Thursday, January 25, 2018

To MAPs: A Message About Bears

The Bears?

Yes, the bears. Those of you on Twitter know what I am talking about. The bears are a group of people that have decided to take it upon themselves to harass, report, bully, and intimidate us into silence. Here are but two examples:




I think these bears are bad news. Not only do they attempt to bully us into silence, they send death threats, and are generally just trolls. They took credit for getting Todd Nickerson suspended, harass people, and clearly bait people to report them.

My Policy On Trolls

My policy on trolls is very straightforward: Discuss things just enough to show that they are trolls, and then block them. I have no shame in tweeting at trolls behind a block. Some of the nastier trolls, I refuse to block on principle, so I discuss with them until they get into a state where they will not listen, and then from there they dig their own holes and they end up suspended or locked.

One of the most basic rules on the internet is:

DO NOT FEED THE TROLL!

Why? Because they are like an obnoxious whining puppy dog begging for your food - except trolls clamor for your attention. By not giving them that attention, they will eventually leave you alone. Twitter also has tools to make people leave you alone.

My Target Audience

My target audience is people who will listen to the message that we can prevent child sexual abuse by focusing on the facts so we can form effective interventions before a child is harmed. My target audience are people that can see that pedophilia, and the isolation, depression, and issues it can bring up for pedophiles, is a condition that pedophiles need to be getting support for, be that peer support or professional help. No one can go through life alone, and that is a truth that spans any issue, not just pedophilia.

In other words, my target audience is people who can use critical thinking skills, not people that use an account on social media to bully people for being different. Those people are simply not worth my time, because for every minute I have to spend dealing with them, it takes away from more useful things I could be doing: Spreading my message that prevention is a good idea, and supporting MAPs is one way to make that happen, directly supporting other MAPs, and taking care of myself so that I am in good place to be advocating and putting myself out there.

While there is some value in engaging some of the more hostile trolls (as Kamil and Ender readily demonstrated) because it brings the troll's comments up to the people who follow them, increasing visibility, it should always be kept in mind that the troll is not the target audience. The likelihood that you will convince a troll is next to zero.

If You Really Insiste...

If you really feel you must talk to trolls, do not get emotional, ever. Yes, that is a challenge. You must keep firmly in mind that your audience is not the troll, but anyone paying attention to the conversation. Stick to firmly reasoned arguments, do not get baited, and never allow the troll to get under your skin.

And for the love of the internet, use the reporting, blocking, and muting tools available to you.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

An Introduction To Internet Advocating

Say What?

Advocacy on the internet? Absolutely! There are many, many people who have blogs, and they seek to reach certain audiences. While this post is not intended to help you do your research into how to best reach the audience you want to reach, it can help give you some pointers for how to be a readable, likable, and charismatic presence that people will trust and listen to.

A Word About Names

Before you start your advocacy, you need to think long and hard about the name you will use and whether you should be using a pseudonym. Some topics are so controversial, the answer is easy. Some topics, you may need to do some research into who your enemies and rivals will be, and the kind of ethics they will use. Other topics, you are in the clear majority, and you will be fine using your real name.

While using your real name, or at least, a real-sounding pseudonym like Francis Falkland, can lend you a level of credibility, it can also get you in trouble if other people have a similar name or live in a similar location to someone the name you choose. You will want to do some homework on that front.

A Word About Words

To begin with, I need to talk about the words we use. This is especially true for the topics I cover. If I use words that will make people shut down or get emotional, I just lost most of my audience. Pedophilia? No one knows what that really means, and some think it is the abuse of a child.

So, we need to talk about words. Jargon? Forget it. Leave it out. That means you will need to go back and edit. Let me give you an example of a paragraph with jargon, and a paragraph that says the same thing differently:

Pedophilia is a subject that no one wants to talk about. It elicits all kinds of reactions from us, and most of them are extremely negative. To discuss this topic, we must put our reactions down and talk about pedophilia.

That was the jargon version, unedited. So, what would that look like if I rephrased it?

