Posts Tagged ‘sex crimes’

Sex Offenders Just Like Us

May 13, 2009 Comments off : Criminologist says : Sex offenders are just like us.

Sex offenders are just like the rest of us, according to criminologist and researcher Philip Birch.
Birch, who has come from the United Kingdom to take up a position at the University of New South Wales (UNSW), challenges the notion that sex offenders are psychologically damaged, lonely, insecure or dysfunctional.

Instead, he says we are more likely to find offenders in our homes, workplaces and neighborhoods than lurking behind a bush in a dirty trenchcoat.

“It serves us well to construct the sex offender as the `other’, (to believe) they’re not like us, that there’s something pathologically wrong with them,” Birch says. “It serves us to have these theories that give us grand explanations why they commit such offenses, when actually it’s a little bit more complex.

“The attacker is usually known to the victim. They are our fathers, they are our brothers, they are our uncles, they are our family members. They are our next door neighbours that we invite around for a barbecue and a beer.”

Birch, who recently delivered a seminar entitled The Making of a Sex Offender at UNSW, bases his conclusions on a study he conducted two years ago that later became the book Sex as Crime?, published in 2008.

Birch set out to test previous research linking sex offenders to so-called “insecure attachment styles”.
Attachment styles are developed with a main caregiver between the ages of six and 24 months and act as a “blueprint” for our relationships in later life, he says. A child who has an uncaring parent is likely to develop an insecure attachment style, he says.

“Research indicates these insecure attachment styles are mapped into sexual offending,” he says. “Sexual offenders demonstrate high levels of insecure attachment styles.” But when Birch compared attachment styles among sexual offenders and non-offenders, he found no evidence that offenders were more insecure than the non-offending population. “My non-sex offending population sample actually demonstrated higher levels of insecure attachment styles than the sex offenders,” he says.

What this implies, Birch says, is that rather than a person being destined to become a sex offender, it’s something we all have the capacity for, given the right circumstances.

“I argue that attachment styles. . . change and develop and will always map on to the environment we find ourselves in,” he says. “That would imply that any one of us at any given time. . . could be a sex offender.”

He says this is consistent with what is known about sexual crimes: “(They are) more likely to take place in the home, more likely to be committed by someone we know, it’s our fathers, our brothers, our uncles.”

Birch says the portrayal of sex offenders in the media and films, such as the troll-like pedophile played by Jackie Earle Haley in the movie Little Children, fuels the stereotypes his research challenges.
“That sends out the message that they’re a homogeneous group, and we know they’re not,” he says.

Birch says his research also has implications for getting a realistic image of sexual offenders and understanding where potential victims are most likely to be at risk. “We construct the sex offender as `the other’ but they’re not, they’re living amongst us, with us, between us.

“The likelihood of knowing one is probably high.”


Implications of the “Holier-than-Thou Effect”

May 11, 2009 Comments off : Implications of the “Holier-than-Thou Effect” For Criminal Justice.
By Sherry F. Colb , Professor of Law and Charles Evans Hughes Scholar at Cornell Law School


Theorists of criminal justice typically cite four reasons for punishing people who commit crimes. One is retribution, the moral desire to make a person who has acted wrongfully suffer and thus pay for his mistakes. Within retributive theory, we can ask, for example, whether a person who rapes but does not kill a child deserves to be executed. In conducting proportionality review under the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishments, the U.S. Supreme Court, in Kennedy v. Louisiana, answered this particular question in the negative.

The retributive approach to crime is, in some sense, the purest. Rather than utilizing the apprehended criminal (and his penalty) as a means of shaping others’ behavior, the retributivist examines the content of the criminal’s character, as manifested by his conduct, and decides what the proper penalty would be, putting aside instrumental considerations.

In contrast, a second common reason for punishment is deterrence, both general and specific. In general deterrence, penalties aim to scare aspiring criminals, as a group, into changing their evil ways. At best, general deterrence prevents people from offending before anyone has had to suffer punishment – that is, the law on the books chills misconduct without having to be enforced. In reality, of course, people do offend and thereby “test” the threat of the criminal law, and their penalties then serve to emphasize, for others, the downside risk of crime.

Specific deterrence operates at the level of the particular person receiving the punishment; by suffering the consequences of his actions, he learns for the future that “crime doesn’t pay” and avoids reoffending.

A third objective of criminal punishments is to incapacitate offenders and thereby restrain them from committing further crimes. In the case of imprisonment, for example, a person who is living inside a penitentiary does not have the same opportunities to engage in anti-social conduct as he would on the outside. A sentence of death, once executed, ensures that the offender can no longer hurt anyone. Accordingly, some juries consider “future dangerousness” as an aggravating factor when deciding whether to sentence a killer to death. For extremely dangerous offenders, a prison term alone might not be sufficient to prevent them from killing again.

