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Monday, April 2, 2007

The Offenders

posted by on April 2 at 14:10 PM

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.)

More on this here.

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Another wee bit is that the local law enforcement jurisdictions determine the level of the offender. In other words Issaquah can determine that so and so is a level 3 and another jurisdiction in Kitsap for instance, can determine they are level 1. They can determine level 3 as a way to keep harsher tabs on them or as a way to drive them out. The problem is that you send them underground and in that scenario the community does not win, though they think that by driving them somewhere else they are some how safer. Is not pleasant to say it, but it is to the community's benefits that these people do well outside so they dont re offend.

Posted by SeMe | April 2, 2007 2:23 PM

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.

Agreed. But a lot of these laws are supposed to be 'protective' of children, exactly because we don't know who is going to escalate their behavior, and who is not. Joseph Duncan didn't murder children either....all the way up until he did.

Posted by Tlazolteotl | April 2, 2007 2:39 PM

Hey, since we're talking about how fucking overblown the threat of strangers to your children is, can you do a nice article about Amber Alerts, and how most children who are kidnapped are snatched away by a parent?

Posted by Gitai | April 2, 2007 4:07 PM

according to the fbi statistics, child kidnap/murders have remained at a steady 5-per-year nationwide for the last twenty years or so. thanks to the trashy exploitation of local news stations, most people are under the impression that this is a crime on the rise, and that a murderous pedophile lurks around every corner. as a result, all these paranoid parents severely restrict their children's freedom, and generally instill fear into them. there's too much kneejerk fear in this country, and it's hurting us.

Posted by ellarosa | April 2, 2007 4:38 PM

They should have alerts for guys and gals that violate no-contact orders too - we'll call them Loony Alerts.

Posted by Will in Seattle | April 2, 2007 5:15 PM

Did no one notice that the 17 year old "predator" caught in this sting was a minor himself? The article never mentioned how old of a girl he was led to believe he was meeting. They're usually around 14 in such stings. Yes, 17 year olds shouldn't be looking for 14 year olds on the internet, but 3 year age differences between dating couples is hardly abnormal. It's pretty stupid to call a teenager a deviant for having normal sexual desires, and to claim he's preying on young children and will kidnap and murder them. For documentation of how our tax money is being wasted to destroy children's and teenagers' lives by calling them "sex offenders," see .

Posted by Geoff Biky | April 2, 2007 6:29 PM

Nice work- much needed defense of pedophiles by the readership of this rag.

Posted by Curtis M. | April 2, 2007 9:12 PM

7, we're not defending pedophiles, we're pointing out harmful excesses. have anything actually informative or intellegent to say, curtis?

Posted by ellarosa | April 3, 2007 12:12 AM

This thread reminds me of a sketch from that venerable and short-lived HBO series Mr. Show..."Nambla: at least we're not killers!"

Posted by Alex | April 3, 2007 3:10 AM

Having lived with a sex offender for a couple of years - one that I'm sure did NOT re-offend - I applaud the good, even handed coverage of this topic. There are those who, with treatment, will not or are unlikely to re-offend, however the current popular "wisdom" is that a sex offender can never be cured. It's a difficult topic and I don't know where the balance is. I'm not sure that we have a good ability to diagnose those who are unlikely to offend. I am sure that the current scarlet letter treatment is not working well, if at all.

@6 - good point about the minor. I was struck by his age as well. Still, in an age where 12 year olds are charged with murder, I suspect his age would get him trial as an adult. What is the age of consent in Washington anyhow?

Posted by B.D. | April 3, 2007 8:46 AM

When will people learn. That hot 13 year old Lolita on the other end of the chat room is a POLICE DETECTIVE. Jesus. Can we send them to jail for being morons on top of being perverts?

Posted by exelizabeth | April 3, 2007 12:20 PM

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