Monday, December 11, 2006

Megan's Law goes virtual

According to several news sources, including MSNBC, Virginia Attorney General Bob McDonnell has proposed a bill that would require sex offenders to not only register their physical address with the state, but also their "online identities." In other words, when sex offenders have to register in accordance with Megan's Law, they will have to disclose their email addresses on IM screen names along with all their other personal information, which can include their place of work, make and model of car, and basic physical description.

While I appreciate legislative attempts to increase the safety of our youth, I believe that this is yet another misguided attempt that will not solve the problem of online predators (which, by the way, we really do not have a sense of how big a problem it actually is). I mean, how hard is it to establish new online identities? Heck, you can create several of them in the span of an hour. All a sex offender has to do is register one or two of them with the state, and then simply interact with youth using one of the other 20 they have kept to themselves.

I have a neighbor whose friend, "Steve," pretty much lives with him. In fact, I thought the guy did officially live in this house, but it turns out he doesn't -- he just crashes there all the time. Steve is a registered sex offender, having had been convicted for a sexual encounters with a young boy. But when I go online to look up the names and pictures of the sex offenders in my neighborhood, Steve is not among them. Why? Because he dutifully registered in his official zip code of residence. Nevermind he is never there -- he is always hanging around on our block -- he is obeying the law perfectly. But if he ever does reoffend (I have no reason to believe he will or will not either way) he most likely will do so near me, where he spends most of his time.

Now translate this concept to cyberspace where it is infinitely easier to claim one identity (read: residence) as your real one and then use another one or two or more as you hang out in cyberspace. There are provisions in this bill against this scenario; "To guard against offenders registering one address but using another on MySpace, the penalty would be the same as it would be for not registering or for providing incorrect information, which could result in a misdemeanor or felony charge," states the MSNBC coverage. But you know how it is. A misdemeanor in return for anonymity? Doesn't sound like a bad trade off to me. That is, if you get caught.

Just ask Steve about that.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Maybe I should start my own blog. I have never published this type of material before and I am a little afraid to reveal my identity. Posting a comment in your blog seems safe for the moment and I can check back from time to time to see if I stirred up any discontent. My real motive for writing is cathartic and the chance that it might do some good somewhere for someone. So if you want you may post this comment to your blog.

You are right. The concept of registering offenders email addresses is dumb. However, the witch hunters could get a law passed that makes it a crime for offenders to not notify the government of every email address they use or control.

Passing more laws will not protect children from yesterday's sex offenders. Only good parenting and education can help protect children. Putting the focus on every single person that has ever been convicted of any type of sex offense is a huge waste of time and resources. Almost every child that is about to be molested is going to be molested by a family member or a trusted friend, teacher, coach, etc, not some ex-offender living in the neighborhood.

Parents and children need to be educated with valid data about where to watch for danger and I can assure you it is not by watching some other family's uncle Harry that lives in the neighborhood and is trying to survive in a very hostile environment.

Chances are that watching the guy across the street that once offended one of his own family members is just going to distract many parents from the real threat which is more likely going to come from within the child’s trusted circle of family, teachers and friends.

Creating laws might very occasionally influence some contributing member of society from doing something morally wrong with a child. It will not stop a monster or someone that is dysfunctional from hurting a child. Passing more laws will not even slow a monster down. Laws have no effect on a person that is determined to harm someone. Those types of personalities live in the present moment and are not deterred by what may happen if they get caught. They don’t see into the future with cognition or they just don’t care because they are broken and terribly sick. You can not control someone by threatening them with pain. They are already in great pain. That is part of why they sexually offend. It feels good for them for the moment and it is a way to relieve the pain that they are already having.

Megan's Law and Jessica's Law actually endanger children because these types of laws don't prevent anything (they define the punishment) and this causes parents to have a false sense of security. These laws impose restrictions and punishments after the child was harmed. That is not prevention. These laws do nothing to stop the real monsters and in fact it gives them a reason to kill their victims. Generally sex offenders are not stupid. If a registered offender is determined to re-offend, they won't do it anywhere near their own territory.

I am not suggesting that repeat offenders and real predators should not be locked up forever. Obviously that will prevent them from re-offending. Most offenders by a huge margin are not monster repeat predators. They are family members and friends.

Regarding the offender that stays at your friends’ house more than at his own house where he is in compliance and registered. In California that offender is required to register any address where he frequently stays overnight. This could be a problem for the online database because those data bases are only able to list one address. So even if law enforcement is aware of an offender that spends a lot of time somewhere away from his registered address; what can they do about it? They can go door to door in the neighborhood to alert residents that an offender visits one of their neighbors? Unfortunately this will not protect the children in the neighborhood. It will however seed the idea that the citizens need to take matters into their own hands. Excuse me! That smells like government sanctioned vigilantism. Tell a parent that the government can't do anything to protect them from a danger down the street and here is a photo of the person and a map on how to get to where he sleeps. This is an absurd solution.

Obviously I am a registered sex offender or I would not be so informed about this subject. For the record I am in my sixties now and my offense occurred in 1988. I spent five years in prison for molesting my step daughter who was under fourteen years of age. We never had intercourse but my conduct was way over the line. At the time of my offense I didn’t have a clue that what we were doing was actually harmful to her in any way. I just knew we loved each other and it felt good to do things together and be together. Once we were the best of friends and now I am so sorry and ashamed. My conduct damaged or destroyed nearly every relationship that existed in my life.

Today I have very little tolerance for ignorance of any kind on this subject when it comes to offenders, cops, parole officers, social workers, politicians, judges, shrinks, guards, doctors, reporters, parents, or anyone else except of course for my own parents and children. I know beyond a shadow of doubt that no child is on equal footing with an adult and that no child can give informed consent. I didn’t even know the meaning of the term until I had plenty of time to investigate and understand my terrible behavior.

Truth is what matters most to me today. I hate deception especially for personal gain or gratification. I also understand that a basically good person can make a really bad error. I also know that it is possible for an otherwise good person to do something really bad without meaning to do harm. I also know that no person is just one thing. We are many things. I am not just a molester. I am a son, a brother, a father, a caregiver, a computer professional, a veteran, a caring and generous person. I am honest in my dealings and concerned about the well being of my friends. I am a good person that made a horrible mistake.