Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Dear Senators Benefield, Smitherman, and Denton,
I am writing to you today in opposition to your proposed Senate Bill 48, the proposed law to ban sex offenders from "social websites."
I am a former sex offender residing in Sheffield, Alabama, and a nationally-known civil rights advocate for the rights of individuals who have completed their sentences. I was granted a partial pardon, restoring my voting rights, from this state in May 2007, a powerful testament to my status as a reformed individual. My primary web address is www.oncefallen .com, but I use certain sites like Twitter and Google Blogspot to showcase my authorship and writings. In addition, I am involved in a national movement to reform well-intentioned but ill-conceived laws, which also utilize forums and sites that could be considered "social networking sites" under your proposed bill.
I am very concerned your bill gives a harsher penalty for simply participating in a social networking site than someone who has actual physical contact with a child. I would also like to point out that many social networking sites ban the access or use of their services by minors, FaceBook allows 13-year-olds, and MySpace 14-year-olds to access such sites, which also allow adults on said sites. Even without age restrictions, there is no way to monitor every internet activity. [See http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1156136/Children-exposed-pornography-prostitution-drugs-Twitter.html]
In addition, your bill is not very clear as to what is licit and illicit use. For example, I use Twitter [http://twitter.com/oncefallenbook] as a way to advertise my book and website, as well as keeping my followers up to date on the latest must-read articles, research papers, and site updates. By virtue of the fact that the aforementioned article states Twitter has no explicit age restrictions, this would mean I'd be in violation of this law and be incarcerated for 20 years, with no good time or parole, simply because I have a Twitter account.
In passing this bill, you will be criminalizing legitimate uses for the internet or sites that could be deemed social networking sites. For example, I have posted online responses to articles at the Montgomery Advertiser website. As with many sites, the Montgomery Advertiser has a profile page as a registered member of the site, and you have to be a registered member in order to post comments. And children could theoretically access my Montgomery Advertiser profile. Thus, by exercising my First Amendment right to comment on a public message board, I'd be a Class B felon in this state, and I'd serve more time than if I had touched a child. In addition, places that offer both IM services and email, such as “Yahoo!,” would fall under these laws, as the profiles connected to the service could possibly be accessed by children.
This bill is difficult to enforce, but could be subject to abuses. It only takes a couple of minutes to create a new account. I could even create an account in the name of a Senator if the name is unused by a certain service; as I’ve discovered as a victim of online harassment, my identity can be used by someone else in the commission of a crime. There are also anonymous browsers, web services, and netbooks/ PDAS/ notebook computers to mask illegal activity. What would be next? Will registrants unable to use or possess cell phones or portable computers? On one hand, criminals could easily circumvent the law; on the other hand, reformed registrants using web services for legitimate enterprises could be locked away for years or decades!
Courts have ruled against many restrictions that criminalize normally legal activities [see Johnson et al. v. City of Cincinnati, 2002 FED App. 0332P (6th Cir.), cert. denied, US Supreme Court case no. 02-1452]. In addition, courts have ruled that the mere suspicion that one might engage in illicit activity is not enough to justify punishment [see US v. Cintolo, 818 F. 2d. 980, 1003 (1987), Tot v. US, 319 US 463 (1943), and Robinson v. California, 270 US 660 (1962)].
Studies have shown the fear of "online predators" is grossly exaggerated, and laws directed at "online predators" fail because of our misconceptions regarding online “predators” [Janis Wolak, David Finkelhor, Kimberly J. Mitchell, and Michele L. Ybarra. "Online 'Predators' and their victims." American Psychologist, Vol. 63 No. 2 February-March 2008). Sadly, we’ve based our perceptions of the nature of online solicitation by watching re-runs of “To Catch a Predator;” many of those cases on that show were thrown out in court. Studies have shown most teens solicited online for sex were from their peer group. Also interesting to note is in the study of online solicitation, not one online solicitation resulted in physical contact [http://www.csicop.org/si/show/predator_panic_a_closer_look/].
