You really don’t want to commit a sex crime in the United States. Unlike other crimes, a sex crime creates certain civil liabilities for the offender that can quite literally last a lifetime. Unlike other crimes, these liabilities persist long after the offender is no longer under the control of the Court.
These civil liabilities include residency restrictions. Sex offenders can’t live within (say) 2,500 ft of a school or park or church. They include registration requirements. Once the offender is released from custody, he must register his home address with law enforcement for some period of time depending on the nature of the crime – perhaps for as little as 10 years, or perhaps for as long as his natural life. The liabilities include public identification. The offender’s photograph and name and address and crime will be listed on an easily accessible website specifically created so that the public can easily and quickly identify the offender. His driver’s licence may be stamped with ‘Sex Offender’. The liabilities include the possibility of non-penal incarceration. He may be subject to indefinite civil confinement once he completes his sentence if he is judged a high risk to re-offend. The laws are harsh.
But then no politician ever lost an election by getting tough on sex offenders and the public wants harsh laws. The visceral nature of the crime and its visceral impact on the victim breeds a lack of sympathy. Only say ‘He’s a kid fiddler’ and the countenance hardens and the heart turns to stone. I’m not a great fan of these liabilities. They present a constant potential for expansion into other areas. It seems to me that if an offender requires such control after release then perhaps he should have received a more severe sentence in the first place. But to be honest I can’t say I’m not sympathetic to them. I certainly understand them.
There is an organisation in the US that attempts to raise a voice on behalf of the country’s 900,000 registered sex offenders. NARSOL operates at the margins of advocacy, and offers up a feeble, ineffectual and largely invisible resistance to the onslaught of public concern. Few care. Fewer listen. It consists primarily of Registered Offenders, their families, and a certain type of lawyer. These are the people who must deal with the consequences of the civil liabilities – an inability to find a legal place to live, an inability to find employment, an inability to escape into a shroud of anonymity in which the past offence may be hidden. Anonymity is what sex offenders most desire and what the public most specifically wants to deny them. It’s not hard to understand why. A mother doesn’t want to discover that her new next-door neighbour is a child molester just released from prison. If she finds out, she will want him gone. To where? That’s his problem. She isn’t interested in absorbing the risk of his rehabilitation. Who can blame her. I can’t. It’s difficult to generate sympathy. Any mention of consequences that accrue to the offender will immediately be trumped by a reminder of the consequences to his victim.
And yet, there is a question that requires an answer.
Why is this level of concern reserved for sex offenders? We do not create registers of murderers, for example. We do not make it virtually impossible for a murderer to legally find a place to live. Residency restrictions are transparently designed to make it impossible for sex offenders to inhabit certain places. Towns have been known to build a park specifically to make a particular location off-limits to a particular sex offender. There is no ‘grandfather clause’ for legal residence so a town can use this mechanism to effectively banish an offender from his formerly legal home and the town in which he lives. The courts do not call it banishment, but you have to be a child not to see it. The woman who understandably doesn’t want her little boy growing up next to a sex offender has demanded it, and she will receive what she has demanded.
Yet she demands nothing of the murderer. He generates no parallel concern. Is murder the lesser crime? Ordinary citizens will salivate at the prospect of a sex offender being delivered up to retributive sexual assault in prison. These citizens are often people who shudder at the mere thought of imposing capital punishment for murder, and yet they take delight in the ‘karma’ of a life lived under perpetual threat of beatings and homosexual rape. Does one assault justify another? Something besides the nature of the crime drives this reaction. Otherwise we would bury ourselves in registrations and restrictions on ex-convicts.
Sex offenders complain that they have been made into monsters, and I think there is something in this complaint. We as a culture have accepted the materialist idea that sexual desire is determined by genetics and is therefore beyond the volition of men: it is simply inbuilt. This has been a great benefit to the homosexual apologist, but it has isolated the sex offender as one possessed of an inherently deviant yet immutable nature. There is widespread belief that sex offenders can’t be ‘cured’ and that they will inevitably re-offend. It’s the known power of sexual desire combined with the belief that said desire is rooted in immutable biology that drives the mother’s fear. She really does see a monster in the offender and she wonders at his ability to maintain control in the face of his immutable desire. This is why she doesn’t fear the murderer. She doesn’t see murder as biologically driven, but she sees in the sex offender a drive that is inherent and which she fears must eventually find a way to express itself. Then she looks at her little boy. Who would marvel at her reaction?
The problem with the monster is that he cannot repent: his nature is fixed. The idea of repentance is rooted in the idea of human volition. A man can repent and can therefore change. This is the great Christian hope that no man is beyond hope – not even the sex offender. And let us here declare that there will be sex offenders in the kingdom of heaven. The Atonement of Christ is powerful enough to account for even such a sin as this. (And some of those sex offenders will be greater in the kingdom than you, dear reader. Think about that for a moment.) But this knowledge demands that we not see sexual desire as an immutable given, or its expression as an inevitable outcome. Men may choose good or evil, and because of this we may recognise their humanity. Men who are doomed by fatalistic biology to desire that which they should not desire become the monsters of our imagination. They cease to be men and become subject to the terrible fate reserved for monsters. We gather the torches and chase the monster into the windmill and there we would see it burned alive. We kill the monster before we can see ourselves in it.
In the parable, the rich man sends out his servants to gather the blind and the lame, the cripple and the beggar. To these the Church is sent, for in the eyes of God we are all the blind and the lame, the cripple and the beggar. This mission then includes the sex offender who needs the gospel neither more nor less than any other man. Yes, his temporal consequences must accrue. Yes, some of those consequences must be permanent. But the sex offender has not committed the unforgivable sin. He is not the untouchable who must be cast out. He is not so crippled that he can’t be healed. He is not so blind that he can’t be given sight. He is not a monster. He is one who can likewise call out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” Though his sins are as scarlet, they can yet be made as white as snow. And we who look at our own sins should never say, “My sins do not look so bright as his. Surely I am better than he.” Every man who comes to the Cross is equally naked, equally destitute, equally hopeless. Be grateful there is mercy sufficient for the sex offender. It means there is mercy sufficient for you as well.