Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Pass the ice cream and damn the pedophiles

The shrimp and pasta in alfredo sauce had made its second pass 'round the table, the homemade sourdough bread was being passed for the third time, just to fill in the corners of any bellies that weren't yet full, and glasses were being topped off with a delightfully light pinot grigio from a little Sonoma Valley winery we'd discovered a few years before. Merlot-laced chocolate sauce was warming in the kitchen, to be ladled over butter-crunch ice cream later. In short, it was another Friday night with the Northeast Colorado Liberal Wine Club, and the talk had been of sexual predators.

It may surprise some to find that sexual predation can get a liberal's dander up. I don't mean we attain actual heights of dudgeon like our conservative counterparts, oh no, no, no. No, our dudgeon is of much lesser altitude, and frankly we're just a little nervous about it, and becoming more nervous as time goes on. Oh, sure, we damn to hell all of those infernal priests and their bishops who refused to even consider that a centuries-old, all-male fraternity of celibate mystics just might offer a perfect cover for closet pedophiles. Damn them! Damn them all to Hell! But we come up a little short of the castrate-and-crucify-the-bastards mentality common among the conservative hoi polloi.

It was commonly agreed around the table, however, that there is simply no redemption for pedophiles, that sex offenders cannot help themselves and thus we need to look at some sort of permanent separation from polite society for such offenders. Recent pieces on NPR and PBS were invoked, and I think someone even quoted The Economist, which is a bit high falutin' even for our group. All agreed that there is simply nothing that can be done about sex offenders because, well, it's sex, after all.

Rather, nearly all. I didn't agree. I don't agree. I tried to say that I didn't agree, but the butter-crunch ice cream with merlot-laced chocolate sauce was served, my glass was re-filled with pinot, and talk drifted to our adoration of Barak Obama, at which point we all secretly reached into our pockets and fondled our Koranic scriptures, which is what we liberals do when we communally adore Obama. I tried to tell the story of my first encounter with the concept of a "criminal mind" and how it applied to sex offenders, but the butter crunch was to die for and the pinot was flowing freely.

I didn't agree because I've always been frustrated with the idea that "sex crimes" need special treatment. Never mind the illogical feminist hypocrisy that rape isn't really about sex; I'm talking about the hysterically emotional response the American public has in general to all crimes involving human genitals. Victim advocates cry relentlessly about the psychological scarring endured by molestation victims, as if no other victim of physical assault suffers such scarring. After a few rounds on the analyst's couch, I'm here to tell you that when a child is brutalized frequently and regularly by someone in a position of absolute power, it doesn't have to be sexual to leave scars.

A decade ago, when Colorado's largest prison was still in the CAD/CAM programs of the designer's computer, the man was would open the prison and become its first warden gave me a short lesson on The Criminal Mind. Imagine, he said, that you are at a barbecue. You take your paper plate, you pile on the pulled pork, the beans, the tater salad, maybe some slaw, then you get your drink, sit down and eat your meal. When you're finished, you gather up your napkin, cup and plastic fork, fold it all into the paper plate and throw it in the trash. In the Criminal Mind, the victim is the paper plate. The victim is something to be used for the criminal's personal gratification, then disposed of.

What I think this means is that sex offenders, like all criminals, use their victims as disposable items for personal gratification. Disposal is usually psychological (rationalizing, ignoring the consequences, etc.) but occasionally it becomes a very real and very physical disposal. But what is the difference between the killer who kills in a moment of outrage and the rapist who rapes in a moment of uncontrollable compulsion? What's the difference between the kleptomaniac who cannot refrain from stealing or the addict who cannot refrain from shooting up, and the pedophile who cannot refrain from molesting?

According to people who should know, the answers are "Not much" and "Quite a bit" and even "Well, we really don't know yet." This all from the same definitive paper on sex offender recidivism issues by the U.S. Justice Department. It's called "Recidivism of Sex Offenders" and it was issued in 2001 by the DOJ's Center for Sex Offender Management. It answers very few questions definitively. Yes, sex offenders have a lot in common with other criminals, but in other ways they are a distinct antisocial, even sociopathic, group.

Bottom line: We don't know what to do with sex offenders. I think that's why there cannot be any serious conversation about it, even among liberals who think pretty much alike. We don't even understand the problem well enough to take sides on a solution, or even on an interim response. It occurs to me that, before we do much more research on how aging baby boomers can have great sex into their 70s and 80s, we first need to find out why some people have to use sex to hurt and damage other people. It'd be nice, some day, to be able to settle the issue before the ice cream is served at dinner.