Fourth, criminal punishment may direct itself toward rehabilitating offenders. The phrase “house of corrections” and the word “reformatory” reference this objective and imply that a person who commits a wrongful act can be changed into the sort of person who would no longer do so. Rehabilitation might involve therapy or behavioral conditioning (A Clockwork Orange explores the potential dark side of this approach), but it treats criminality as a pathology or defect that is subject to reform.

The holier-than-thou effect might, however, help us to see that many of the people who are languishing in prison are not “worse” people than their law-abiding counterparts. Indeed, we might have behaved as they did under the “right” circumstances. This view does not mean that we cannot punish criminals, but it does call into question the conclusion that most convicts are beyond redemption and should be, in effect, written off with long, life-destroying prison sentences. Indeed, the situation-dependent nature of behavior counsels against surrounding a person convicted of wrongdoing with other criminals for long stretches of time, during which he will be almost entirely cut off from what lawful behavior in civilized society looks like. Shorter and less brutal sentences, coupled with humane and educational transition opportunities for former prisoners, could yield better results for everyone.

To take into account the holier-than-thou effect might also facilitate the forgiveness necessary to our ability to think logically about the problem of crime. If we are filled with rage and hatred (which are often themselves a very understandable response to crime), it will be more difficult for us to imagine, and thus to allow, that someone who committed a bad act in the past might soon become (or might even have already been) a contributing member of society.

As of early 2008, the United States had the highest documented per capita rate of incarceration in the world. More than one in every one hundred adults here were in prison. Of Americans in prison, between twenty and forty percent were estimated to be infected with Hepatitis C virus, and the prevalence of prison rape contributed to a high rate of HIV infection as well. If we are able to say of at least some of these offenders that “There but for the grace of God go I,” we might begin to consider the changes necessary to fix our broken system.

Grandma Arrested For Photos of Grandchild in Tub

May 5, 2009 Comments off

York Daily Record : Spring Grove grandmother sues police.

Dull, then a 59-year-old Spring Grove grandmother, was arrested on child pornography charges on March 14, 2005, in the parking lot of the West Manchester Mall.

A Wal-Mart employee had contacted police about pictures Dull had dropped off for development. The photos were of Dull’s young granddaughter at bath time.

The child abuse charges were later dropped at the direction of York County District Attorney Stan Rebert, who told the court at the time he did not think the requisite “intent” to distribute child pornography was present in the case. In court documents, Dull had maintained the pictures she took were innocent photographs intended only for the family album. “It was a shame that it happened,” Dull’s attorney, John Yaninek, said.

Yaninek said Dull was “unfortunately” caught up in the public battle against child pornography.
In 2007, Dull filed a federal civil lawsuit claiming West Manchester Township Police and York City Police had violated her constitutional rights. Specifically, Dull claimed officers used excessive force and violence when they arrested her.

Dull maintains she was handcuffed “tightly in a rough, vigorous and aggressive manner” and slammed into a parked car with enough force that her head bounced off the vehicle, resulting in injuries to her back.

She is seeking in excess of $200,000 plus punitive damages. Jury selection is scheduled to begin in U.S. Middle District Court in Harrisburg on Oct. 5, 2009.

Does the Sex Offender Registry Offend Justice?

May 4, 2009 Comments off : Does the Sex Offender Registry Offend Justice?

Our society is full of advocates: advocates for the poor, advocates for the homeless, advocates for minorities. But where are the advocates for the sex offenders?

That’s a question that Dustin Shiers, a 20-year-old Saskatoon resident, may be asking himself right now. He was sentenced to a year in prison after downloading and sharing child pornography, and he is now waiting for a decision on whether his name will be added to a registry for sex offenders. Shiers was evaluated by a psychologist and scored very low on various intellectual tests, which is one factor that might convince the judge to leave him off the registry. But I’d like to take a slightly different approach.

Last summer, at a philosophy conference, I attended a lecture on this issue by University of Alabama psychology professor Christopher Robinson. Among other things, he argued that the sex offender registry represents an arbitrary, double punishment of sex criminals and is applicable to too many offenses. For example, depending on the area, “sex offenders” can also include those guilty of streaking, burglary, surveillance, and kidnapping. Also, the fact that we register sex offenders but not, say, murderers, doesn’t make much sense. It might be explained by the strange taboo in society regarding sex, but that doesn’t make it any less irrational.

The issue of whether a certain person should be placed on a sex offender registry or whether such a registry should exist at all is difficult because it involves a unique type of punishment. While we may agree that rapists, who deprive their victims of freedom of choice, merit jail time – also a temporary deprival of freedom – how do we decide whether their names should be put on a list for the public to see?

As I see it, the sex offender registry is both excessive and not particularly useful. Especially in the case of those who have not committed sexual assault but consume child pornography – repulsive as it may be – the label “sex offender” is not an appropriate description; it suggests someone who has committed rape or assault, not someone like Dustin Shiers, who “ha[s] never been aggressive or sexual in any of his personal relationships.” To put him on a list for 20 years is disproportionate to his crime. While it could be argued that he is supporting the industry – keeping child porn sites alive by upping their page views – this link seems too indirect to hold him responsible for the pornography itself. Even if he never visited a single child porn site, the industry would still survive.