Minor attraction is a subject that is hard for most people to talk about, because of the emotion and synonyms it brings up. To discuss minor attraction, we need to set some of our beliefs and reactions aside and look at the facts.

Do you see what I did there?

A Word About Font, Style, Color, And Making Things Easy To Read

Do you know what people hate about reading websites? Tiny font, or font that is so colored or styled that it becomes difficult or impossible to read. Yellow? Forget it. Light blue? Light green? Small font? No, leave it alone. Some of those things, I had to learn the hard way.

For a really easy look at what people like to see for a blog, take a look at my Medium page. While Medium has its limitations as a blog format, it illustrates this point perfectly: People need a slightly larger font. What font face should you use? That depends entirely on the effect you are going for in your audience. Do you want to be seen as an authority and trustworthy on your subject? Times New Roman. I know. That is not my favorite font either. For a more complete analysis of font choices, see here.

A Word About Platforms

Now, we come to the real issue: What platform should you use for advocacy? That depends entirely on what your topic is. Do you cover an issue that comes up often in the news? Then your platform might primarily be Disqus or Livefyre, maybe even Facebook or other plugins that news sites use to let users discuss the news. Do you cover an issue that is controversial? Pick a platform that is friendly to discussing it: Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, Disqus, and others are great choices.

No matter what you choose to get your word out, you must have a primary platform for your content. Google's Blogger interface is handy, though Wordpress has distinct advantages over Blogger. You may even consider forming a website. No matter what your primary platform is, you will want to make it easy for people to read and use. Think of the easiest websites and blogs you navigate: Why are they easy to navigate?

Whichever platform you use, you do not want to use just one: You will want to use multiple platforms, and be comfortable using them. 

About Ease-Of-Use And Accessibility

When I use other advocacy sites, like Stop It Now!, one of the biggest drawbacks is the ability to easily find the right page to fit your need. Why? Because they categorize their information based on in-text links, not drop-down menus. So, when I formed my website, I settled on a theme that put what I needed to link people to in one simple menu, sometimes with sub-menus.

Why? Because having to go to that one specific page to find that one specific link is something most people are not willing to do. If they cannot find the information they are looking for, they will give up or go somewhere else. If you want your information to be what they find, then you need to figure out how to make that happen. Is your primary platform showing up in particular searches with specific keywords? Use those keywords in your posts wherever they make sense.

In Short, Be Creative!

You do not want to be stubborn and stick to a particular style just because you like it. You need to use what works, and that will push you outside your comfort zone. To do that, you need to be creative and think of things from different angles. You need to think hard about what is working, what is not, and what kind of feedback you are getting. If you are running a blog, you will need to post often to see results, and you will need to plug the blog posts from other platforms. If you are running a website, you need to remember to mention your website on other platforms, or at the very least, list it in your profiles in other platforms. Shamelessly plug, but do not spam.

That should give you a few tips to getting started on being a successful internet advocate that people pay attention to. Start discussions! Create controversy! Get messy! Just make sure people listen.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

About Roy Moore and Others Accused of Sexual Misconduct

Roy Who?

Roy Moore is a judge in Alabama who is a candidate for a seat in the US Senate representing Alabama. While he won the 2017 election, there was a bombshell revelation that he stands accused of sexually abusing a 14-year-old girl and having sex with several high school students.

Since the #MeToo campaign several weeks ago, survivors of sexual abuse or harassment have been coming out of the woodwork to share their stories of victimization. This has not only affected Alabama, it is affecting us right here in Minnesota.

Dan Schoen and Tony Cornish

Dan Schoen (DFL representative in the Minnesota House) was recently accused of sexual harassment. A day later, a lobbyist came forward to accuse Tony Cornish (GOP representative in the Minnesota House) of sexual harassment. Both Schoen and Cornish are members of the Minnesota House Public Safety Committee. Cornish had been the chair, but the GOP speaker of the Minnesota House has stripped him of his chairmanship.

The allegations against Cornish will be investigated by an outside firm, according to the most recent information from the Pioneer Press.

