My news assistant is down in Binh Thuan province right now covering the expected release from prison tomorrow of Gary Glitter, the British glam rock star turned pedophile who was convicted in early 2006 of having committed indecent acts with an 11- and a 12-year-old girl he had living in his house in Vung Tau. Meanwhile, my son turned 4 years old Saturday, and on Sunday we had a party for him — went to the circus, then hung out at our house with kids splashing in the inflatable pool on the roof terrace. A friend was over, a Dutch guy, whose kids are spaced just the same as ours and have consequently become bosom buddies, especially our daughters; and we got to talking about the release. He said he thought three years was too short. They should keep them in prison much longer, he said, or castrate them. The guy in question comes from a stratum of Dutch society that would have been very liberal about a decade ago, but that has turned quite brutally conservative on certain issues in a sort of “we-all-think-it-so-why-not-just-say-it?” fashion; they experience their newfound conservatism as a kind of liberation, and it’s also very blunt and honest, which is a quality the Dutch have always valued.
I said I didn’t agree, and he asked why not. I said, well, I thought the penalties for sexually abusing a child were in many cases longer than penalties for crimes that were more severe, like aggravated assault. I immediately hesitated: do I actually think aggravated assault is worse than sexually abusing a child? Yes, I think I do think that, maybe; I’m not sure that children who are involved in sexual relations with adults are always badly harmed by the experience, but I suppose many are, it depends on the length of the involvement, and so forth. Then again, aggravated assault doesn’t necessarily result in lasting damage…now we begin to get into metaphysical questions about what we mean by “hurt” or “damage”. I don’t know, I’m not sure what I think. But in any case you can’t really say something like that to a parent, and certainly not to a parent of kids who are friends with yours, because you immediately taint yourself with the stain of pedophilia. Insufficient vigilance against pedophilia = ped-symp = maybe being a pedophile yourself…?
So then I tried another tack. The thing is, I said, they don’t really get cured of it very often; it’s a deepset psychological condition, and what do you plan to do with them, lock them up forever?
Yes, he said. Or castrate them.
So now I was really struggling to express why I thought this was wrong. I was floundering. So I tried something else out, something that started with the different political contexts we were approaching this question from. Look, I said, you come from a country that hands out very light penalties for many crimes, penalties I often find ridiculously light. I, however, come from a country in which, if you have committed a sex crime — and it can be any sex crime, maybe you exposed yourself on a subway platform, whatever — your name gets entered in a database, and after you get out of prison, your residential address gets tracked in that database. And they put that database up on a website, and anyone can go to that website and see who you are, where you live, and, oh, you committed a sex crime ten years ago. You never escape. And meanwhile, it drives mothers (yes, I said “mothers”, whoops) crazy. Because they can see, oh, can’t let the kids play on this block, can’t let the kids play on that block, and pretty soon they’re completely paranoid, and you wind up with a society where no one will let their kids go outside or walk anywhere in the neighborhood, you have to put them in the car and drive them everywhere, and it’s ridiculous, it’s a bad society to live in. And it’s true that people who are sexually attracted to children are likely to try to have sex with children again after release from prison, but you can’t simply lock people up for the rest of their lives if you suspect they may commit a crime. It’s gotten to the point, I said, where nearly one percent of the US’s population is in prison. And you can’t run a society that way.
He seemed to find this a comprehensible explanation of where I was coming from, but I kept thinking about it, and some hours later I thought the other way to say this is: you say “imagine if it was your kid who was abused.” Well, okay, but imagine if it was your kid who was the abuser? What if 25 years from now your son gets arrested for trying to arrange sex with a 12-year-old? It’s a psychological disorder, it could be any of us. Castration? Life in prison?