On the practical side, his trial and conviction have already been reported in the news. And who actually looks at these lists? (I did for the first time this morning, and found a bunch of shady-looking pictures from a shady-looking town near my home in New Jersey.) In the case of young children, you would hope that parents would not leave them with adults they do not know very well. And in the case of teenagers, it is unlikely that a 15-year-old is going to pull up the National Sex Offender Registry to make sure his cool new 20-year-old friend isn’t into child porn.

A registry for rapists and those who have committed violent crimes may be justified, but I haven’t taken a stand on that issue here. But in the case of other crimes, we should ditch the list – it’s an unwarranted punishment that serves little purpose.

Ohio County Sheriffs Rape Sex Offenders

April 28, 2009 Comments off

Ohio County Sheriffs are now imposing mandatory fees (up to $100 per year)on those who are required to register on sex offender registries across the state. See also “Forcing Sex Offenders to Pay Fees”.

We obtained this letter from the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office from a reader:

The imposition of fees on the 30,000+ registered sex offenders in the state now debunks the false notion that the retro-active Adam Walsh Act lifetime registration laws are not “punitive” in nature, as courts across the state have ruled. Fining citizens up to $100 per year for each forced registration reporting is indeed punitive…without question. When will our state courts recognize this fact? What happens if a sex offender does not have $25 at the time of registration? Will they then be denied the ability to register until they pay (thereby putting them in violation of registration laws and exposing them to incarceration)?

Where are the Ohio indigency policies for those who are unable to pay these fees? How many registered sex offenders will be imprisoned because they do not have the $25 fee to pay at the required time of registration? And where are the attorneys and civil rights organizations who should be suing the state over these imposed fees? : Sex offenders Will Pay Fee to Register

Constitutionalfights spoke with the Montgomery County Public Defender office and the Montgomery County Sheriff office today:

The Public Defender is awaiting direction from the Ohio Public Defender office. We will keep you posted.
The Sheriff SORN office states that the only exemption to these imposed fees is providing proof that an individual falls below 125% of the poverty level (approx $9735 per year for one person, gross).
Any inability to make fee payments will be deferred for one year, after which they will be forwarded to the Montgomery County Prosecuter for prosecution (bill collection). Once this collection process begins, an individual would have 90 days to make full payment. Constitutionalfights never condones violation of any law, but neither do we condemn acts of civil disobedience. For instance, if every sex offender in the state refused to pay these fines for the one year period, it would certainly put the County Sheriff’s departments on notice, would heighten public awareness of the issue as it would become a state-wide news story, and would put the squeeze on the already-cash strapped Sheriff Departments across the state

Streaker or Sex Offender ?

April 27, 2009 Comments off : ACLU lobbying for changes in nudity laws – Pranksters or sex offenders?

In the wake of last year’s naked pumpkin run, when a dozen “Naked Pumpkin Runners” were ticketed for indecent exposure on Halloween, public frustration with Colorado’s nudity laws came boiling up. Now, the American Civil Liberty’s Union is lobbying for changes that would keep streakers off of sex-offender lists and protect nudity as a constitutionally sheltered freedom of expression.

Public nudity in Boulder isn’t exactly uncommon: Last year, more than 60 cyclists biked bare to protest oil-burning cars; a CU student ran naked across campus while tripping on acid, and another, also tripping, jumped naked out of a car and rolled around in the street; a 55-year-old man took several nude jogs along Folsom Street; and a teenager streaked the Boulder-Fairview football game.

But how the nude offenders are ticketed by police — if they are ticketed at all — can vary widely, resulting in either a relatively minor offense or life-changing registration as a sex offender. : Streaker or Sex Offender? Laws Don’t Always Differentiate.

Take the case of Boulder’s annual “Naked Pumpkin Run,” a bizarre if harmless Halloween antic, where last year a dozen participants were cited for indecent exposure. Colorado’s Daily Camera reports that under state law, this is a class 1 misdemeanor and requires registering as a sex offender, whereas the charge of public indecency is a class 1 petty offense, on a par with littering or stealing a book from a library. The public indecency charge doesn’t carry sex offender status.

MO Supreme Court Considers Sex Offense Registry

April 7, 2009 Comments off : Missouri Supreme Court considers challenge to sex-offender registry.

The Missouri Supreme Court is considering another challenge to Missouri’s sex-offender registry. The court heard arguments Tuesday from 11 offenders. Some were convicted of sex crimes in other states before 1995, when Missouri’s registry law took effect. Others were convicted of misdemeanors in Missouri before 2000, when those crimes were added to the registry.

In 2006, the Supreme Court said the registry cannot be retrospectively applied to Missouri residents who committed their crimes before 1995. The challenge asserts that the state’s ban on retrospective laws still applies and that the federal requirement does not overrule state law.