Why I Believe the Victims

I have seen many questions, accusations, and comments floating around the internet. Some of them are to the effect of, "Give these men due process, they are innocent until proven guilty." Some of them state that the victims may have ulterior motives. Some of them wonder why victims took so long to report the revelations, and why now.

As an advocate for the prevention of sexual abuse, I have read some research in the way of false allegations. The fact of the matter is, they are quite rare, less than 8% of child sexual abuse cases are false allegations, and of those, they usually originate with adults, not the victims themselves. While I am less familiar with sexual assault as a whole, Quartz did an excellent piece this past May where they discussed just how prevalent false allegations are.

In short, I think there is ample evidence for the statistical likelihood that victims in general tell the truth. When it comes to these specific allegations against Moore, Cornish, and Schoen, I believe the victims, because I believe that not doing so does them a disservice, and not only them, but a disservice to all victims of sexual violence.

It takes an amazing amount of courage to come forward under a pseudonym and say that you were sexually abused, and I have seen many do just that. I am one of that number. It takes even more courage for someone to come forward using their real name, because they are putting their reputation on the line and trusting it to the not-so-trustworthy criminal justice system, which can support their accusation, or spread doubt about the veracity of their claims.

Where Does Due Process Fit In?

Where indeed? If we are to believe the victims, how do these accused men get their due process? To answer this, I must ask a very basic question: How many rapists ever face justice? To that end, the Rape Abuse Incest National Network paints a very scary picture: For every 1,000 rapes, only 310 are reported to police, 57 of those reports lead to arrest, 11 are referred to prosecutors, and 7 lead to a felony conviction. In other words, we prosecute less than 6% of rapists.

Due process means that an accused person has the right to face the allegations before a judge and jury, if they so choose, and defend themselves against the allegations. When most rapists never even reach that point, we have a failure of our system to hold perpetrators accountable. We also have a failure in our society in that we doubt victims when they come forward. If someone is to get their due process, then they first need to be charged with a crime.

After they are charged with a crime, then we can talk about due process, not before. The statute of limitations in Alabama, where Moore committed his act of violence, still allows him to be charged with the sexual abuse of a child under 16 years old. Moore should absolutely be charged. However, even then, it is extremely unlikely, even if he committed the crime he is accused of, that he will be charged, let alone convicted.

Our Justice System Already Fails at Due Process

In case you did not know this, we overlook due process when it comes to certain crimes. Sexual crimes are, "considered especially heinous," and because of this, a myriad of laws have been passed that to the average person, are obviously punitive. These include but are not limited to:

  • The mandate to register as a sex offender
  • Notifying the public of where sex offenders live
  • Restricting where sex offenders can live
  • Marking the passports of sex offenders
  • Travel restrictions due to registration status: If an offender visits another state, that state will require them to register in that state after a certain period of time
All of these requirements are not seen as punitive by most legislative bodies, they are treated as preventative measures that are aimed at improving public safety. However, these measures, according to the research, do no such thing, and have been heavily criticized by human rights organizations for - you guessed it - violating a person's due process rights, as well as other basic rights. 

In short, the very fabric of how we treat sexual crimes needs to change, not only in the criminal justice system, but in our everyday lives. When less than 6% of rapists get convicted, we have a systemic failure to hold perpetrators accountable, to believe victims, and to see that justice is served. When we require convicts to jump through extra hoops like the above restrictions after the completion of their sentence, we see a justice system that has become draconian and does not address the realities of what is effective in reducing crime: We see a system that blatantly violates the rights of both perpetrators and victims. 

I believe it is time for that to change. 





Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Five Things Sexual Abuse Survivors Must Do Better

So, recently, Stop Abuse Campaign came out with a featured story, titled, "Top Ten Things You Learn by Listening to Survivors." As a survivor, MAP, and advocate, I have some issues with some of what they share, but I found this particular story informative. It helps me to hear the stories and perspectives of survivors I have never met, because I am an introvert and the support group I attended for many years was a rather small one. This limited my exposure to other survivors, and these days, the most interaction I have with other survivors is through my advocacy.



