A couple of months ago, I was invited to “Dr. Drew On Call” on HLN. This was my third HLN appearance in less than a year. The topic for discussion was whether a person deemed the “Pillowcase Rapist” should be released into the community after serving 18 years in civil confinement for a series of rapes. The idea, of course, was to find somebody willing to defend this person on TV so the rest of the “Behavior Bureau” can act shocked and appalled and stir up the emotions of those watching the program. Predictably, there was some outrage directed at me for defending this man. One person suggested I should've joined the chorus of condemnation, while a fellow activist claimed I set the movement back five years. I find these assumptions absurd, of course.
If anything, the sex offender reform movement seems to have a great fear of actually standing up for our rights at times. There is a bit of philosophical disagreement, even in a relatively small movement such as this. We have individuals who only fight for “R&Js” (for outsiders reading this, that is short for “Romeo and Juliet,” or teens on the list for having consensual sexual relations with one another), or some only for hands-off offenders, or those only considered low level registrants. It certainly is not easy to try to defend the rights of an individual who was convicted for raping 38 women. Obviously, a couple of comments directed towards me were based out of fear – at the least, a fear of losing what little reputation or credibility we have as a movement.
I recognize there is an erroneous belief by the general public that “sex offender advocacy” somehow implies that we condone what the individual did, or “advocating for the right to abuse people.” Or, if we allow this person to obtain any degree of comfort or stability, such as having a roof over his head or a job, then we condone his past behavior. I do not condone his past actions. However, the argument is not about condoning a man's past, but about giving this individual the opportunity to become a productive member of society once he has served a court mandated sentence, no more, no less. He was tried, convicted, and confined to civil commitment, and now the civil commitment center deems he is ready to be released. The system has spoken.
It is not easy to stand up for the constitutional rights of an individual of somebody as notorious as someone who has a nickname like the “Pillowcase Rapist.” However, as a person who believes that the U.S. Constitution should apply equally to all citizens, as it has been interpreted since the values were committed to paper. The rights that were enumerated by the Constitution were put in there for good reason. The individuals who founded this country felt persecuted and their individual freedoms violated by the British, so they instituted policies to ensure that the rights of the few were not trumped by the rights of many. Instead, a balance was to be achieved between individual freedoms than the needs of society as a whole. Obviously, the founding fathers had a number of injustices committed against them in their minds as they wrote the U.S. Constitution.
As I mentioned before, many outside our cause obviously believe that we are advocating the right to sexually abuse other individuals. That is untrue, obviously, but people cannot separate the past from the present. My personal belief is if an individual commits a crime, we have a system in place that punishes wrongdoers and that that individual should be punished in accordance with the law of the land. The system is far from perfect, and there are always reforms to be made in the system, but the system is what it is.
However you may feel about an individual sentence, what should remain constant is that when an individual serves a court mandated sentence, the individual who served time should be given a fair chance to become a productive member of society. That is not to say I demand an individual to invite a registered citizen into their home, cooking dinner, and let Junior set on his lap (though very few registered citizens would be a threat to Junior in the first place). What I advocate is that post-conviction “remedies” such as public shaming registries, residency restrictions, extortion fees, and related laws be abolished. Punishment should remain within the confines of the criminal justice system, whether the person being incarcerated or placed on community supervision.
What I desire to see is that the system continues to be reformed in a way that honors the Constitution passed by our original founding fathers, one that seeks a true balance between individual freedoms and public safety. We must pass laws based upon evidence, not raw emotion. Allowing the victim industry to call the shots and pass public policy on the basis of revenge motive has created a system by which we punish teenagers for taking naughty pictures of themselves or having consensual sexual relations with one another the same way we would treat an individual who was convicted of raping 38 adult women.
A more ideal system would allow an individual accused of a sex crime an adequate defense; because sex crimes are emotionally charged, we must make steps to ensure that individual rights are not trumped by emotional appeals and public opinion. The accused must be given the opportunity to mount it adequate defense without running afoul of laws that limit the ability to bring the credibility of the accuser into question. The media must be held accountable for their portrayals and sway over the public opinion of the case before it goes to trial. Potential jurors should be questioned on their views about sex offenses and those who commit them before they are allowed on a jury. I person should be convicted based upon evidence, not just on the basis of an unfounded allegation alone.
A more ideal system would couple punishments with rehabilitation. By rehabilitation, I mean evidence-based, heterogeneous programs that holding individual accountable while helping them to overcome their personal struggles. Programs that shame the individual and the simple act of warehousing individuals with lengthy prison sentences have proven to be ineffective methods of rehabilitating individuals serving time. If a person is incarcerated, then that person should be placed in the programs that will help an individual prepare for an offense free life in the outside world.
A more ideal system was established more transitional housing for individuals released from incarceration in order to assist them in successfully reintegrating to society. There are ready a number of successful programs across the country, including faith-based initiatives and groups like Circles of Supports and Accountability (CoSA), which have been proven to increase the likelihood that a person convicted of a sex crime will not re-offend. It is especially important during those important first three years of post-release to assist in individual in obtaining adequate housing, employment, and support to minimize the already low likelihood of recidivism. Public registries, residency restrictions, and other shaming tactics should be completely abolished, as they have been shown to disrupt the successful reintegration of individuals who have already served their sentences.
What does it really mean to be an advocate for the rights of registered citizens? It does not mean advocating against punishment of individuals who commit harm to others in a sexual manner. What it does mean is advocating for a fair and just system by which individuals who have committed crimes are punished justly, while maintaining the rights granted to us by the U.S. Constitution. We advocate a system in which decisions are based upon factual evidence, not appeals to revenge oriented emotion. It seems quite simple, because it is quite simple. The standard is universal, and we do not make exceptions. After all, the proclamation was made that "all men are created equal," even the “worst of the worst.”
Do I honestly believe on a personal level that the so-called “Pillowcase Rapist” will succeed? Probably not. The evidence is not in his favor, as repeat offenders are more likely to reoffend than single-offense registrants. He's going to be closely monitored, with the GPS monitor and a probation officer looking for any reason to send him back to prison. If anything, he may be back in prison within a couple of weeks for missing a curfew or not plugging in his GPS. People will feel better and move on to the next scare story of the day. There is also the possibility that this man keeps his nose clean and lives out the rest of his days of free man, much to the disdain of all those who have an opinion about him. We simply can't admit that we can't predict human behavior. I can be completely wrong about this man. What I do know is so long as this person is free I want him to be as productive a member of society as he can possibly be, because I know if he fails, no matter the reason, all of us on the registry pay the price.
Of course, making an entire group pay for the mistakes of a single individual is unconstitutional, but that is a rant for another day.