How to Waste Time and Money

New York governor Andrew Cuomo has signed a bill making it illegal for sex offenders to play Pokémon Go. Because they might somehow use it to molest kids. Somehow. In some way. But…how exactly?


“Who can say?”

Does it even need to be…no, I need to stop asking that question. Yes, it apparently does need to be said that this is a very, very stupid idea. From what I can tell, this sounds like it’s only targeted at sex offenders who are still on probation, but it’s still stupid.

First, by far the vast majority sex offenses against children are visited upon them by friends or family. This does nothing to deal with that.

Second, this is a waste of time and money that I’m sure could be better spent elsewhere.

Third, couldn’t any sex offender simply create a completely different email address from any that the police might have on record and use that to play the game? I have a friend who isn’t on any lists, but he maintains two different game accounts.

Lastly, tell me exactly how this is supposed to work for a sex offender, please. So, what, Herbert from Family Guy goes out to play Pokémon Go, sees some kids doing the same, and…what? What happens here that couldn’t happen if those kids were skating, walking, riding on the bus, or just hanging out in a park? Why is this game different?

One possible problem I’ll admit could come up is that the Pokémon are distributed randomly, so you could easily have a sex offender’s home that features tons of rares right outside. Or a gym across the street. Or similar. But this law does nothing to address that; it’d have to be handled by the game’s publisher. They’re based in California. I’m pretty sure they can just ignore any requests based in New York.

Bottom line: this is pandering to the worst, most baseless fears in our society, does nothing to alleviate those fears, and fails to address any real problems.

So well done, Cuomo, well done.


Sex Offenders and Passports

So according to a GAO report about 4,500 sex offenders in the USA have been issued passports. This is out of about 16,000,000 passports total that were issued in the fiscal year of 2008. Of course, my response to this boils down to, “And?” But I’m a sane, rational human being who, among other things, understands that sex offenders can be anyone from someone caught urinating in public while drunk all the way up to serial rapists. Since the article I read on this, and CNN’s TV coverage of it, make no distinction as to what kind of sex offender is getting these passports, I’ll just assume it’s mostly fairly low-level ones.

The State Department correctly says that they cannot deny someone a passport because they are a sex offender. There’s certain circumstances under which they won’t issue you one, but merely being a sex offender is not one of those, nor should it be.

Interestingly, I notice this from the article:

About half of the registered sex offenders who received passports live in five states — California, Texas, Florida and Michigan, the report said. Some 50 of those who received passports either lived outside the United States or “their whereabouts were unknown,” the report said.

So in other words, about half the passports were issued to people who live in border states and Florida, which is borderline a border state. Since the government changed the laws requiring people to carry passports when they go to Canada and Mexico, as well as to the Caribbean, this should be no surprise to anyone.

I’m sure this report will soon result in legislation designed to strip sex offenders of their passports. It’ll be the usual over-reaction on the part of a very reactionary government elected by an exceptionally reactionary electorate. It’ll either prevent sex offenders from getting passports in the future or it will do that and remove them from those who already have them. Either way it won’t serve any real purpose aside from giving people a nice warm feeling of revenge.

Of course for those people who are sex offenders (most of whom are convicted of relatively minor offenses and aren’t the kind you picture when you think of sex offenders), this will mean they aren’t allowed to leave the country. Ever. If there’s a sex offender who, say, lives in Texas and her grandmother lives in Mexico, said sex offender won’t be able to visit granny anymore. If her grandmother is unable to travel to the USA, this means this family is being basically broken up to make people feel better about themselves.

Realistically there’s no good reason to prevent sex offenders from having passports. Those who have done their time and are off probation, etc, should have the same right to travel as anyone else, and indeed that’s currently the case (except for anyone convicted of “sex tourism” where they went to another country to fuck little kids). Beyond that, I’d say it’s the responsibility of the receiving nation to decide whether or not they want to allow a sex offender from the USA to visit their country. Mexico apparently doesn’t care, and Canada already blocks any felons from entering the country for at least ten years or so after their prison term is up, so that’s what our two nearest neighbors do. If other countries don’t care enough to find out if someone visiting is a sex offender, I’d say that’s their problem.

As I said, I’m sure legislation on this will be attempted soon and will likely pass. Very, very few politicians are willing to stand up against any attempts at getting “tough on crime”, especially when it comes to sex offenders. The last refuge against that is the courts, but I’m not sure how they’d rule on a blanket ban on sex offenders having passports. I guess we’ll see. It’s not something to look forward to.

Even More On Sex Offenders

CNN has an article on their website about a 20yo man dealing with the ongoing consequences of having to spend several years on the sex offender registration lists in Oklahoma for a crime he committed while living in Iowa.