I Am A Survivor

In case you did not know, I myself am a sexual abuse survivor. I do not talk about it much, because it is not the abuse itself that has affected me overmuch, it was my struggle to find resources for coping with my pedophilia that affected me more. The abuse tweaked my beliefs more than it traumatized me. So, I think what I say here has validity to survivor concerns, as well as ending sexual abuse.

Thing Number One: Learn The Facts And Cite Them Properly

The first thing that abuse survivors who advocate seem to have an issue with is letting the facts speak for themselves, as well as stating something as fact and then failing to cite the source for it somewhere in their material, or in a visible enough location that anyone can find it. Sometimes, survivor advocates push policies that have no basis in fact. Other times, they cherry-pick the statistics they cite.

Sometimes, bad information is to blame, and organizations cite the source properly, but the source turns out to be a bad apple or outdated. In example, for years, Gene Abel was treated as the end-all solution to issues related to pedophilia, and much of his "research" was cited on many sites. To this day, his "research" is cited on Darkness to Light's statistics page in saying that, "Pedophilic offenders often start offending at an early age, and often have a large number of victims (frequently not family members)". We now know that Gene Abel was full of garbage, and he has an entire Wikipedia page almost entirely on how he is a quack.

Other times, popularity takes a role: Sex offender policies have been particularly popular with the public, and so they get pushed more frequently because they have public support, even though there is an utter lack of research supporting the effectiveness of sex offender policies (feel free to do your own homework: "effectiveness of sex offender registration" and "effectiveness of Megan's Law" should help get you started).

Thing Number Two: Include More Perspectives Besides Survivors

The fact that I am a MAP in addition to being a survivor colors how I look at preventing sexual abuse. Sometimes, the voices in academia are ignored because they use complicated language and propose ideas that are downright unsettling. However, these are people who have dedicated their lives to figuring out why sex crimes happen so that they can be prevented. It is also important to have voices from the academic world coloring our perspective, because they see the data and trends firsthand and can give us practical solutions we might not otherwise consider.

I know many stories of people who wrestled with pedophilia, and ended up hurting a child because they did not have resources available to them. While that is no excuse, it means that referring to abusers as pedophiles actually hurts prevention efforts by giving pedophiles the idea that they will inevitably hurt a child (an idea that can not only be severely damaging, but turn into self-fulfilling prophecy).

Survivors also push for harsher sentencing, despite overwhelming evidence that sex offenders eventually make their way back into our communities, and mostly never commit another crime. The harder we make it to get back into the community, the easier we make it for them to commit another crime because we give them more reasons to give up on a fulfilling life. While it may be difficult for survivors to imagine seeing the perspective of an ex-offender, I think it is necessary because it gives us a face-to-face look at what we can do with the policies we push for.

Thing Number Three: Realize Not All Abused Children React The Same Way

This is basic, but each survivor is different. Just because another survivor has a differing view of their abuse, and abuse as a whole, does not make that view less legitimate. Just because someone's abuse seemed less bad than your own or someone else's does not mean that their abuse did not affect them. We should give each other space to hold our own views, and give each other the space to share - or not share - how abuse has affected us.

As survivors, we must also avoid perpetuating the myth that most victims go on to abuse children, because that is not what the facts say. The research is very clear: Around 50-60% of abusers claim to have been abused, and studies that use polygraph find that only 30-40% of sexual abusers have been sexually abused. We would expect a much higher rate, and more abusers for each victim, if most victims go on to abuse children. Instead, we find that there are more victims for each abuser.

Thing Number Four: Pedophilia Is Not Abuse, Pedophiles Are Not Abusers

This may be a nuance distinction for some, but pedophilia is best understood as a sexual attraction to children. It is not synonymous with sexual abuse. Multiple sources attest to this: James Cantor, Elizabeth Letourneau, Michael Seto, and Ian McPhail are just a few of the many researchers that recommend against conflating a sexual attraction with sexual abuse. Likewise, a pedophile is someone with a sexual attraction to children, which has no bearing on whether someone will harm a child. One-third of sexual abusers have pedophilia, the majority do not have pedophilia.

