If we don’t like sex offenders..
If We Don’t Like Sex Offenders…
By Melanie Blow
We want to do every imaginable bad thing to sex offenders.. except convict them
Representative Hurst of Alabama just introduced a bill to castrate sex offenders. Many of us will agree. We all hate sex offenders. We’re happy to execute them, but the Supreme Court said we can’t. Legislation calling for their castration gets introduced regularly, always with thunderous cheers.
The only thing we don’t like doing with sex offenders is convicting them.
In broad strokes, our attitude to those who sexually abuse children makes sense. After all, we’ve all heard a survivor talk about being sexually abused as a child on TV. It is one of the ten Adverse Childhood Experiences that cause permanently harm children’s health and tarnish their futures.
We expect America to be a country where accusations of child sexual abuse are dealt with by highly trained professionals who stop at nothing to convict the guilty. We expect everyone to understand the complex nature of the abuse, its victims, and its perpetrators. And we don’t expect to see unnecessary hurdles on the conviction process.
But as much as we don’t like sex offenders, we also don’t like convicting them. We hate them so much, we can’t believe people we know could do such a thing. We think sex offenders live in a parallel universe, occasionally sneaking into our neighborhoods to molest our kids, without any adults’ knowledge. The idea that we all can like, trust and even love a sex offender is insulting, horrifying, and hard to digest.
When someone we like, trust or love is accused of sexually abusing a child we can either believe the child is wrong, or we are. That’s a hard choice. Research shows that when a child discloses sexual abuse they normally don’t receive a protective response from the person they disclose to, most often the child’s mother. When children disclose, we don’t believe them. When adults disclose, we tend not to think of them kindly, and Statutes of Limitations on the crime generally keep them out of court. And when a child’s mother believes they were sexually abused by their father and the mother tries to protect them, the family court systems often stymies those efforts.
If a child you care about says they were sexually abused, you imagine you’d carry that child onto your white horse, take them to the nearest police station, and ensure they are safe. Realistically, the person this child will name as their abuser is your spouse, parent, child, best friend, or someone else you truly love and trust. A lot of things will factor into your decision to call the authorities. One of them is what you believe will happen to the alleged abuser if they are guilty. If you believe this person you care about will spend time behind bars, but then be able to rebuild their life, you’re a lot more likely to contact the authorities than if you believe they face mutilation or death. And you won’t be the only one worried about such things. Abusers are often the most important person in their victims’ lives. Victims rarely want to hurt their abuser, and often fear separation from them. Initially, children often feel guilty for “causing” their abuser’s arrest.
When the topic of the death penalty for sex offenders came before the supreme court, subject matter experts unanimously said it was a bad idea. The general consensus was that it provides no real deterrent, but it makes the victim’s family much less likely to cooperate.
As satisfying as a bill to castrate sex offenders may be for Representative Hurst, there are some other things he can do to keep kids safe. For starters, he can introduce legislation eliminating the Statute of Limitations on child sexual abuse in Alabama. Alabama is currently considered one of the best states for sex offenders, based on its unenforceable laws. He can introduce the Safe Child Act, which will protect children in family court.
And other positive, significant thing he can do is ensure adults in Alabama are educated about child sexual abuse. Educating adults about child sexual abuse, and normalizing discussion about it, helps people realize their child can be abused, in their neighborhood by their family or friends. It also teaches them how to protect their children, and how to recognize unhealthy relationships and situations. It’s not as satisfying as castration, but it’s likely to actually protect kids.