According to the article the man in question had consenting sex at the age of 16 with a girl who told him she was 15. Turned out she was 13. Ooops. This simple error on his part resulted in criminal charges which resulted in him having to go on probation and complete sex offender treatment after which time the record would be expunged.

I can argue all day on whether or not he should’ve been charged in the first place (no), and if the girl should have in fact faced charges of some kind (yes), but frankly the guy got off pretty lucky within the court system, though sex offender treatment for him was not appropriate (it’s kind of a default sentence, though, rather like how you might get sentenced to AA if you get caught drunk-driving, even if you only drink about once a year).

He and his family, including a blind mother he helps to take care of, moved to Oklahoma shortly thereafter and then his nightmare began anew. Oklahoma didn’t care about the laws in Iowa or about his plea bargain or the record being expunged. They put him onto the sex offender list anyhow, and at the highest level possible.

That’s when the usual problems began. From the article:

A neighbor who found out he was on the registry videotaped him when he went outside, Blackman said. His picture and address were posted on a vigilante Web site, and a gas station attendant refused to sell him cigarettes, one time taking his license and throwing it across the store.

To comply with state residency restrictions that prevent registered sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of a school or day care center, the family moved onto a small plot of land in the rural southeastern Oklahoma community of Stilwell, population 3,500.

The back door of the single-wide trailer faces the forest, a fact that Blackman’s mother finds comforting should her sons ever need to escape a vigilante attack.

Guh. Charming situation. Oh, the bit about him buying cigarettes? Turns out under Oklahoma law you get the words SEX OFFENDER stamped onto your license. Nice.

I’d say this guy is no threat to anyone and that the girl was the one who should’ve had legal problems because of this. Blaming the victim? No, not at all. I don’t think she’s the victim; I think he is. She lied about her age to get him to fuck her, he did, and he is the one who ends up in trouble. One would think she could be charged with fraud or something like that.

Let me repeat something I’ve said before: sex offender’s lists are really stupid and very ineffective. As it stands now if someone like this guy moved in next door to you, you’d be told (probably in lurid, distorted detail), all about him and what he did. If a woman convicted of killing her two neighbors moved in next door to you, wouldn’t be told a thing.

Eventually the courts will hopefully wake up and do something about these laws. In the meantime, we’ll keep getting stories like this.

My first article on the subject.

My second article on the subject.

More on Sex Offender Laws

From the blog Classically Liberal comes an article all about the damage sex offender laws (not sex offenders themselves), do to society… particularly when the offenders are under eighteen.

Our sex offender registration laws, as well as many laws governing sex in this country, are foolish, dangerous and wrong. They do nothing to help people and everything to hurt. They need to be changed. Hopefully with articles like that one, articles like the ones I’ve written on the topic, and ones by larger media outlets like The Economist will help to finally bring change.

On Sex Offender Laws

The Economist has a wonderful article about the unfairness of America’s sex offender laws. It trashes them for the nonsense they are and does a great job of doing so.

Before we get too terribly deep into this article, some disclosure: two people who are very important to me are on this list. One for a minor offense committed back in 1992 (consenting sex with someone 15 months underage), and the other for something a bit more serious (exposing himself and fondling a young girl… both when he was 13). As such I’ve seen the very real havoc that can be wreaked upon someone’s life by being on this list.

You might be amazed at the number of people out there who are listed as sex offenders and you might be surprised at what can get you on the list. It’s not necessarily something like raping a four-year-old, though that would certainly do it. It can also be something like streaking or taking a whizz in public. From the article:

Every American state keeps a register of sex offenders. California has had one since 1947, but most states started theirs in the 1990s. Many people assume that anyone listed on a sex-offender registry must be a rapist or a child molester. But most states spread the net much more widely. A report by Sarah Tofte of Human Rights Watch, a pressure group, found that at least five states required men to register if they were caught visiting prostitutes. At least 13 required it for urinating in public (in two of which, only if a child was present). No fewer than 29 states required registration for teenagers who had consensual sex with another teenager. And 32 states registered flashers and streakers.

How many people do these laws impact?

Because so many offences require registration, the number of registered sex offenders in America has exploded. As of December last year, there were 674,000 of them, according to the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children. If they were all crammed into a single state, it would be more populous than Wyoming, Vermont or North Dakota. As a share of its population, America registers more than four times as many people as Britain, which is unusually harsh on sex offenders. America’s registers keep swelling, not least because in 17 states, registration is for life.

Yay, fun.