I’d appealed to the sex offender websites as an illustration of a paranoia in American society, but I had never actually looked at one of those sites, and I wondered whether I was wrong. (In retrospect I think I was exaggerating with the “expose yourself” example; I think that’s a misdemeanor. I think you have to at a minimum solicit sex with a minor on the internet to get on the sex offenders’ list.) So I went and looked at the sex offenders registry for the District of Columbia, my old hometown. And there, indeed you can look up all the 800 or so sex offenders in DC, see what block they live on, their mug shot, and what they were convicted of. It even has the victim’s age. This black guy seems to be from Africa judging by his name, he tried to have sex with a 15-year-old in 1995. This white guy with the tie tried to cross state lines to engage in indecent activity with a minor in 2000. The victim was a stranger. You wonder: boy? Girl? Internet chat? Or the old fashioned way, creepy guy at a mall? Either way, his life as a respected, self-respecting citizen is over. Everybody in his neighborhood knows. It’s the end of his life in society.
You can’t look down that list without feeling sick at heart. And I am sure you couldn’t look down a list of the victims without feeling at least as sick at heart. Human beings are weak, pathetic creatures. I can’t look at these people and feel the response is “prison for life” or “castration”.
Filed under: Sex
Along the same lines as the previous post, it seems transparently clear, as Lawrence Lessig argues, that judge Alex Kozinski of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals is getting railroaded by insane puritans. The so-called “pornographic website” he allegedly hosted was an online storage drive for private materials not open to the public. The so-called pornographic materials and “bestiality” were a funny video widely shown on YouTube of a guy trying to take a dump in a field and getting chased by a donkey, and some other ostensibly humorous photos of women painted to look like cows, which I think I’ve seen somewhere around and which are arguably in very poor taste but are simply not pornography. Not that it would matter if the stuff were hardcore pornography — it’s a private online storage site and the guy is entitled to watch whatever he wants. But what’s exceptionally disgusting in this case, as Lessig says, is that in fact the material isn’t pornography, and yet it’s being reported all over the world that it is. Which, if you were Kozinski, would surely make your hair stand on end.
What possible legal remedy could there be for this kind of situation? It appears that about 90% of the world’s journalists have no professional standards whatsoever. When I see this kind of stuff I think it should simply be illegal to broadcast a television news show or publish a newspaper or online news site.
Filed under: Sex
I love Lawyers, Guns and Money, and generally like Bean’s posts. That said, printing an image of women in bikinis is not misogynist. In a broader sense, it is true that there is a lot of misogyny in America these days that’s being grossly tolerated by broadcast media who have a moral obligation to do better, but I really don’t look forward to a return of those aspects of early-90s political correctness that genuinely were stupidly anti-sexual and anti-aesthetic.
The David Brooks fact-free zone in all its picturesque idiocy:
American schools are awash in moral instruction — on sex, multiculturalism, environmental awareness and so on — and basically none of it works. Sex ed doesn’t change behavior. Birth control education doesn’t produce measurable results. The fact is, schools are ineffectual when it comes to values education. You can put an adult in front of a classroom or an assembly, and that adult can emit words, but don’t expect much impact
And now, for a word from the actual universe we live in, we turn to the Alan Guttmacher Institute’s interview with Douglas Kirby, researcher on adolescent sexual behavior for over 25 years and author of the landmark 2001 study Emerging Answers: Research Findings on Programs to Reduce Teen Pregnancy, which “analyzed the impact evaluations of more than 100 teenage pregnancy prevention programs across the country that met rigorous research standards,” and which Kirby is currently updating for 2007.
The evidence that comprehensive programs work has only become stronger over time. In a recent review of some 80 studies that measure the impact of comprehensive programs, two in three programs had a significant positive impact on behavior. Many either delayed or reduced sexual activity, or increased condom or contraceptive use. At least 10 interventions had long-term behavioral effects lasting two or more years; some lasted three or more years—as long as the effects were measured.
What is particularly encouraging about the evidence from these studies of comprehensive sex and HIV education programs is that when some curricula that were found to be effective in one study were implemented by other educators in other states and evaluated by independent research teams, they remained effective if they were implemented with fidelity in the same type of setting and with similar youth.
Abstinence-only sex ed doesn’t work. Comprehensive sex ed does. It’s a typical response of ideological hacks, when their policies fail miserably, to argue that the problem isn’t with their policy — it’s with those damn teenagers (or Iraqis) who were too stupid to respond to their policy. Or with the very concept of policy in general. Or something.