Blue Byline

A cop's perspective of the news and South Sound matters

Dealing with the predators among us

Post by Brian O'Neill on March 12, 2012 at 9:48 am with 21 Comments »
March 13, 2012 4:44 pm

First in a series on sex offenders.

After several knocks on the front door, a lean man in his 20s opened it and squinted at us through thick glasses.

“Who is it?” he asked.

“It’s the police.” My partner answered.

The man shrugged, sighed and opened the door. We walked past him into the stale-smelling studio unit and saw a young lady sitting on a sofa with a small child on her lap. I looked down at the sex offender bulletin in my hand. Front and center was a picture of the now very guilty looking man with glasses. I said his name, and he nodded. I checked his restrictions.

“You’re not supposed to be in the presence of a juvenile,” I told him as my partner brought out the handcuffs. A few minutes later, after a phone call to his probation officer, we were off to jail.

That is how the sex offender registration system is supposed to work. Unfortunately, it’s just not that simple.

Picture from screvensheriff.com

There has always been a contentious argument about the best way to deal with sex offenders. Because the matter is decided at the state level, the answers come in 50 different flavors. In Washington, for example, we have a registry, special incarceration facilities and a means (commitment) to incarcerate selected predators past the end of their sentence.

Depending upon your point of view, the current status quo in our state is either insufficient or else goes much too far. Those who believe that Washington’s sex offender statute is a violation of due process would fall into this latter category. They believe that the registry is unconstitutional and that it is simply a matter of time before a registry exists for every particular crime. In this assessment, their view of sex crimes is from an academic standpoint. Comfortably ensconced behind their desks, academics and legal scholars are far removed from the depravities of sexual predators and their prey.

Sexual assaults are a crime like no other. These criminal acts are predominantly committed by men against comparatively weaker victims, usually women or children, in an act meant to display dominance through the utter debasement of the victim. No more personal offense, short of homicide, exists in our society.

In fact, victimization is a sliding scale. Consider the typical first encounter between a police officer and the victim of a burglary. The frustrated and explosive homeowner makes the emotional declaration, “I feel so violated!” This is a sincere and valid statement. Yet the experience of interviewing a rape victim, usually conducted by police, emergency room nurses, doctors or or social workers, would change the way most people think about the word “violated.”

Victims of sexual assault do not explode with rage; they implode. I have spoken with rape victims while they were curled up in the fetal position; some stared off into space during the interview, their voices present but their minds far away; others managed to pull off a sense of stability, but their hollow responses betrayed a fragile mental state.

Most victims exhibit a deep sense of loss, and it is not hard to understand what they are mourning: the loss of self-esteem, of feeling safe in public, of the inviolable sense of ownership over their own bodies. The trauma of a sexual assault can span a lifetime.

That is the nature of the crime committed by sex offenders. It is important we recognize this distinction, because the fight over Washington’s handling of sex offenders is a never-ending dispute. This topic will be discussed in a series of subsequent columns, which will touch on the management (and mismanagement) of sex offenders by law enforcement, the Legislature and the public.

This is an important issue and I welcome the debate.

Leave a comment Comments → 21
  1. tomm5946 says:

    Well, well, well. Another fear mongering blog on the well tested and guaranteed way to draw an audience, “The Sexual Offenders”. Your writing style reminds me of a Steven King novel. Have you considered mystery or science fiction novels in your part-time?

    Okay, on the serious side of things. My first point is the sex offender registry is a complete fraud. Why? Because it does absolutely nothing for the community since sex offenders on the registry are not handcuffed to their home addresses, job addresses or school addresses. They can roam anywhere they want. Who cares where a sex offender sleeps or works or goes to school? The fact is that if these people wanted to commit a crime then they would just do so and that would be that. Did the registry stop anyone of them? No.

    Which leads me to my second point: Sex offenders on the registry have a low re-offense rate, so why all of the attention to these people on the registry in the first place? Didn’t the “tough-on-sex-offender” lawmakers study any of the facts regarding these people previously convicted of a sex offense? Obviously not. If Registered Sex Offenders have a low re-offense rate (and they absolutely do) then what IS the reason for the sex offender registry? Answer: The politics of fear, anger and disgust and the boost it gives political careers. What a surprise.

