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Tuesday, August 17th, 2004

Time Event
Unitarians and Sex Offenders
Yesterday morning our church's Adult Forum meeting discussed registered sex offenders (RSOs). This had been added to the calendar in response to the fracas over discovering we had an RSO in the congregation. Two people were brought in to present. The son of one speaker had been convicted of statutory rape and was an RSO, the husband of the other was serving 20 years for touching his stepdaughter. They were both activists in groups trying to stop the harsh and unjust punishment of people labeled as sex offenders. This was not a popular attitude with the younger (under 50, i.e. active parents) portion of the audience. The spiel went along peacefully detailing the horrible lives RSOs lead until the speaker said "these people aren't criminals, they're ill." Another parent objected and walked out. I pointed out that anyone sent to jail following a conviction is a criminal by definition. After that the sparring became more general.

One of the speakers mentioned that her daughter (a mental patient) had been raped by another patient at a treatment center but she'd decided to not press charges because "prison wouldn't help him, he was just doing what nature made him." I challenged her on what she would see as justifying "taking him out of circulation" instead of giving him therapy and community support. Her answer boiled down to serial rape/torture/murderers. Okay, that's clear. She'd imprison those I'd want executed, and she'd put in halfway houses those I think should be imprisoned.

There was a big emphasis on the need for community support for ex-convicts. I grant that without that they can't become useful members of society again. The question is how to do it without excessive costs or risks. The example offered was a parish that accepted an RSO but imposed a new rule that no one could touch anyone's children but their own. That got a response from the crowd, with me and others complaining that it was a terrible rule that kept us from breaking up fights or comforting hurt children.

The whole thing was full of sympathy for all these unjustly punished sex offenders. As somebody who was once briefly very interested in where Massachusetts drew the line on statutory rape* I understand things can get fuzzy. On the other hand, the speaker's son had a 12 year old daughter, so I think he should have an easier time staying away from the fuzzy area. What really pissed me off was the blame-the-victim sneers at the parents of Megan Kanka. "I wouldn't have waited so long to call the police." I'd like my kids to have a chance to play with the neighbors instead of being locked in the house all the time. "They hired him to do yard work knowing he was an ex-con." Okay, so these people were providing the community support you want all RSOs to have, and therefore they should be condemned for putting their daughter at risk? The question of what should be done to keep kids safe was never considered, the agenda was complaining about the current laws being too harsh.

What did make me feel good was hearing other people in the audience speaking out and knowing I wasn't alone in disagreeing with the speakers. Our church seems to be in the middle of a transition. They built the new wing for the nursery and classrooms a few years ago to bring in families as members. It's working, but the new people have a different attitude. As far as I can tell the longer-term members of the congregation average a lot older and either don't have kids or the kids are grown up. The most visible sign is the big financial crisis. Apparently the creators of the Grand Plan thought parents would have as much disposable income as all these childless professionals in their 50's. So there is now great commotion. The distinction between church-as-resource-for-troubled-people and church-as-safe-zone-for-children is also causing problems, hence the RSO forum discussion. Or possibily it's church-as-organization-zone-for-rabid-liberals that's the root of all this. I'm hoping when this settles out we'll be happy staying part of the church, there's some good people here. But making sure it's good for the children is the most important priority, and that includes making sure they don't get taught that rape is a trivial issue not worth punishing as well as ensuring their physical safety.

*It was spring break. I was a sophomore, she was a sophomore. I didn't ask which school she went to. Turned out to be a high school. No, I didn't break the law.

Current Mood: irritated

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