This wades close to the uncomfortable topic of what motivates sexual abuse, but it is not sexual attraction or sexual pleasure in most cases. In most cases, sexual abuse is motivated by unmet mental health needs in someone who does not have an adequate support system. These unmet needs vary greatly, from having pedophilia and not having the adequate support to face that, to juveniles who have been abused and are acting their abuse out on a younger child.

If we ignore the motivations of abuse - and yes they are uncomfortable to pay attention to, and no they do not justify sexual abuse in any form - then we can enable abuse to occur by driving people towards the very things that motivate sexual abuse and other crimes. By inferring that someone with a sexual attraction to children is doomed to abuse them, we put them in a worse psychological state that can fuel the very thing we want to avoid: The abuse of a child. As someone who was damaged by that inference, I believe we must end the myth that abusers are pedophiles and pedophiles are abusers.

Thing Number Five: ACE Scores Are Not Just For Victims

Yes, you read that correctly. There has been much discussion in survivor and prevention circles around the impact of ACEs, or Adverse Childhood Experiences as it pertains to their frequency in the general public, and the severe harm they can inflict on people. However, what we have been ignoring is just how much ACE scores also correlate to crime. Recently, Jill Levenson and several of her colleagues have been looking at sex offenders and general offenders who have ACEs.

Their findings firmly establish that we must focus prevention differently. As you view the chart below, bear in mind that the PINK line is the original ACE study, the GRAY line is adult sex offenders, the ORANGE is juvenile sex offenders, and the BLUE is juvenile offenders of any kind.

In other words, while generally many people have no or only one ACE and that goes down as you increase the ACE score, the opposite is true for adult sex offenders, juvenile sex offenders, and juvenile offenders in general. Their research shows that 97% of sex offenders have at least one ACE in their background, and many of them have four or more ACEs.

What this means is not only that sexual abuse must end, but that the key to ending sexual abuse is by caring for youth with ACEs with trauma-informed care, mentoring programs, and community engagement. We must reach them with the resources they need to overcome the trials they faced in childhood, and help them. This is primary prevention at work. While ACEs are a fascinating subject, there is much to be learned about them and their impact on difficult issues like sexual abuse.

We Must Improve So That Sexual Abuse Can End

Humanity has done some of its greatest work when we collaborate, network, and work with other human beings of differing perspectives. The issue of child sexual abuse is not simple, and some abuse is indeed (as much as we hate to admit this) inevitable.

However, if we can put our heads together - the civil rights advocates that state that sex offenders are people too, the abuse survivors who were directly affected by sex crimes, the people who have a sexual attraction to children and want help instead of judgment, the researchers who study sex crimes and policies that might end them, and the policymakers themselves who can guide working policies...

If we can all come together, look at this issue, and see all of these perspectives and come up with ideas for ending sexual abuse, then we stand a much better chance at making real change happen. As it is, we are bickering among ourselves about who has the best method, and children are paying the price for it. I think we need to stop bickering and put our heads together.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Negativity Towards Pedophiles: A Pedophile's Response to Craig Harper and Ross Bartels

A Nice Source

A recent post on nextgenforensic, a blog full of articles from researchers and practitioners about sex offense theory, research, and practice, has me thinking hard about the issue of how we change people's beliefs about pedophiles and pedophilia.

Wait. Why Change Negativity Towards Pedophiles?

You see, the average person thinks that a "pedophile" is someone who molests children, and "pedophilia" is synonymous with child sexual abuse. However, when a researcher, pedophile, or advocate hears these words, we know that "pedophile" usually refers to someone who is sexually attracted to children, and "pedophilia" refers to that attraction. There are further distinctions, but I think that is as far as most people are willing to go.

So we have a nice little hangup between what people familiar with these terms mean to them, and how everyone else understands these terms. Everyone else understands them to refer to behavior and those who have acted in a horrific and heinous way towards a child, where those familiar with the terms know them to refer only to feelings and those with said feelings. Some researchers differentiate between offending and non-offending pedophiles to subtly point to that difference.