    I can hardly wait for the remainder of your series.

  2. Brian O'Neill says:

    tomm5946- I welcome your point of view, though I doubt you’ll want to finish reading the remainder. You seem to have your mind made up already. I can’t help but wonder, however, whether or not your point of view is derived from personal experience in some way, or just conjecture from the warmth of your kitchen? Hopefully, if you decide to continue reading, you will see that there are issues you have not considered and places to which you have – fortunately – not ventured.

  3. shiitakeawards says:

    This entire article is an appeal to emotion. The article in a nutshell is these few stories you mention justify wholesale deprivation of rights of everyone who lands on the list. There are a number of people on the registry who did not brutalize anyone, yet your article implies they all do. To also imply every victim is invariably scarred for life

    And why the defensiveness? It seems you are making a judgment call on someone based upon their disagreement with you.

  4. serendipity says:

    Yikes! East Tacoma’s offender map looks like a pandemic outbreak of chickenpox. I have never ever lived in a neighborhood like this. If no one understands how a victim feels, let me be blunt. It is just horrifying! Implosion might happen, but explosion happens much later sometimes. Hopefully the explosion is not a person crime, but a lesser crime. A large number of women in prison were sexually abused or assaulted. As a UPS professor recently stated in a lecture about prisons, the women feel safer on the inside than outside. In addition, the women are smart women reading the classics and books not even college graduates have read. They dread their release dates.

    What confuses me are the statutes preventing lifetime imprisonment for these offenders who are not curable. They just are not. Over and over again they demonstrate they are not treatable. Prosecutors cringe at giving a man convicted of Rape I a maximum sentence of 15 years, and knowing he will serve eight. This sentencing range can be extended sometimes to a life sentence, but that doesn’t happen.

    The rapists gets out, the victim fears for her life and if she wants to change her identity, the only option is to cut ties with anyone she has ever known and get a new name and social security number. This is an outrage! I have no idea how foot patrol and prosecutors and judges restrain themselves so well when they look these perps in the face. I have checked the chickenpox map here. I cannot even get brave enough to walk alone on the east side of Tacoma. Quite frankly, I feel flat out powerless because I do not believe nor would ever own a weapon. My protection is getting into my car and getting out of east Tacoma and back to North Tacoma where the chickenpox outbreak is much less serious.

  5. serendipity says:

    Brian, I cannot believe the earlier comments.

    These commentators just don’t get it, do they. They just don’t get it. Studies show post traumatic stress disorder actually physically damages the brain. We are seeing this in veterans returning from our last two wars. Recovering from a rape would mean having to change the structure of the brain. These commentators think the impact of a rape is nil? Who are they? I don’t want them near any woman. Ever. Cripes.

  6. mamabearroars says:

    Basic rights and freedoms must be equal among all people. The laws are written for all people to follow and for courts to give a person a fair trial with an unbiased jury. When facts and details of any case are peppered with emotionalized, biased additions, the human mind is not able to sort fact from emotionalized drama and sometimes this means cases are not heard by unbiased juries and justice is not fair.

    Studying cases and laws of sex offenses and meeting people who have committed sex offenses has turned me from confused on the issues to compassionate, unbiased and I have a more reasonable vision of better ways to improve our society, the victim and the person who committed the crime.

    We have become a country of honoring “Victim-hood.” We have also stretched the line of crimes far and above what sex crimes use to be. Your average citizen is so busy worrying about how to keep food on the table or roof over the families head they have little energy or time to spend doing time consuming work of studying any of these issues that end up on ballots.

    Police must have a one-sided view and it must be biased. They are picked to follow orders and not question authority. They could not do a good job if they were the policing agent, prosecutor, judge and jury. On the same token the judge is suppose to be none biased and make sure that basic rules that allow for an unbiased court room to be followed. With 95% of our courts settling in plea bargains and finding that prosecutors have been given enormous authorities to make as many charges as they can on one event so they can coerce a plea agreement to save court money as they push more and more cases through the courts.

