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Reflections upon reflections on sex offenders

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I really appreciate the thoughtful responses to my essay about Arthur. That brief bit took me about three weeks to write and I am grateful that you have read it so carefully. Your cautions to me about Arthur’s life as well as your recognition of his lack of opportunities and of his story in others you know are all important elements of the conversation.

In Missouri today there are 13,000 persons on the sex offender Internet list. They cannot live within 1,000 feet of schools, day care centers and parks. They must register quarterly and on their birthday, taking time off work to do this. Their work places are listed on the registry, making many employers reluctant to hire them and be listed on the Internet themselves.

Additionally, almost 700 persons are held in civil commitment. They served their full sentences and then they were taken to court by a team of prosecutors who only do this work. They have been adjudicated as a threat to public safety and they receive therapy and remain confined. I think three have been released since the program was begun some years ago.

And I have no clear idea how many are serving time in prison or waiting in jail for their trials. At least a thousand.

It is too many people. My common sense tells me something is wrong.

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I too feel uneasy because I don’t understand some of my own sexual impulses and I know plenty of people with low impulse control and little self-insight. There is reason to be cautious. But I do not believe there are 15,000 dangerous sex offenders in Missouri.

A few of the people on the list urinated in a back alley, were caught on a surveillance video and charged with exposing themselves by a zealous prosecutor. Another small number had sex in a public place. That used to be a disturbing-the-peace misdemeanor; it is bad taste, not a threat to public safety. I know that a former prostitute, now in her 80s, is on the public registry. Some are Romeos, reported by the angry parents of their girlfriends. More troubling are incest and child pornography cases.

I suspect many are like Arthur, victims themselves as well as convicted offenders, living in the margins of society.

And finally there are the convicted predators: rapists, child molesters, kidnappers. Even there, I interviewed an inmate who had raped three women when he had gone on a robbery spree at age 14, invited by some older men and high on drugs. He served 30 years in prison before he was paroled. He is on the lifetime registry.

But the question is how to protect society without cruelly denying opportunity to thousands who have been swept up in the frenzy of titillating fear of sex offenders. I’m reminded of the witch hunts of 300 years ago.

For us Catholics, priest pedophiles have shaken us to the core. Our bishops failed to protect our children. And they are not giving us pastoral leadership now. So we are left to talk among ourselves. It is a tough topic that has been thrust upon us. And again, I am grateful for your thoughtful shared reflections.

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