No politician will dare call for reforms to these laws, despite the fact that many know reforms are needed. It would be political suicide to suggest that we should be “soft” on sex offenders, so ever-tougher laws get passed, leading to things like:

One rule, championed by Georgia’s House majority leader, banned them from living within 1,000 feet of a school bus stop. This proved unworkable. Thomas Brown, the sheriff of DeKalb county near Atlanta, mapped the bus stops in his patch and realised that he would have to evict all 490 of the sex offenders living there. Other than the bottom of a lake or the middle of a forest, there was hardly anywhere in Georgia for them to live legally. In the end Georgia’s courts stepped in and suspended the bus-stop rule, along with another barring sex offenders from volunteering in churches. But most other restrictions remain.

You might say, “So what? So these evil fucks can’t find housing, oh, boo-hoo.” Well, it matters. It matters not only on a moral level, but on a practical level (ie: how are people supposed to try and rebuild their lives and become productive citizens if we do everything we can to keep them from doing so?), and from a prevention level.

See, it’s been proven time again that one of the surest ways to get an addict to relapse (and make no mistake: there’s a lot of similarities between substance addiction and sex offender compulsion), is to heap stress upon them. There’s no way to generate more stress in someone’s life than by giving them an uncertain housing situation. The odds of someone reoffending go up when they are stressed, housing problems cause stress, so if an offender is homeless they are more likely to reoffend.

Further, despite what you might’ve heard in the media, sex offenders aren’t really more likely than any other group to reoffend. Again, from the article:

Politicians pushing the get-tough approach sometimes claim that sex offenders are mostly incorrigible: that three-quarters or even nine out of ten of them reoffend. It is not clear where they find such numbers. A study of nearly 10,000 male sex offenders in 15 American states found that 5% were rearrested for a sex crime within three years. A meta-analysis of 29,000 sex offenders in Canada, Britain and America found that 24% had reoffended after 15 years.

This is, as the article points out, still way too high of a percentage, but it is lower than certain other crimes (like theft), and it does mean that the vast majority of sex offenders do not reoffend.

Of course there’s also other problems with putting people’s names, faces and addresses out there where anyone can find them. It’s basically giving information to anyone who wants to go out and be a vigilante.

Publicising sex offenders’ addresses makes them vulnerable to vigilantism. In April 2006, for example, a vigilante shot and killed two sex offenders in Maine after finding their addresses on the registry. One of the victims had been convicted of having consensual sex with his 15-year-old girlfriend when he was 19. In Washington state in 2005 a man posed as an FBI agent to enter the home of two sex offenders, warning them that they were on a “hit list” on the internet. Then he killed them.

Murders of sex offenders are rare, but harassment is common. Most of the offenders interviewed for this article said they had experienced it. “Bill”, who spent nine months in jail for having consensual sex with a 15-year-old when he was 27 and is now registered in North Carolina, says someone put up posters with his photograph on them around his district. (In at least four states, each offender’s profile on the online registry comes with a handy “click to print” function.) The local kids promptly stopped playing with Bill’s three children. And someone started leaving chopped-up sausages on his car, a possible reference to castration. Bill and his family moved house.

Both the people I mentioned at the top of the article have dealt with things like that. At one point one of them was (illegally) denied housing, both were kicked out of places (illegally), once they were discovered to be sex offenders and the one convicted of the more serious crimes has had considerable problems finding jobs or housing due to his status.

Of course, woe betide those who try to avoid these laws so they might have a fair chance of getting their lives together.

The penalties for sex offenders who break the rules can be severe. In Georgia the first time you fail to provide an accurate address or register annually with the county sheriff to be photographed and fingerprinted, you face ten to 30 years in prison. The second time: life. Yet because living on a public sex-offender registry is so wretched, many abscond.

Some states have decided that harsher sex laws are not always better. Iowa has sharply reduced the number of sex offences for which residency restrictions apply. Previously, all Iowan sex offenders who had abused children were barred from living within 2,000 feet of a school or child-care centre. Since where offenders lived was defined as where they slept, many would spend the day at home with their families and sleep at night in their cars at a highway rest stop. “That made no sense,” says Corwin Ritchie of the Iowa County Attorneys Association. “We don’t try to monitor where possible bank robbers sleep.”

Ultimately these laws don’t actually do anything. They make the public feel a little better and feel like they are getting revenge against these evil child molesters, but it’s very self-defeating and doesn’t actually make anyone safer. All it really serves to do is make life harder for those who are trying to be good people and productive members of society (and if they are felons, their lives are made even harder when they try to do things like get a job or vote).

Some argument can be made for tracking the worst of the worst out there. But the current system of tracking everyone, even those who did such things as urinating in public, is not effective, not productive and not fair.

I Have Here a List

I was watching CNN a bit ago and they were talking about a couple teens who were nailed for production, possession and distribution of child pornography (cue dramatic music). These kids were involved in something known as “sexting”, which is the sending of sexually explicit text messages and/or pics. These particular kids made naughty photos of themselves which they sent out to friends. As a result of that, one is facing felony charges and the other is now a convicted felon and sex offender.

