My friend Arthur (not his real name) had a bench trial on a couple of weeks ago and the judge found him guilty of possession of child pornography. He had two housemates who had already pleaded guilty, both to possession and to having sex with a 15 year old.
Freud said that we are all teeming cauldrons of emotion. I laugh at the truth of that -- except when I’m crying over how eager we are to punish others. The behavior is wrong, but the other two men are serving 15 year sentences and Arthur stands to get that much because he didn’t take a plea agreement for time served. (He is not charged with having sex with the 15 year old.)
Arthur has pled guilty twice to sex offenses, the first time when he was 18, the second time when he was 23 and just out of prison. He says he was innocent and indeed 18 year olds most commonly confess to crimes they did not commit. He is one of three siblings, all of whom were abused as children.
Arthur says his older sister, who had been raped by their father (who is serving life in prison) was always asking her 3-year-old, did anybody touch your penis? Arthur was putting the boy to bed and he didn’t want to go to bed. The mom asked what was wrong and the child said, “Arthur touched my penis.”
I interviewed Arthur in prison five years ago and accepted him into a re-entry program. But he went to visit his mother and the local sheriff arrested him there for child pornography on the family computer, porn Arthur says belonged to his younger brother. He pled guilty again, again on the advice of his public defender. He served two years in county jail. The federal prosecutor declined to charge him, saying there wasn’t enough evidence.
This time Arthur’s two housemates, men in their 40s, had befriended him when he was in prison. So he invited them into his apartment. They brought a computer loaded with child porn and downloaded more through a cell phone and later the house Internet. Arthur says he didn’t know it was there.
So what to do? I never want to send anyone to prison as punishment, only as a measure of public safety. This case is, of course, out of my hands. The judge could suspend the sentence or send Arthur off to prison.
My own point in writing about sex offenders is to foster conversation because I think we displace our own deep discomfort and fear onto them. We punish those who have been injured, rejecting any hope for healing.