilty even if the case is dismissed and your name is mud with law enforcement no matter your race.

  7. Spartan

    Pre-crime anti-liberty measures only are appropriate when dealing with foreign Muslims.

  8. Sue Dunim

    From the state of Victoria’s SERIOUS SEX OFFENDERS (DETENTION AND SUPERVISION) ACT 2009 – SECT 12
    Period of supervision order

    (1) Unless sooner revoked, the period of a supervision order is the period (not exceeding 15 years) determined by the court and specified in the order.

    (2) If an offender who is subject to a supervision order commences to serve a custodial sentence or is taken into custody on remand after the commencement of the order, the time spent in serving that sentence or in custody on remand is to be taken into account in calculating the remaining period of the order.

    (3) However the offender is not subject to the conditions of the order while the offender is serving that sentence or is in custody on remand.

    (4) The offender becomes subject to the conditions of the supervision order again on the offender’s release on parole or at the end of the custodial sentence, whichever is earlier.

    (5) If an offender is subject to a supervision order and is sentenced to a community-based disposition, the community-based disposition is to be served concurrently with the operation of the supervision order.

    http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/vic/consol_act/ssoasa2009517/s12.html

    Other Australian states have similar laws,

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