The vast majority of sex crime arrests are of people not on the sex offender registry, i.e. first time offenders. We’d spend millions of dollars on an expensive law that will do nothing to prevent crime, yet we won’t spend a dime on treatment and prevention programs. We spend millions on long periods of incarceration, denial of parole, and good time, but not a dime to treat the offender to become a productive citizen upon his or her release. We’ll spend millions to incarcerate a teen for “sexting,” but not one dime to educate our youth on sexual responsibility and accountability .
Thus, I implore you to look long and hard at this law and realize it is nothing more than another piece of well-intentioned but poorly designed laws. It is time Alabama learns to do what is RIGHT rather than what is popular. The thought of spending millions to incarcerate people, who simply use the internet to make a living, protest or petition our government, or even keep up with family and loved ones, is simply appalling. In regards to certain sites like Face Book and MySpace, they do not allow registrants to use their services in the first place; however, the potential for abuse of these laws and overextending of the punishments to legitimate purposes of this law is unconstitution al, and likely to be successfully challenged in a court of law.
I am most troubled there is no disclaimer on your state website regarding the abuse of registry information (thus allowing vigilantes to target registrants and family members without recourse), while simultaneously pushing a bill barring registrants from legitimate enterprises. At what point do we, as a society, put a stop to draconian punishments of those who have finished their sentences and stop sliding down the slippery slope of Predator Panic? I hope you do the right thing and repeal support for this terrible law.
Thursday, January 14, 2010
Of all the comments I read from the CNN article on civil commitment on Jan. 12, 2010, none touched me more this comment from someone using the screen name "nowathriver." I'm not against punishment or sex offenders, but I also believe in healing and therapy for both offender and victim to put an end to the cycle of abuse and address the root causes of sexual offending.
I couldn't even hold a candle to this comment.
"No, it's not worse than murder. I recovered from three years of being raped beginning at the age of seven. I am married, happy, educated, and a productive member of society. Your comments suggests that I would be better off dead. I find that insulting. Many people feel that those of us who were once victims can never recover and that is simply not true. While there are some who struggle all of their lives there are many of us who actually are strengthened by what happened to us. I was asked once if I could go back in time would I changed what happened to me. I replied no. It is part of who I am now and I use my experience to help others. Please do not tell a survivor that their living is worse than death. That is just an awful thing to say.
What is needed is more access to affordable therapy for survivors. I'm thankful that articles like this get people talking about the topic so that it is not hidden behind secrecy and shame. Survivors need to know that it is never their fault and that the adult had all the power. Therapy works and survivors need more access to it."
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
Response: If that is all you have to add, save it for the sharks in the message boards. Its not worthy of a reply. Of course, this is the cowardly crap I expect from AZU/ Pee-J cultists. I have more important things to do than waste my time on obscenity-filled diatribes.
Response: Please DO NOT try to use God to justify hate mail. I may be rusty on my Biblical knowledge, but I know that:
A: The context of the "whoever harms a child should have a millstone tied to his neck and cast into the sea" is in Matthew 18. The passage calls ALL believers Children of God, we're to approach God as lowly as a child, and also warns us about abusing the grace God gives us in the parable at the end of the chapter.
B: The "Mark of Cain" in Genesis chapter 4 is a MARK OF PROTECTION FROM WOULD BE VIGILANTES. Cain, though punished, was still given a chance to marry and have a family and start a tribe.
C: While God does punish, God also teaches rehabilitation. If God simply killed, then David, Solomon, St. Paul, St. Peter, Noah, Moses and virtually every Biblical hero would have been dead long before their time. The Bible teaches a little thing called MERCY, and Christians seem to gloss over that.
Also, if you're going to throw out a stat, you better be ready to QUOTE YOUR SOURCE. Teresa, where's your proof of the 99% stat?