Yes, a sex offender. He’s on the sex offender list and will likely remain there for the rest of his life, depending on what state he’s in. The other person, a girl, will end up on the list if she’s convicted.

The sex offender registration lists are much more than what you’d expect. You might imagine that they’d include people who violently raped someone or who fondled a kindergarten student, and you’d be right. But they also include these kids, people who are charged with public indecency (which can be something as simple as urinating on the sidewalk while drunk), or someone like Genarlow Wilson, who had consenting oral sex with a girl two years younger than him and did time for it. Someone like him would certainly be listed as a sex offender (though I don’t believe he actually is due to the unique nature of his case).

I have a dear friend who is on the list. When he was 13, he “exposed himself” to a pair of male cousins (it was a bit of the old “Show me yours” kind of thing), and was playing doctor with a five-year-old girl. Now these things aren’t good, and certainly called for counseling, but what happened instead is a 1st degree felony, four years in prison and being put onto the sex offenders list for the rest of his life, despite clean living for the last many years.

Now the laws on sex offenders vary widely depending on what state you’re in. In Washington, where my friend lives, you’re on the list for a set number of years depending on your crime; either 10, 20 or life. Down here in Arizona as well as in California, you’re on the list for life period. This means if your crime was something like sexting, you’re screwed forever. You don’t even get the hope that after a certain number of years have passed, you might not have to register.

There’s other variances to the laws, too. In Washington and California landlords cannot refuse to rent to you because of your sex offender status. In Arizona, they can and do. Actually we even have a fun law here in Arizona that says no more than a certain number of sex offenders can live in a given area, which means if you are on the list and find a landlord who doesn’t have a problem renting to SO’s, that landlord might not be able to rent to you, cause they have too many living at that location already.

Now some talk about how important these laws are and how they keep the public safe. Well, they don’t. You ever hear the phrase, “don’t shit where you eat?” If you’re an SO and you are determined to go off and do something bad, you can just do it on the other side of town. No one knows who you are there.

Further these laws make it much harder for sex offenders to find work and living space. You might be thinking, “well, boo-hoo, cry me a fucking river”, but it does matter. It’s been proven time and again that the odds of someone with compulsive sexual behavior reoffending go up dramatically the more stress they have in their lives. If you’re stuck homeless and unemployed you’ll likely revert back to your previous behaviors no matter how much therapy you’ve had.

This brings up another point: the rate of reoffending by sex offenders is actually lower than that of many other crimes, including murder, arson and drug offenses. Sex offenders are substantially less likely to reoffend, though it is true that if they do get re-arrested on a charge, it will most likely be another sex offense.

It’s also worth noting that with the laws as they stand now, if the kid mentioned at the top of this article moved in next door to you, you would have the right (depending on the state), to be warned and notified by the police. If, on the other hand, someone who did twenty years for murdering both his next door neighbors moves in next to you, you don’t have the right to know about that. Tell me which you think is the greater threat.

Ultimately these laws serve no purpose other than to give you a false sense of security (“Oh, the government has a list of all these people! They’re keeping us safe! Hooray!”), while simultaneously making you more paranoid (“Oh, my god! Look at all the dangerous people on this list! Some of them live near me!”). They also make it much harder for sex offenders to re-enter society.

There’s four possible solutions to this situation as it stands now.

First: get rid of the list entirely. It serves no useful purpose and makes the general public less safe.

Second: if the list is kept, require that all felons be on the list. As mentioned before, if a murder moves in next door to you, you don’t have the right to know about it.

Third: if the list is kept, provide uniform laws across the nation for how it is maintained and who is required to register and for how long. As it stands now, if you don’t like the way the laws in your state handle your case, you can just move. And when having the requirements for how long someone has to register, don’t make it for life unless it’s the most serious offenses (violent rape or something with a large age and/or power disparity). For most crimes, make it somewhere from 1 – 20 years.

Fourth: needless to say, if you’re being charged with making child pornography of yourself, you shouldn’t even be charged, much less put onto the sex offenders list. The ideal behind the child porn laws is to prevent exploitation of children, but how can you be exploiting yourself? This is the ultimate example of a crime where the victim and the perpetrator are the same person and it makes no sense to enforce them as we are.

It used to be that we had the ideal of “You did the crime, you did the time. Now you get a second chance”, and we still do have that for some things, but we have this huge blind spot when it comes to sex offenders, and it’s made worse by the democratic process that makes it next to impossible to get elected if you say you want to reform the laws to make life easier for the sex offenders. Let’s face it, no one will ever fail to get elected because they said, “I want to get tough on these evil perverts!”, but if they said, “Let’s be a bit more logical and compassionate,” they’d stand no chance at the ballot box.

For the sake of everyone, from the general public to the sex offenders themselves, these laws need to change.