    Our largest growing industry in this country is the prison system employing guards, food service providers, clothing, and equipment. Many industries prosper within a prison system. The new prison models for America are private prisons similar to the old Russia where isolation torture is a very common process.

    When we have newspapers and other media partnering with any group the whole of the information is segued and not for the benefit of a free and democratic society. If you care about all people then freedom should be the most important part of this story. Balance in justice and freedom for all!

  7. Serendipity: The chickenpox pandemic you described is excellent. It just more proof that the sex offender registries are absolutely worthless. The question you should be asking yourself is why has the legislature written Sex Offender Registry (SOR) laws so broadly that any and all sex crime will get that person onto the SOR.

    You seem like a reasonable person trying to get by in life trying to be safe yet also having to attend to your other everyday business. To be safe, you go online and review the SOR in the area you live and what to you see? The “chickenpox pandemic” swamps your mind instead. The curious person asks: Are they all hard core rapists? Do they still jump out of bushes and molest little kids? Why are they free instead of in prison or on McNeil Island? These are all good questions.

    The answer to the “chickenpox pandemic” is to ask ourselves: Why are there so many people on the SOR? Are all of these people dangerous? Are they all the same? The answer to all these questions lies beyond the obvious and immediate reasons of boosting political careers and TV “news” ratings.

    The further answer lies in getting the facts about the SOR. The facts about the SOR are that sex offender re-offense rates are VERY low as compared to other criminal categories. You can prove this to yourself by searching for “sex offender recidivism” and put your own eyes on the data and conclusions. These federal, state and private studies are not disputed by anybody I know. But this all gets back to my basic point made at the outset of this blog: Given the facts then, why do we bother to have a SOR in our state? Ah yes, politics again.

    The biggest reason to reform SOR laws is that they are backward looking not forward looking. SOR laws effectively punish (via shaming and ostracizing) former sex offenders again after they have served time in prison. The research tells us that the vast number of new sex crimes are likely to be committed by somebody NOT on the SOR. But ask any “tough-on-crime” legislator or a lobbyist about why there is very little laws dealing with new sex crimes in the future and you will get this answer: “Citizens get uncomfortable when told that in all likelihood that a family member or a neighbor or the babysitter or the minister are the ones likely to commit a sex crime and it is not very likely that it will be the people you see on the SOR.

    In other words, the SOR and the concept of “stranger-danger” are welded together to form a false knowledge that completely ignores the vast number of new sex crimes will occur based on the fact the sex crime victim will know the perpetrator.

    In support of what you seem to be concerned about regarding potential danger, let me say that there are sex offenders that will continue to commit new sex crimes (but even those rates are far below that of other criminal categories – look it up) approximately about 5% – 15% of SOR registrants will re-offend over the next three to nine years. There is no getting around this – and that WOULD BE a reason to support having a SOR. The “chickenpox pandemic” that you mentioned earlier is, after examining the facts, is a symptom of overuse of the SOR concept as originally designed as to make it nearly completely unusable. You just have to love those politicians that want to take you for a ride.

    In summary, you yourself Serendipity are a victim of the SOR laws that needlessly frighten you and are well known to be bloated, watered-down and lacking forward looking vision in solving the future of sex crimes in Washington. Our legislators should be looking for ways to trim down the SOR numbers so it can actually used by focusing on those who are most likely to re-offend only (the 5%) and everybody else should come off this increasingly worthless SOR list. Next time you meet with your legislators, bring this information with you and tell them that they should not waste taxpayer money on such a failed scheme as the SOR.

    Respectfully yours,

    Tomm

  8. All I have to do is mention the name “Kevin Coe” and make a case for permanent incarceration for sex offenders. For those of you too young to know who Kevin (Fred) Coe is, he was convicted of the South Hill Rapes in Spokane back in the 80s. Jack Olsen even wrote the excellent book “Son” about the case.

    Having lived in Spokane during the South Hill Rapist crime spree, where the entire community was terrorized by Coe’s actions, all I can say is I’m glad he’s sitting in custody to this day. He’s never admitted guilt, or shown remorse for the rapes he committed and he’s sick enough to re-offend again if given the chance. He is one twisted individual. In his case, the system worked.

