News The Offenders
posted by April 2 at 14:10 PMon
In my profile of a Level 3 sex offender in this week’s Stranger, I mention the effect that news stories about high-profile sex crimes have on public policy. This story, making the rounds today, reminds me that stories about attempted sex crimes can also have the same effect:
Law enforcement officials in Polk County Fla., arrested 28 men for soliciting sex with minors after setting up a weeklong sting operation in a suburban home where undercover officers communicated with the alleged predators over the Internet. Three of the 28 people who were arrested told authorities they worked for the Walt Disney Company, which owns and operates several theme parks in the Orlando area including Walt Disney World. Among the other arrested suspects were a volunteer for the Orlando Boys and Girls Club and a student at the University of Florida.
Those arrested ranged in age from 17 to 55. Each arrived at the suburban house apparently believing they were going to meet with an underage girl.
Instead, they were met by a house full of armed detectives working a sting led by the Orlando County Sheriff’s Department, which conducted its second operation in less than a year to target internet crimes against children.
What I find most interesting about this story—aside from the employers of the people involved—is an assumption that the Polk County sheriff makes about the alleged offenders in this case:
“These deviants came to the undercover location to have sex with a child,” the Polk County sheriff, Grady Judd, said in a statement. “We stopped them.” “I don’t know any other way to say this,” he added. “We will not tolerate anyone preying on our children. We will not allow these criminals’ behavior to escalate to kidnapping or murder.”
Now, I’m not at all defending the actions of the people arrested in this sting. (For video of the sting, click here and go to the “news” tab on the media player.)
But after realizing, in the research for my sex offender article, how little is actually understood about the psychology of sex offenders, I find myself feeling a bit skeptical of Sheriff Judd’s suggestion that all pedophiles, if left unchecked, eventually end up kidnapping and murdering children. Again, I’m not defending the alleged pedophiles caught in this sting. The crime they are accused of committing is real, and serious, and should be prosecuted.
But there’s a danger in leading the public to believe that every sex offender—or even every pedophile—wants to kidnap and murder children. It makes it difficult for legislators to create laws and policies that are nuanced enough to deal with the wide spectrum of sex offenders, most of whom do not want to abduct and murder children. (And, although there’s a value in warning the public about the ease with which sex offenders can use the internet to pursue children, there’s also a danger in suggesting that this is the biggest danger facing the children of Florida, or of any state or community. Most sex crimes against children are committed not by a stranger lurking on the internet, but by someone known to the child—in almost half the cases, by a family member.)