Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Out of Control Sex Offender Panic

It's hard to write anything in favor of sex offenders, but when talking to children in a public place leads to arrest or giving someone a hug leads to six months in prison, even the most ardent protector of children has to say our society has gone insane.

I believe in protecting children from predators. Real predators. The kind who want to molest children or harm them in other ways. But hugging people, talking to children, and even teenagers engaged in consentual sex can be branded sex offenders and forced to register yearly with the state and barred from working or living in certain places. In short, if a man holds a child's hand, that man can be accused of sexually abusing the child, even if there's no evidence of this.

This is to say nothing about false abuse claims by wayward, angry teenagers or overzealous teachers or other officials. Let's face it: if you are a teacher, minister, or other child care professional, you are required by law to report suspected abuse. The problem isn't so much the professionals; the problem is the law.

Laws in most states lump everything--including hugs, horseplay, regular family affection and consentual sex--into the same sexual abuse category. Why? Because it's much easier to ensure real sexual offenders get caught if the net is cast very wide. Unfortunately, it catches a lot of people that we wouldn't typically consider sexual offenders.

I'm not in favor of loosening laws in such a way as to allow actual molesters to go free, but it seems to me that calling hugs sexual abuse is far from reasonable. Our national hysteria over child sexual abuse isn't so much catching predators as punishing the unsuspecting.