    There can’t be any “cure” for these sexual predators. The only realistic option (besides castration, for example) is to secure them from society to ensure the community isn’t faced with the fear of attack. As Brian said, only people that advocate leniency are people sitting in an ivory tower pontificating “rights” of the criminals and not giving any consideration of the real victims.

  9. Gandalf: The first thing that the “tough-on-sex-crime” lobby needs to do is stop with the nonsense that sex offenders are all the same and therefore need to be all labeled the same based on any one heinous sex crime. When you do that, then real progress can be made in configuring future Sex Offender Registry (SOR) and commitment laws that actually go on to benefit society instead of the current practice and constant harangue of fear-based, knee-jerk legislation that drive the SOR law insanity.

    Here’s just one example of what I am talking about: The sex crime statistics tell us that about 30% of all sex crimes are lumped into the “Romeo-Juliet” category where both partners consented to having sex. Yes, I know that people under the age of eighteen cannot legally consent BUT they DO consent nonetheless (and I am not speaking of crimes where the victim is under age fourteen just to draw a line.) So when you use the term “sex offenders” and “predators” interchangeably it is disingenuous to the readers of this blog to say that those underage sex offenders cannot be “cured.”

    Yes, the vast numbers of Romeo-Juliet sex criminals become Registered Sex Offenders and yes they go on in life as having been “cured.” Although I would argue that a better word than “cured” would be “destroyed” – it much more accurate in describing what SOR laws actually do to a young man. In any event, these now “cured” young men will tell you they were “cured” the minute the handcuffs went on according to research that looked into the nature of sex criminals under the age of 21.

    Speaking of this very funny word “cure”, you should know that nobody in the field of mental health or medicine uses that terminology because it is considered unprofessional and statistically meaningless. It is like the word “predator” – it is a political terminology to support SOR laws since it was decided by our politicians in Olympia back then that facts and expert testimony were not wanted at the time, but I digress.

    Back to the word “cured” – it is most often used among law enforcement people and “tough-on-sex-crime” lobbyists but not among the professionals who study sex crimes. These two terms “cured” and “predator” are very powerful words when being used to convince the public and state legislators about “dangerous sex offenders” in order to secure increases to this or that law enforcement budget. It happens all the time.

    The modern terminology uses the term “volitional control”. Then the question becomes: can convicted sex offenders on the SOR list, in general, exercise volitional control over their future behavior. The data says that people on the SOR have very low re-offense rates. That should tell you that they are indeed “cured” for the vast number of Registered Sex Offenders on our Washington SOR list.

    Regards, Tomm

  10. I agree that a lot of the sex offender’s on lists aren’t clinically a sexual predator. As you stated, a lot are stupid older teens violating statutory laws. I was referring to part of Brian’s article addressing what to do with repeat sexual offenders, serial rapists and other sexual criminals that will never repent, show zero remorse, and will never be a productive member of society. In other words, the worst cases that should never see the light of day, much less terrorize society again, no matter the cost.

  11. tomm5946 says:

    Gandalf: I have no sympathy for repeat sex offenders if they truly regard the sex offender laws as a game to not get caught. But I will say that even for repeat sex offenders, if they have served their time in prison are released, the should once again have a fresh start in life. That means news laws that abolish SOR laws and new laws that outlaw background checks by landlords and employers. If one of these guys decides he cannot obey the laws, then suffer the consequences.

  12. Chippert says:

    While I agree that the true sexual predator is a blight on society and our laws are much too lenient in regards to these individuals, I have to agree with tomm5946 that the general public thinks that EVERY PERSON convicted of a sex-related crime is a sexual predator, and threats them as if they are. It just ain’t so. For one thing, recent studies have shown that false convictions and imprisonment can run as high as 21% in some places for general crimes and that climbs to over 40% in the case where the wrongly convicted person had a prior conviction of a sexual nature and was on a SOR. That is a crime in itself. There is no reason to place a first time offender on any registry or publish their name an photo in the local media unless the crime was egregious and aggravated. If the person is truly a sexual predator and, in the professional opinions of a panel of expert, is likely to re-offend then the law should be expanded to offer voluntary physical and chemical castration as an alternative to life without possibility of parole. Should that measure fail, their would be no second chance.

