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.
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 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.
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 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 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 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.”
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

Friday, August 18, 2017

On Hate And Sex Abuse Prevention

Emotional Topic

You probably do not need me to tell you this, but the topic of sexual abuse, particularly prevention, is controversial and emotional for many people. This is because solutions often fly in the face of our deepest beliefs, and the facts challenge established stereotypes about how sexual abuse happens- and why. When our beliefs are challenged in that manner, we cannot help but become emotional. 

Much of this emotion, of course, is directed at abusers. I recently put it out there that I was sexually abused as a child. I also recently put it out there that I have a sexual attraction to children, and I wrote about why that does not immediately make me a risk to children. Those two statements bring up emotion, and they are controversial. 

As For Me...

...I do not hate my abusers. Maybe because my first step towards accepting my childhood and how it shaped me was a step of understanding. I wanted to know why people sexually abuse children. What drives that kind of behavior? How could someone possibly justify it? I believe, as a Christian and as a critical thinker, that I am more than justified in hating what was done to me and the effects it had. However, I do not believe I am justified in hating the people who abused me. Why? 

Because frankly, their evil actions were a handful of acts in an otherwise ordinary set of interactions. While they may be indicative of the thinking of those people at the time, the abusive actions did not represent the entire person. I do not believe that at least two of my abusers meant their actions as abuse, even if that is the effect their actions had on me. 

Cycle Of Hatred

Here in America, and indeed throughout world history, there is an ongoing cycle of hatred that still exists today. In the last two centuries, it was black people and women. Three and four centuries ago, it was black people and indigenous people, in North America and South America. Before that, it was religious warring. 

Hate has been an ongoing part of what it means to be human, and it is noble humans who seek to overcome that hatred and move on from it to love, accept, and include other humans who might be different from them. 

Hate Is Not Just About Race

The kind of hate we have seen in the last week is not about race. It is about our beliefs, and our entitlement to those beliefs. We resent anyone who challenges how we think about a subject, and we believe that we should have the right to hold the opinions and views that we do, and express them. However, this gets messy when other humans with those same rights but differing beliefs tell us we are wrong. Harsh words are exchanged, and violence all too easily ensues. 

Racism is just one expression of how this operates. Another expression is the making of laws: Laws that deal harshly with criminals are almost always the result of empathizing more with the victim than the perpetrator. This is as it should be, and the perpetrator of a crime should be held accountable and make some form of restitution. However, sometimes the laws we have created do not aid in preventing future crimes, and make it harder for criminals to have the means to provide restitution for what they did. 

Sex Offender Laws Do Not Follow Standard Justice

Yes, I am talking about sex offender laws. I do not believe that they are fair. Yes, I used the word fair. Every other criminal, even murderers, have a fixed sentence that they have to complete. In some cases, that is a life sentence, but once that sentence is complete, we consider justice to be served. While we may feel the sentence does not fit what we think happened, we have a system where a judge looking at as much information as possible determines that sentence. Even in this system, there are miscarriages of justice and the facts do not fit what is being sentenced. 

Sex offender laws ignore that. They visit and re-visit the offender's crime against them, often for their entire life. They must register. They must not live X distance from a school or park. They must notify their neighbors of something they did years ago. Their sentence does not have an ending. Some argue that the effects of child sexual abuse are lifelong. I disagree. I am just as worthy of healing and moving on as the people who abused me. 

Hate Against Sex Offenders Is No Different Than Racism

Yes, I just went there. If you hate someone because of the color of their skin, it is the same as hating someone for committing a particular kind of crime: You are judging the person (not their personality, their behavior, or a part of the person) for one single observable fact that you can see, and basing your opinion of that entire person on that one single fact. 

You are assuming to know based on one individual fact about the person that they are worthy of hatred. Regardless of what that one fact is, this hatred defies logic, defies the fact that the other person is human, and is no different than the systematic dehumanization that was practiced by the Nazis during WWII. When you take a human being of any kind and revoke their "humanity" card for one reason, without getting to know the person, you are doing exactly what Hitler did: Judging for yourself that the person is no longer human. 

Hate Impedes Prevention

The hatred of sex offenders and our endless desire for revenge must be separated from our hatred of sexual offenses and our endless desire for sexual assault and exploitation to cease in all its forms. If we want to prevent crime, we must understand the facts, and form policy accordingly. We must be level-headed about the policies we form, otherwise we fall prey to the same hate that we condemn in White Nationalist groups.

You cannot change the genetic makeup of another human being by believing they are not, any more than you can change the color of your hair by thinking about it. 

If we are to condemn racism because it treats others differently based on their different appearance, then we must condemn hatred in all its forms: Including the hatred of sex offenders.