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Friend of the show (and my friend on Facebook) Joe “Not Dr. Jose” Moreno, former opponent of Tom Daly in AD-69, posts a photo of the first Scarlet Letter sign that recently went up in a Florida county. Here it is:
The text that Joe shared states:
Today, Sheriff Gordon Smith placed the 1st of 18 Sexual Predator notification signs in Bradford County.
This sign was placed at the home of:
Sean L. Starling
12921 US Highway 301 S
Starke, FL 32091
Joe asks, reasonably enough,
Should California adopt this sexual predator notification sign?
Will we find that there are more of these Sexual predator signs than Stop signs ?
Go to the California Megans Law website and check your neighborhood out for yourself. It looks some cities may need two signs per block. http://www.meganslaw.ca.gov/
(I don’t post this, by the way, to pick on Joe. We seem to disagree on all manner of civil liberties issues, starting with marijuana legalization, but he’s an informed and articulate advocate of his positions — and he wanted publicity for this and is asking a good question, so by the power vested in me by Vern, I’ll take it to a larger audience.)
I had sort of a wake-up call or two when I started with Occupy Orange County regarding sexual crimes. The first was in Irvine, where one guy (over 18, but I don’t think yet 20) was arrested for an instance of oral sex (that occurred away from the camp) with a young woman of, if I recall correctly, 17. Someone who didn’t like the guy called the cops, they questioned him, he admitted it, and he was taken to county jail for, as I recall, months. I haven’t kept it touch with him (and don’t even remember the guy’s name) — and I recall being highly pissed off about it at the time because I had warned people against crossing any such lines — but I imagine that he may either now be in the sex offender registry or, if not, escaped it by perhaps not much more than luck.
Do I consider the guy to have done something wrong? Sure — although in about 40 other states the age gap would have made such a consensual encounter legal, presuming that it was not in public. Do I see a big difference between this and child molestation or rape? Yes. Yes, of course I do — and I’ll bet that most readers, if they choose to be honest about it, do as well. And yet, for all I know, this guy could now be required to register as a sex offender.
Later, while participating (mostly as an observer and blogger) with Necessity Village through Occupy Santa Ana, I heard stories of homeless people who urinated or defecated outdoors because they didn’t have access to proper facilities being cited for indecent exposure — and ending up on sex offender registries. Now if someone is exposing themselves and masturbating in public in front of unwilling strangers, especially minors, I am happy to see the book thrown at them. I have heard stories from women who have been traumatized by such non-physical assaults; I get how serious it can be. If it happened while I was there, I’d be happy to throw the book at them myself, and by “book” I mean “brick.” But there is a huge difference between that and risking people seeing one’s genital areas because one has to urinate in public — because society has made no other provisions for this necessary bodily function.
Why do we see these dubious “indecent exposure” stops? Part of it may be due to indignant or “by the book” cops. Part of it may be to pad arrest and conviction records, which go over well with supervisors (including the voting public, if we’re talking about someone running for DA or judge.) But part of it is simply that by charging people inappropriately and sticking them into a category with rapists and child molesters, we want to encourage them to go away.
“Go live someone else!”
That’s what the bright red sign is saying to Sean L. Starling of Starke, Florida. “Be someone else’s problem.” It’s like how one deals with termites: the treatment doesn’t kill them, it drives them off into the walls of someone else’s house — and that constitutes victory. And whoever can’t afford termite treatments loses.
Of course, it’s saying another thing to other people: “if you want to throw rocks at someone’s windows, if you want to ambush someone with a gang of friends and beat them up, here ya go!” It’s also saying “you want to protect your kids from this guy,” sure, and that’s fine — but it also makes them a target, one who can’t expect much help from police. My guess is that he gets attacked; my further guess is that he gets a gun and someone eventually gets shot. (If he’s truly a twisted bastard who can’t control his deviant sexual urges for which he was convicted 13 years ago, does this mean that he stops doing them? Alas, probably not. But it may mean that he doesn’t do them in Starke, Florida. Termites, you know?
One thing that prisoners complain about is the idea that they’ve done pretty much the same thing as other people have done — and just got unlucky in the judicial lottery. It’s easy to say “well, two wrongs don’t make a right” from the safety of never having been punished, but I’ll say this: I am pretty sure that a large proportion of my high school class (and those most other places) have technically violated laws against any sexual contact prior to age 18, even if it doesn’t turn into actual coitus. (Hopefully any such activities happen with consent and without consequences.) That doesn’t make it right, although lower ages of consent in other states ought to tell us that it’s not intrinsically wrong, but it does make me wonder how people can be so cavalier about others being placed on sexual offender registries for things in a category that they themselves did (or at least tried to do.)
So having a sex offender registry at all — and especially one coupled with this sort of public shaming — puts a burden on us to make sure that it affects only the worst offenders and that they are protected from illegal “vigilante” attacks once they are released from state authority. This sign doesn’t look likely to help.
You might wonder what Sean L. Starling of Starke, Florida did to deserve this treatment. I only have the category of crime, and it’s something serious.
794.011(2) Person 18 Or Older Commits Sexual Battery And/Or Injures Sexual Organs Of A Victim Less Than 12
2. A person 18 years of age or older who commits sexual battery upon, or injures the sexual organs of, a person less than 12 years of age in an attempt to commit sexual battery upon such person commits a capital felony, punishable as provided in ss. 775.082 and 921.141. If the offender is under the age of 18, that person is guilty of a life felony, punishable as provided in s. 775.082, s. 775.083, or s. 775.084.
Now, he spent only seven years in jail, so I’m guessing that his crime was not at the most heinous end of the scale. The statute would seem to include an 18-year-old kicking or punching an 11-year-old boy in the testicles, without any sexual intent. (Seven years in jail seems about right for that; at least I’d probably think so if I were the 11-year-old boy.) And the possibility is that he did something truly awful. It’s also the possibility that he did so because he was psychologically sick — and, although this is difficult to achieve and harder to prove — cured. I can’t find the facts for the crime in question.
Let’s assume for now that his was one of the bad cases. If so, don’t we want to distinguish between him, a real threat, and someone who had sex that would be legal in the vast majority of the country, or whose “indecent exposure” was due to the biological necessity of urination?
Putting up these signs has its political appeal, I realize. My concern is that it identifies people as being in a category that may be so broad — and that is now broader still, thanks to last year’s misguided Prop 35 — that it can be useless for the end for which it was created. And when people stand to profit from it career-wise — as if, say, they pose with three subordinates in a glossy press release that might drive this technically rehabilitated man into a different county or state, something that I can imagine being reproduced in campaign literature someday — well, I’m sorry to say, I don’t trust the process. Sean L. Starling may be a irredeemable miscreant — but it’s also possible that someone is mostly trying to score political points off of his case. I want people to pay attention to that problem too.