    But let’s stop ostracizing all those countless others who were convicted (and may not have even committed) a single crime. If you did this, that “chicken-pox” map would totally disappear and you would again begin to feel safe in your neighborhood without feeling the unreasonable fear of people who are no danger to anyone.

  13. mamabearroars says:

    Chippet – You make sense of an issue that is so misconstrued by the media and the general public has no idea what is the truth. I think most offenders will never re-offend or break any law and most are first time offenders. People are so afraid to speak out about this and I think they feel people will judge them harshly and define it as not putting children first or one of those other ways they twist what the real issues are.

    Some people are so afraid to speak out about the injustices of sex offenses whether it be a politicians or a newspaper, television show on how so many people have been wrongly convicted. How many have been wrongly convicted and gone to jail for years for a sex offense they did not commit? How many were severally overcharge and received way too many years for the crime they committed?

    It is the only crime where you only need a “finger” pointed at you to be thought of as guilty and if you try to argue the case the powers that be twist the terminology to: 1. He’s being manipulative 2. He is in denial 3. He has no remorse or feeling of guilt —– and the real zinger for those that have no clue about these issues 4. He should have thought about that before he committed his crime.

    These crimes are usually consensual these days and even adults seem to need sex education and they contrive more and more “Sudo-Victims”. It is as if they have no idea what a real victim is. Funny thing is real victims get over it and “Sudo-Victims” many times make a career of it.

  14. Brian:
    Good subject. Consider two things.
    Once your name makes the list, you are stigmatized essentially forever by it. The criteria for the list is relatively low, for instance, statutory rape cases motivated by angry parents of near legal age kids. When you mix the minor offenders with the hardcore offenders, people will almost always assumes anyone on the list must be in the harshest category. So the poor guy who got caught by the girls angry father is just as bad as the guy who raped a total stranger, in the minds of J.Q.Public.
    In days of yore, experiments with sterilization and chemical castration yielded excellent results in mental facilities. Human rights groups protested vehemently and the practice was stopped. If offenders had to commit serious enough act to make the list, how many would protest the removal of their rights to protect the public? All these people calling for release or consideration of any sort for rapists should be forced to let them move next door to them. Many want them to be free, but not in their neighborhood.

  15. Brian O'Neill says:

    Thanks for the comments. Several raised the question about the types of crimes, i.e. stat rape, that require an offender to register. That is worth time in a future column on this series, and again I welcome that debate. But please do not misconstrue any expression of doubt at the inclusion of minor crimes in the registry as tacit disagreement with the registration process.

    In fact, I find it surprising that so many comments here include the idea that there are so many “innocent” people arrested for sex offenses, and that there is actually such a thing as a psuedo (sorry, not “sudo”) victim. That is about the least compassionate, blind attempt at justifying an abhorrent crime that I have observed in some time.

    I would suggest to those readers that they spend less time discussing the impact of the registration process with sex offenders, and instead attempt to understand the actual impact of being raped.

    We’ll return to this series after an unrelated column on a local/national issue.

  16. Chippert says:

    Brian,
    Are you saying that 100% of people who are convicted of this crime (or any crime) are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt? Are you saying that there are absolutely NO cases of vindictive accusations in sexual assault cases? Are you saying that out justice system is so perfect that each and every one of the people on the SOR deserve to be there. If you are claiming any of the above, you are flying in the face of a multitude of studies that say otherwise.

  17. tomm5946 says:

    Hello Brian – The debate about society’s “sex offenders” is about the fascinating age old tug-and-pull debate between safety v. liberty. I thank you for bringing to the readers’ attention that victims of sexual abuse do suffer and that those who commit sexual crimes should be held accountable for their past actions. I DO agree. Some victims of sexual violence do suffer mentally and/or physically for a very long time. This is unfortunate. But the professional literature tells us that the vast numbers of victims of sexual violence, like any crime, recover from the assault and resume their lives as normal.

    Where you and I seem to part ways is AFTER the “sex offender” has been held accountable, paid all of his debts to society and is released back into society (I’m talking post supervision too) and needs to be reintegrated as a normal, contributing member of that society.

