Needed discussions about sex offenders

I want to talk about a difficult topic: men and women in prison who have been convicted of sex offenses.

This is a frightening topic because we fear for the safety of our children and because we women fear rape. Sitting safely in our warm homes, we see so many television crime stories and headlines of child abduction and sexual sadism that we imagine these crimes to be rampant -- even as we choose to be entertained by them.

So we vote for the politician who is toughest on crime. Fear trumps hope. Punishment and revenge trump faith and forgiveness.

Here in Missouri, about 170 convicted sex offenders, probably all men, have served their full criminal sentences and then were adjudicated in civil court of being a danger to themselves or others and locked up in a mental health treatment center. To my knowledge, only one has been released from there.

This is difficult for me to get my head around. I can't believe Missouri has 170 persons who pose a threat to our women and children. The number seems proportionate to television crime but not to my experience of family, friends and newspaper reports. Virtually all serial rapists and pedophiles get life sentences. I could imagine another 25 or 50, maybe, who fell through the judicial cracks. But 170? In Missouri? How many in other states?

Pedophilia is a terrifying crime, committed mostly by family friends and relatives. However, locking up the perpetrator may cause the child even more guilt and anguish because of the family chaos that ensues. A wage earner is gone. A step-grandfather is gone and grandma is miserable. Everyone is angry and the child blames herself. Our system is punitive, not healing. Though I grant we don't know much about what it would take to heal incest.

Serial pedophiles and rapists are rare, and, again, we have little research about treatment programs or the causes of their violent behavior. These predators are dangerous, but they too are human.

So those are the worst cases. As a society we need to talk about them -- about public safety, and about punishment and treatment for the offender. In my next blog I'll write about all the other sex offenses, from computers to public urination.

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