I'm not usually one for trigger warnings and that sort of thing, but you can probably guess from the title what the subject of today's post is, and whether you wish to abstain from reading it.
One of my favorite shows, "Law and Order: SVU" opens by stating that sexual crimes are considered "especially heinous." Which they are, and not just in a legal sense. The general public considers sex crimes "especially heinous." Rape and molestation are considered worse than assault or robbery, and often worse than even murder.
I suppose its because for the most part assault is a once-and-done kind of thing. Certainly, you could suffer long term consequences, including medical and psychological ones, but for the most part an assault or robbery happens, then you recover, then you go about your life. But after being raped as an adult you may never get over that. And for children it can be a profoundly life-altering experience. In fact, most child abusers were themselves abused as a child.
I've often heard the argument that no punishment is too severe for a sex offender because the victim's punishment will never really end. And there's some truth to that.
Sexual assault is, in particular, a very emotional subject. I've never met a parent that wasn't vehemently, passionately against child abuse. I can't even really say I've encountered much of a spectrum there, as you usually do regarding people's opinions. It's usually very close to "I hope we torture them on Earth and then they get tortured in Hell. Nothing's too bad for them."
I'm not a woman and I'm not a parent and I'm not a survivor of sexual abuse, which puts me in a uniquely privileged position to not really have to feel very passionately about it. I mean, sexual assault offends my sensibilities, as it does any right-thinking person's, but it's all purely academic for me. That visceral, bone-deep reaction that I hear almost across the board from parents - I don't feel it.
Which is all kind of a lot of prologue to get to the point of today's post. There is a person who I am familiar with who is a convicted sex offender. I've never interacted with him, but I'm aware of his story and I'm aware of his existence. I usually take great pains to give him a wide berth. I'm not going to tell you a whole lot more about him here because I don't really want any readers intuiting or even guessing who I'm talking about. It is a true story, but I'd rather just discuss this entirely under a blanket of anonymity. It's not even really fair that I discuss him at all. I doubt he has any idea who I am.
So this sex offender and child abuser was jailed for his crimes and served his time. And that's an interesting turn of phrase, because we often talk of criminals paying their debt to society, and while (and this could be the subject of a whole other blogpost, let alone book) most criminals are allowed to leave their crimes behind them except for the very real burdens society places on ex-cons, sex offenders carry their crimes around like a scarlet letter. I'm signed up through my work for an identity protection service. Mostly it only ever e-mails me to inform me that a sex offender has moved somewhere within my town.
And, again, I'm able to talk about this all very dispassionately, perhaps robotically, but it just doesn't really affect me personally. Anybody could be raped but I haven't and I probably won't be, because I'm pretty well off and I live in a safe area and I don't really have any children and it's all very abstract to me, beyond being a normal, empathetic human being.
But there are people, and I don't begrudge them this opinion, who think sex offenders should wear a scarlet letter, should be ostracized and hated and never properly let back into the society which they have injured so "especially heinously."
Now this particular sex offender is interesting to me, because about 50% of my friends swear up and down he's the best guy in the world, he's paid his debt to society, and it's time to start forgiving. And fully about 50% of my friends are in the other camp, the let him burn in Hell camp, the never forget his crimes camp. And every once in a while I watch the two camps explode at each other, and feelings get hurt but nothing gets resolved, and both camps remain intractable.
I was reminded of this story when the sex offender reached out to a friend yesterday. I could instantly tell from their interactions that she didn't know his story. And I felt conflicted. I don't really want to throw fuel onto a fire when, again, I don't really know what happened or what he was convicted of, and maybe he's just trying to live his life like any of us, but then again there's the whole issue of being associated with a sex offender and then that tarnishes you for the rest of your life. I mean, good on my friends who defend him tooth and nail for their loyalty, but they're also painting themselves with the same brush in the eyes of the "let him burn" camp.
So I warned my friend that I don't associate with him, and she probably shouldn't either, or at least she should be aware of his baggage before doing so. Certainly I didn't expect him to say to a random acquaintance "Oh, BTW, I'm a convicted sex offender." But I felt she had a right to know.
And this raises all kinds of questions and concerns for me. Like, should I hate sex offenders more? Is there something wrong with me that it's not my kneejerk reaction? Am I genuinely being even-handed, or am I just so privileged being an able-bodied wealthy white male that I'm actually supporting rape culture by not deploring it harder?
On the other hand, are my squicky reactions appropriate? Did I have any right to jump in the middle of what appeared to be a perfectly amicable interaction and essentially scream "Don't talk to him, he's a sex offender!"? Am I doing the right thing by going out of my way to avoid a guy I don't know from Adam just because I'm vaguely aware he committed a sex crime once?
In the movie "Horrible Bosses" Charlie Day's character was unable to get a job because of the "sex crime" he had committed of urinating in a playground. Not to mention that an eighteen-year-old could carry the scarlet letter of a sex offender for the rest of his life just for having sex with his seventeen-year-old girlfriend. But it's perfectly legal for me to marry my fourteen-year-old cousin in Virginia and then fuck her rotten.
I mean, there are genuine issues with our justice system in general, and with our justice system in regards to sex crimes in particular. The United States comes from a very puritan tradition, which means that we're in the strange position of being a modern, first world country that still has sodomy laws and places where oral sex is a crime. Do you know that having any kind of sex except for missionary style with your spouse is a violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice? Adultery? That's a crime for a service member. Pre-marital sex? That's a crime. Doing it doggystyle? That's a crime. I'm not even making this up.
So there's a part of me that worries about the witch hunt aspect of it. And then there's a part of me that worries that I'm not being vehement enough. That I have no idea what it's like to be a victim of sexual abuse. Those little kids will be fucked up for the rest of their lives, will never really be right again, and here I am intellectually pondering the equitable treatment of their tormentor. Since I don't have kids, since I don't have that paternal instinct, I can't understand what it would be like to see my children threatened with harm, or, even worse, harmed. Maybe there's nothing better in the world than Meghan's Law. Maybe it's the only thing that lets ordinary mothers and fathers sleep at night.
I don't know. I don't know why I'm conflicted. Maybe the answer is simple and I'm thinkfucking it. In a way I wish I hadn't written this post, hadn't even exposed my thoughts on the matter, because in doing that I open myself up to all kinds of abuse from people who are sure they know the one true answer. And maybe they do and maybe I should hear from them. But I'm committed to being more honest on my blog and being more forthcoming because I think that's the only way I can develop as a writer. By leaving my blood on the page. I did it when I laid bare my feelings about my jealousy of other authors and I'm doing it again now.
"Manuscripts don't burn"
- Mikhail Bulgakov
Hi, I'm horror and science fiction author Steve Kozeniewski (pronounced: "causin' ooze key.") Welcome to my blog! You can also find me on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Amazon. You can e-mail me here, join my mailing list here, or request an e-autograph here. Free on this site you can listen to me recite one of my own short works, "The Thing Under the Bed."
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