    Your position seems to be that these (now former) sex offenders” are not “curable” (a myth), they tend to re-offend at high rates (a myth), sex crime victims suffer for long periods of time and therefore these (now former) sex offenders need to be continually punished (aka: “keep the wound open for as long as possible because there is political ‘gold’ in this stuff”). Also, you seem to maintain the notion that the SOR is of great value to society in locating the whereabouts of registered sex offenders in order to protect your family (also a myth since 95% of all new sex crimes are committed by people NOT on the SOR.)

    And furthermore, you also stated in your article that there will be those people who will argue about the Constitutional aspects of the SOR because the issue of due process is violated (among others such as equal protection under the law. Ex post facto issues. Double jeopardy arguments. And all the other valid legal points that could be made.) and that would be a waste of time given the suffering by the victims of sexual assault.

    Well maybe it is time to ask ourselves a very important question: Do we want to live in a society that leans towards liberty for all or do we wish to be made safe by an ever increasing ‘police state’ that provides safety for all at the expense of freedom and liberty?

    Considering todays militarized police, eroded Bill of Rights, victim-centered public policies that focus on emotion over that of hard facts, empirical studies and expert testimony then that tells me we have decided to give up our free democratic, liberty-based society for an lock-down authoritarian one.

    Your comments please.

    -Thomas Henry Madison
    Gresham, Oregon with family and friends in Tacoma Washington
    “Registered Sex Offender” on the Oregon SOR

    P.S. I am ALWAYS available for debate on this issue no matter via newspaper blog, in-person debate settings or any other.

  18. Brian O'Neill says:

    tomm5946- Thanks for your insider analysis. You’re reading your own perspective into my column, however, though I’ll save my rebuttal for my next column (which you are pre-empting).

  19. tomm5946 says:
    Having multiple people who have been charged/accused of a sex offense in my family, plus being in a position where I must report such crimes (I have had ongoing training in recognizing such abuse of children) I take the view that sex offenders are not treatable because they tend to be extremely sneaky and manipulative against their “prey.”

    In my family, my older brother, rightfully so, was convicted of a sex crime because he chose to molest his daughter, and my family chose not to believe the child, saying children do not tell the truth. He was sneaky enough to do his act, and only had one sex crime conviction, but after he was released (in the 80′s) chose to continue to interact with children that was against his probation. My uncle (by marriage) was going to be charged with child molestation, and his behavior to me was odd because he, who was widowed, had young children over at his house often which did not seem odd to the family, but to the training I had, raised red flags with me.

    The main issue here is the psycho-sexual behaviors the person has stays with them for life, and this does not change even with treatment. It is like they are wired with this abnormaly and not much can be done to undo the wiring issue.

  20. ccingthr:

    The problem with your seemingly narrow understanding of the sex offender topic is probably the number one fallacy of all sex offender misunderstandings and fallacies. That is, “sex offenders are all are all the same.” Professional literature (look it up) shows that the term “sex offender” covers a ridiculous number of sex crime categories which consists of an amazing number of disparate sub-classifications that makes the average informed citizen to wonder what the legislature was ever thinking when the constructed these registry laws in the first place.

    You said that “… the psycho-sexual behaviors the person has stays with them for life, and this does not change even with treatment.” lets first of all eliminate the sex offenders that might fall under a discussion of “psycho-sexual behaviors” so that we can focus on offenders that might qualify for that terminology. To be eliminated from our consideration are convicted sex offenders whose crimes fall under: Romeo-Juliet crimes, public indecency crimes, incest, and other non-fixated sex crimes. It needs to be pointed out that in general, sex offender treatment DOES work and is considered valuable in reducing re-offending for those sex offenders that have a tendency to re-offend.

    For the vast number of molestation cases, the offender’s sexually abusive behavior was of a circumstantial type (“I was temporarily in a drunk or lonely or stupid mood …”) and was not sex abuse of a fixated type (“I cannot let go of my sexual desires…”). Sex offender treatment does work in decreasing the re-offense numbers in the fixated group (look it up). The vast number of other non-fixated sex offender re-offense rates are low because the offender was very often “cured” the minute the handcuffs went on.

  21. Prvt question . Pls contact me thnx

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