The introduction of Harper and Bartels' article paints a very good picture of why child sexual abuse and pedophilia, as well as child rapists and pedophiles, are two very different things from one another, yet still related.

How To Change Someone's Mind

Harper and Bartels point out recent research that points to the idea that minds are not changed based on fact, they are changed when they hear stories of people. They did their own study on how that applies to the stigma against pedophles and pedophilia, and their study found much the same thing: In order to make a bigger dent in changing someone's attitudes towards pedophilia, it is better to tell a short narrative than it is to present facts.

In Short, Tell The Media Stories

They conclude that the mainstream media should use first-person narratives to help prevention ideas be more effective. They want the mainstream media to tell the stories of pedophiles who are non-offending and wish to remain so. Two outlets have done so in recent memory: Salon (who subsequently pulled their articles about Todd Nickerson) and the BBC. There was also a bit of a blurb from a guy in Oregon who started ASAP International, but his story had a very fierce reaction to it for a variety of reasons. Namely, there had been accusations years prior from an adopted daughter that the man sexually abused her. The police never filed charges, but it was enough to get people to dismiss his story, unlike Todd Nickerson, who just sparked a lot of conversation all across the internet (I covered Gary Gibson and Todd Nickerson here).

This Begs The Question...

Most, if not all local news outlets, do not cover first-person stories like this unless someone is willing to have their real name in print. Given the amount of negativity that exists towards pedophiles and the very real danger of losing housing, jobs, and relationships, this is not an option for most pedophiles. This same dilemma is the one facing sex offenders who wish to speak out against registration because of its lack of efficacy, but cannot afford to lose what they have built back from having their name dragged into the mud from their actions.

Stories Are Limited

I think that stories are a wonderful medium for attracting discussion and ideas. However, stories are very limited: Only those interested in the story will take the time to read or listen to it. Unless we are exposing large groups of people to these stories, without telling them that they will be, stories will only have an impact on those willing to hear them.

I suggest we come up with other options to test during future research into changing the negativity towards pedophilia. Most people think they already know what a pedophile is: A child molester. I suspect changing that will be similar to changing the myth of stranger danger. So why not apply the same principles?

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Victim's Rights, Offender's Rights, And Residency

Backstory

So, a few months ago, we found out that a Oklahoma sex offender was living... right next door to the woman he molested when she was a child. Now, Oklahoma is about to enact a new law prohibiting sex offenders from being or living within 1,000 feet of their victim. At face value, this seems wise. When you dig deeper into the story and into the topic as a whole, it is not that simple.

Why Is It Not Simple?

When we hear the word, "sex offender," we immediately think of a child molester or a rapist. However, the term is not that simple by itself. It also refers to those convicted of kidnapping charges and first-degree murder, as well as teenagers sexting pictures of themselves to other teenagers... and Romeo-Juliet situations where one consenting partner or the other is underage and the parents do not like the situation. The term "sex offender" encompasses many crimes, both major and minor, some that involve victims and some that do not.

My "area of expertise" is child sexual abuse- child molestation, which is an admittedly serious crime. However, the situations do not fit the stereotype: A middle-age man molesting a stranger child after kidnapping them. About half of sexual abuse cases are perpetrated by juveniles- other children who are older. I covered the topic of juvenile sex offenders during my analysis of the Moore Center Symposium this year. So keeping "sex offenders" away from their "victims" also means keeping friends away from younger friends, siblings apart, and family members living under two different roofs.

There is therapy specifically designed for three goals: Accountability for the perpetrator, healing for the victim, and reunification for both parties. This therapy is called "reunification therapy," and is only used if all parties involved consent. This therapy is very valuable for victims, for offenders, and for communities. It is unclear how often this is used, but roughly 30% of sexual abuse cases involve family-on-family perpetrators and victims.

Why Do We Need To Pause?

We must pause to consider the ramifications of creating more onerous requirements on sexual offenders, not only because the issue is not simple, but because of the facts: Most sexual offenders never commit another sexual crime, and most sexual abusers never reoffend once caught. While the concerns of victims are certainly not trivial, there are already systems in place to keep offenders who are causing trouble for their victims away from them. Namely, restraining orders and charges of stalking and harassment.

