Yesterday’s conversation here about child predator laws included an intriguing suggestion. One reader commented that I failed to ask a crucial question when I interviewed George Mason University cultural studies professor Roger N. Lancaster, author of “Sex Panic and the Punitive State,” (University of California Press, 2011)
“You forgot to ask him the most important question. Do you have kids and would you feel the same way about our laws if they were victims of abuse by a predator?” wrote the reader.
The implication is that only a parent can effectively consider child predator penalties. This, of course, isn’t true. Still, becoming a parent does tend to change many of our world views when it comes to law and order.
I took the bait. So did Lancaster. Previously, Lancaster has argued his case that Americans scrap sex offender registries as we know them on more sterile terms. But he answered this question with candor.
Here, Lancaster shares his personal connection to the issue:
“I don’t have kids, but people I know and some that I love were victims of various forms of child abuse; one was raped at the age of seven — not by an anonymous predator but by a close friend of the family. I’m usually the one who cries when we talk about these experiences. I think I have an idea how painful and traumatizing such experiences can be, and I think I understand the value of treatment and counseling for people whose lives have been torn by violent abuse.”
Lancaster went on:
“But I’d come back to point. My argument isn’t that violent repeat offenders should go scott-free, but that our laws ought to be reasonable and punishments ought to be appropriate to the level of the offense. And we ought not to lump together all sorts of offenses under one generic and misleading rubric.
There’s no evidence to support the notion that public registries and child-safety zones make kids more secure. They do, however, catch up thousands of people who committed minor offenses, or who have repented after horrible crimes and changed their lives, or who were guilty of false accusations to begin with. It seems to me that this violates a basic value, that laws ought to be just and punishments ought to be fair.
Even minors are subject to some of these laws in some states. I was surprised to learn that in at least one state, parents can be found guilty of abuse if they know that their kids (up to the age of 18) are having sex with anybody (including other kids their own age) and don’t call the police.
If I had anything else to add, by way of thinking about parenting, it would be: Heed common sense advice. Tell your kids, “Don’t take rides from strangers, or even from people you know, unless you’ve been specifically told to do so by a parent.” Don’t convey a sense of paranoia to your kids, but do talk about these things. And cultivate the sort of trust that would enable a child who’s been abused to talk to you about it.”