In my last post I made reference to violent offenders being able to live where sex offenders cannot. This apparently is not true everywhere! In Illinois, apparently, people convicted of violent crimes against minors have had to register on the sex offender list when they get out of prison. They have been subjected to the same restrictions that sex offenders have been living with. Illinois General Assembly recently passed legislation that would require these violent offenders to register on a separate list. An Associated Press article on the Yahoo! News page noted some interesting reactions:
1. A recently released convict is relieved that he will be able to get off the sex offender registry. He says “It’s a big weight off my back” when explaining his relief at only being considered a violent offender (this may in part be because people on this new list will not be subject to the same residency restrictions as sex offenders).
2. An advocate for sex offender registries believes that they are more effective when plain old violent criminals are not on them: “Somehow if it’s not (only sex offenders), it takes away the impact and the ability for the community to really recognize the type of danger that they’re dealing with,” she said. (Note to self: It’s much more serious to be sexually assaulted than to be murdered as a child).
And it’s also interesting that only those whose violence is directed at children who will be required to register. Assault an adult and you serve your time and its forgotten. But if you’re 19 and you beat up a 16 year old, you go on the list.
What would it take to get sensible, consistent policies passed that put sex, violence and lifestage in rational perspective?
This morning’s New York Times reported that a judge in Georgia has temporarily blocked the state of Georgia from enforcing a law preventing sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of a bus stop. According to the very brief item, there is virtually no housing where sex offenders could live without breaking the law, and this would result in making approximately 9,000 offenders and their families homeless.
Some questions about the Georgia law:
1. Why prevent only sex offenders from living in a neighborhood? Why not burglars or batterers or murderers as well?
2. How will this law really make children safer from sexual violence when so many instances of sexual violence are unreported, thus not resulting in the perpetrator being registered on any sex offender list, and when so many instances of sexual violence are perpetrated not by strangers but rather by trusted acquaintances?
Even if the Georgia law is ultimately revised or overturned, there are private attempts to do the same thing. The Kansas City Star reported on June 13 about a private housing development where registered sex offenders would be prevented from buying homes and where homeowners who were later convicted of sex offences would be fined each day until they moved. The article talks about a similar development in Lubbock, Texas.
This is more evidence that we treat sex differently than anything else. Here we’re treating sex crimes differently from all other crimes. If a person murdered a child he or she could move into the development or live near the bus stop, but if a person was instead convicted of fondled a child he or she could not. Which is ultimately more harmful? Why do we believe that sex offences are so much worse than any other kind of crime?
And another question to consider, and one that will come up again in future posts, I’m sure: why do we treat all claims about “protecting children” in the public sphere as if they are virtually unquestionable? I will blog about this in the future, but I will say here that I think our ability to protect children is reduced, not strengthened, when we give way to moral panics about the harmfulness of strangers.
It’s not quite cliche but it is hardly original to say that “sex is like food” (just google the phrase to see how many other people think sex and food have something in common). Sex is part of everyday life, is sustaining of life, and is a source of pleasure. People eat to sustain themselves but also eat because they enjoy the sensual pleasures of food. And yet we talk about food much more easily than we talk about sex.
And sex is also like conversation: it is a way of communicating with lovers, with partners, with strangers, with ourselves.
Yet, for all that sex is like food, or like conversation, we don’t have a culture that supports treating sex like either of those things. We share recipes, we sit down over dinner together with friends and we talk about all kinds of things, but we don’t tend to share sexual experiences as openly.
This is especially clear when looking at how news stories about sex-related topics treat sexuality, sexual activity and people who put their sexual desires and experiences out there in the public square. While we’re a society where there are fewer and fewer sexual taboos, we still stigmatize lots of kinds of sex.
I have an agenda. It is a goal of mine to make sex something we treat in much the same way as we treat eating or conversation: as an ordinary part of everyday life, as a “normal” form of social interaction, and as something to be discussed easily, freely, and without guilt or shame. I’m glad I’m not alone in working on this agenda. The blogroll and links associated with this blog will take you to other voices that also want to open up sexual discourse and bring honest talk about sex into the public square.