What Happens Now?

Because the coverage that has already swept the nation, and the appalled but uninformed reactions of many people, the proposed law will almost certainly pass, to the dismay of other advocacy groups. I agree in part: We need laws that are based in fact and effective at eliminating crime, not laws that claim to do just that, but cause more burdens on all parties involved.

This law has the capacity to not only prevent offenders from living in certain areas, it has the capacity to tear families and friends apart. While this law may pass, we must pause in the aftermath to evaluate just what kind of chaos this law is causing once it is implemented, and figure out better alternatives that give weight not only to existing victims, but solutions that are effective in preventing victims from those who have never committed a crime.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Lenore Skenazy: One Family's Experience With Disabilities, Sexual Abuse... And The Sex Offender Registry

Introduction By TNF 13

You have heard me discuss many times why the sex offender registry does not protect children: It does not address the realities of how sexual crimes happen, particularly child sexual abuse. The following is an article written by Lenore Skenazy of Free Range Kids, a parenting site about giving children the freedom to learn responsibility, without being needlessly afraid of crime. Read, as she recounts a story she heard recently...

The woman who looked to be about 60 walked up to the podium and spoke in a quiet voice. She was at a St. Louis synagogue that was hosting an evening of presentations about the sex offender registry. I spoke, too. But this mom’s story has haunted me in the weeks since. I asked for a copy of her speech, which is below. She prefers to remain anonymous. – L.
A mother whose son loved the Special Olympics grieves for the modestly happy future she’d hoped for her son, now on the Sex Offender Registry.
THE SEX OFFENDER REGISTRY AND THE MENTALLY DISABLED
I am a mother, advocate and caretaker of a 30 year old young man with IDD. That is an intellectual and developmental disability, formerly called Mentally Retarded. I am also the co-founder of a national group called Legal Reform for the Intellectually and Developmentally Disabled.
My son has been on the [sex offender] registry since 2012. But the story really begins on December 5, 1986. A baby boy was born. 
Everything seemed fine. A healthy, happy baby. The first few milestones were met. Crawling, walking and making cute baby sounds. At age 2 there were very few words. At age 3, no progress was made in speech and the seizures started. Testing began.
In the Spring of 1991 we sat across the desk of the doctor at Childrens’ Memorial Hospital and received the difficult results of all the testing. We were told our son had deficits, cognitively and developmentally. Most importantly, we would need to prepare for Adam’s future because he would need to be cared for for the rest of his life.
This conversation changed the course of our lives. I gave up a career so I could devote my life to my son’s education and care. The decision was made to not have any more children so we would have the time for both our children and also more resources for their future.
I spent many years learning all about my son’s rights for an education and volunteering and working in all his schools so I could keep watch. All this was to integrate our son in the community and try to establish a happy life for him.
HIS JOY
His love was competing in Special Olympics. He played softball, soccer, bocce ball, bowling and golfing.  He swam and competed in power lifting. He has many gold medals that he is so proud of. His social life was spending supervised time with his peers in special recreation activities, such as a movie or a dinner out or a game night. He learned to scuba diving through the Diveheart Organization, who teach diving to the disabled. He was so happy when he did his scuba diving. Due to registry rules and regulations, Adam is no longer able to participate in any of the above.
My son does not date. He will never marry or have children. He will never have a career. His life is with us, his parents. He cannot cook for himself or pay bills or even take a phone call. He has sensory issues. He cannot wear certain fabrics of clothe.
He wet the bed until the age of 16 when he finally gained control. He needs help with his daily living.  He had a small part-time job for 5 years hosting and cleaning tables at a restaurant. He was let go because of his conviction.
WHAT HAPPENED
When our nightmare began in 2012, we had a risk assessment done on Adam. The assessment showed that Adam had very little sexual knowledge and had no sexual perversions. He is a polite, compassionate and naive young man who functions at about the age of ten years old.  
My son cannot distinguish when someone is lying to him. He is extremely susceptible to persuasion. Teachers, aides and psychologist wrote reports fearing that he would someday be taken advantage of.