Finally, don't assume you know anything about me. You obviously didn't even read my "about me page."
Its a good idea to never, EVER, send hate mail from your place of employment. L's boss was not pleased with wasting company time to harass someone over the internet.
Also, again with the assumptions. People have been so trained to equate sex offender with raped and murdered child, they cannot see beyond it. I put what I did up on front street, and you're free to believe it or not, but facts are facts: http://www.oncefallen.com/aboutme.html
Finally, people need to read up on the facts. Please, when debating me bring references, because in a debate I'm armed to the teeth with facts. See http://www.oncefallen.com/SOMyths.html
This addresses many of the typical responses I received from haters. If you disagree with me fine, but if you try to feed me a load of shiitake, I'll call you on it, and if you debate, use FACTS not FICTION!
Monday, January 11, 2010
Why the Adam Walsh Act is Unconstitutional
Congress knew the Adam Walsh Act was unconstitutional from the very beginning. The AWA began as the Child Protection and Safety Act of 2005, but stalled out in both the House and the Senate. Then John Walsh began his crusade to resurrect this stymied bill. During the lobbying campaign for the AWA, John Walsh had told critics that he suggested electronic implants in the anuses of sex offenders and "if they go outside the radius, explode it, and that would send a big message." His wife, Reve, suggested asking those stymieing the AWA if they molested kids or had child porn on their computers. (Lisa de Morales, "Summer Press Tour, Day 16: An Explosive Interview," Washington Post, Wed., July 26, 2006, C7). He gained the backing of disgraced Florida Congressman Mark Foley to help push this bill through a "special" legislative session. These special sessions are reserved for "emergency" provisions such as disaster relief, or any legislation expected to have no opposition. Thus, there was no hearing and no opportunity for opponents to challenge this law. Even Senator Kennedy was pressured to drop hate crime legislation he attached to the bill (ibid.). After the bill was passed, Attorney General was given the power of "interim rule" by Congress (violating Separation of Powers); interim rule allowed Gonzalez to bypass proper procedure. One of the provisions he passed was the retroactive application of the law (violating ex post facto).
The AWA, like all other sex offender legislation, has been argued the same way by those passing these laws, namely, that these laws are meant to be "regulatory/ civil" rather than "punitive/ criminal." This argument effectively bypasses all constitutional safeguards! However, when it has been successfully argued such laws are indeed punitive, there have been victories against sex offender legislation.
Ohio is one of the first states to pass the AWA. Much like their US counterparts, the state legislators held a closed-door "special" session. Under the new law "SB 10," many offenders would be reclassified, many raised to a Tier III. Also, those who were no longer required to register would have to continue registering for at least five more years. In Hamilton County alone, an extra 800 people would join the 350 already on Tier III (Sharon Coolidge, "Sex Offenders face tough rules" Cincinnati Enquirer, Dec. 29, 2007). As of this writing, over a thousand RSOs have filed litigation against the AWA. The Ohio Public Defenders' Office is handling many of these cases, as it is now considered a criminal matter. Among the arguments used in the possible class-action lawsuit is ex post facto, separation of powers, and double jeopardy.
To make it worse, the AWA attaches a penalty to states refusing to implement the AWA; a 10% cut in the Byrne grant (though Bush and Congress has just cut the grant significantly and is being debated). But many states such as Arizona have found the cost of implementing the law exceeds the amount that would be lost if they DON'T Implement the AWA (Sarah Tofte, "Protect children from sexual violence" Pasadena Star-News, Jan. 21, 2008). If the law was not controversial, then why must the federal government force the states to adopt it under penalty? Something is fishy here.
In short, the origins of the AWA are shady. The effect of the law is onerous and obnoxious to our constitution. Nothing seems or feels right about the provisions of this act. In the next few days, I will have a breakdown of the AWA at my website, www.oncefallen.com, for anyone interested in further research into the practical effects of the AWA.