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Righteous anger often clouds right reasoning

The impulse to lock up every child sex offender and throw away the key is getting out of hand

Muskogee Phoenix, December 18, 2005 (www)

Some Republican state legislators are proposing a Keeping Oklahoma Kids Safe initiative that increases the minimum incarceration period for someone convicted of sexual molestation of a child 12 or younger from one year to 15 years without parole. We understand the gut reaction demanding severe punishment for someone who commits a sexual offense against a child.

Sexually abusing children is egregious because they can’t defend themselves and the abuse can result in lifelong mental scars. Adults who abuse children force them into a world they know nothing about and where they cannot cope.

But we can’t let emotion run away with reason.

A big difference exists between touching a child once or a few times inappropriately and committing worse sexual offenses. We also have to consider that some complaints of child abuse originate after a divorce and child sexual abuse charges seem to have more to do with vindictiveness than they do with hard evidence. Yet these legislators want disparate offenses to result in the same punishment.

They want to take away a court’s ability to sentence according to the severity of an offense.

Locking up a person for 15 years because they inappropriately touched a child doesn’t make sense. It also overlooks the possibility that a person who touches a child inappropriately can be helped.

Recidivism rates are high among child abusers [*], but these legislators’ initiative completely fails to address prevention or rehabilitation.

[* Not true. See the former article here and
< http://www.ipce.info/newsletters/e_20/e_20_3c_myths.htm > and
< http://www.ipce.info/newsletters/e_18/myths_facts_recidivism.htm >.]

As a responsible society, our entire response cannot simply be prison time. It’s not the answer to solving what one legislator called increasing “deviant behavior” as the result of the “deterioration of the family.”

State law prohibits child sexual abuse now, and penalties are in place to deal with the least and worst offenders.

We have plenty of laws, and we don’t need what these legislators also propose, the amending of a law that prohibits sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of public or private schools to include parks and playgrounds. This would simply be a law that cannot be enforced. The Phoenix and other media found that local law enforcement agencies were not keeping required sex offender registries nor preventing sex offenders from living near schools.

Do these legislators think law enforcement, without added funds or officers, can suddenly do more than they are already not doing?

We are not proposing that child sex offenders get off easy, nor that children are not protected from people who would abuse them. We are proposing that we approach the problem of child sexual abuse with reason as well as with righteous anger. Longer prison terms are not the only answer to preventing child abuse.

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