That someday came in 2012. A 22-year-old neighbor coerced my son to expose himself to an underage female. We also found out that this neighbor had been sexually molesting my son for a period of time. My child was arrested along with his OWN MOLESTER and charged with the same 19 felonies. We fought this travesty for a year in court.
Our attorneys feared if we went to trial the prosecutor would manipulate my son into saying whatever he wanted him to say. Years of documents were submitted to the court showing evidence of his disabilities. Medical reports, school reports, psychologists reports, risk assessments, letters from neighbors, friends and family.
THE PLEA
The prosecutor offered a plea deal. One misdemeanor charge of exploitation of a minor, 2 years probation with an ankle bracelet and ten years on the registry.
Our son could not survive in prison. We took the plea. On the day we accepted the plea, our attorneys whispered in his ear what he had to say to the judge, because he did not understand.
My son was fitted with an ankle bracelet that he was so scared of he slept for 2 years with his leg on a pile of blankets because he was afraid that if he moved it would go off and they would come to get him. My son had to leave our home since the victim lived next door. He is incapable of surviving on his own. 
My husband moved out with my son so he could care for him. We all had to follow the curfews for 2 years and get him where he needed to be. I cut work hours to take him to probation check in. We have to take him to register. We are responsible for all the rules and regulations because my son is incapable of understanding the requirements.
THE RESULT
The registry restrictions drag families into fear, instability and emotional distress. For me, it let to a road of anxiety meds, antidepressants, sleeping pills and therapy. My husband now has high blood pressure and depression. My son has health problems, depression and the last 2 psychologist reports done in 2015 and 2016 show his IQ falling.
This is due to isolation and no stimulation. No more Special Olympics. He was let go from his small part time job cleaning tables. This was the source of his independence. No one will hire him now. He sits at home all day isolated and lonely.
THE FINANCIAL TOLL
The financial toll on our family has been devastating. We have spent over $150,000 of our retirement money and money we saved for our son’s future care on attorneys, court costs, probation fees, registration fees and relocating my son and husband. (I have remained in our nearby home for the time being.)
We are a good, law-abiding Christian family brought to our knees by a system that makes no attempt to look at people as individuals and recognize their needs, their supports and their vulnerabilities.
We recently learned that when the ten years my son received on the registry are up in 2023, at which time my husband and I will be in our 70s, we will still all be bound by the other rules and regulations for the rest of our lives. Where will my child go when my husband and I are no longer here to care for him? No group home will take him. No nursing home will have him. His sister loves him dearly and will take care of him, BUT…. how will she be able to?
I provided a life for my son so he could receive the support, socialization and services he needs to survive and flourish for the rest of his life. Instead we all live with in isolation, fear and the stigma that we are “scum of the earth.”
“JUSTICE”
If any of you have or know someone with a special needs child, you all know that when the child is young everyone – the schools, the community — try to do what they can for the child. When that little special needs child grows up their disabilities don’t go away, but society doesn’t care any more. That person who still has a child’s mind gets thrown aside in the name of the criminal justice system.
This mom ended by asking listeners to work to reverse the laws that turn the intellectually disabled into lifetime pariahs. She also urged us to go to Change.org and sign the petition for “Abolish the Sex Offender Registry.”  And she invited us to visit the very spare LIRRD site where it says:
"Currently, the criminal justice system makes little or no attempt to understand this population or to recognize their unique needs, supports and challenges. Criminal prosecutions of these individuals often lead to disastrous consequences for children and their families without any benefit to the public.
Our goal is to make changes that will save these children from the unnecessary cruelty that the criminal justice system is putting them through. Implementing this goal will require educating legislators, prosecutors and judges about this population and their need to be understood, rather than prosecuted, by the legal system."
Free-Range Kids believes that Adam’s ordeal is not making children any safer. At the same time, people with intellectual disabilities are at grave risk of being branded as “sex offenders” when they are actually innocent in so many senses of the word. These laws must change. – L