Archive for March 12th, 2013

Pain can be alleviated by morphine but the pain of social ostracism cannot be taken away.  –  Derek Jarman

To a very high degree, modern society is losing its taste for overt violence.  As Steven Pinker has pointed out, by any measurable standard we are living in the least violent era in human history, and the level keeps dropping all the time; there is less war, less violent crime, and less collective brutality than ever before.  But while modern people are more likely to fight with lawsuits than with knives and states are more likely to impoverish or incarcerate than to execute, there is still plenty of hate, concentrated on an ever-dwindling population of “safe” targets.  In the West, maltreatment of sexual minorities has always been popular, and though society has placed race, gender, religion, ethnicity and even homosexuality off-limits, open hatred of most sexual minorities is still deemed acceptable both for individuals and for governments.18 People Burned (1528)  The diminishing popularity of open barbarism such as beating, branding, maiming or burning alive led to a shift toward incarceration, but overcrowded prisons and skyrocketing costs make permanent caging of the non-violent unfeasible even when it isn’t actually impossible, so what are sadistic moralists to do?  Increasingly, the answer is the next best thing to imprisonment: exile.

For most of history, the preferred method for dealing with undesirables was to remove them by pushing them to the fringes of society, banishing them from a jurisdiction altogether, or ejecting them from material existence entirely (often by imaginative and grisly means designed to instill fear into the rest of the populace).  Then in the 19th century, all of these were largely supplanted by the one-size-fits-all approach, incarceration; though it was advertised (and still is) as a means of “correcting” errant individuals, it actually serves only two purposes: sequestration and vengeance.  But the United States has carried that inhumane experiment almost as far as is economically and socially possible, and even die-hard adherents of the “lock ‘em all up” mentality are beginning to admit that the system is a human rights disaster; since execution is now widely considered distasteful except for the most heinous murders, it isn’t surprising that banishment is coming back into fashion for “sex criminals”.

Though everyone has sexual impulses, a large fraction of humanity (most especially Judeo-Christian humanity) prefers to pretend that it doesn’t.  When an “upright, wholesome” man or a “pure, chaste” woman sees a “pervert” or whore, he or she is unpleasantly reminded of his or her own sexual needs and thoughts; the urge to remove “sex offenders” from public view is thus a very strong one.  It’s easy for the typical “law-abiding citizen” to pretend he would never steal or kill, so even if a violent criminal remains in the public eye it provokes little discomfort among the righteous; sex “crimes”, however, are a different matter entirely, and require more active and ritualistic “othering” and expulsion.  That’s why the physical location of a brothel or escort’s incall is almost invariably mentioned with pretended horror: “within walking distance of [an] Elementary School” or “a building close to [a] Monastery” or “just a few hundred yards from the courthouse.”  Given the density of schools, churches and government buildings in any typical city it would be unusual if a whore’s workplace was not close to some such edifice, but these statements serve an incantatory purpose rather than an informational one: they are formulae intended to assure the reader or listener that commercial sex is weird and that the speaker or writer wholly disapproves of it.

Once one understands this, “sex offender” residency restrictions make a lot more psychological sense, despite their complete legal insupportability and practical absurdity; obviously, nobody believes that “sex offenders” are incapable of moving from their declared residences, nor that they are so stupid they would prefer to commit “sex crimes” in their own neighborhoods rather than someplace else where they’re less likely to be identified.  The purpose of such laws is to prevent ritual contamination from pariahs, and to remind the citizenry that politicians are courageous defenders of the public morals.  How else can we explain petty evil like this:

[Los Angeles] officials are building a small park in Harbor Gateway…[to force] 33 registered sex offenders to move out of a nearby apartment building.  State law prohibits sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of a park or school.  By building the park, officials said, they would effectively force the sex offenders to leave the neighborhood…Los Angeles plans to build a total of three pocket parks with the intent of driving out registered sex offenders; two will be in Wilmington.  At one-fifth of an acre, [it] will barely have room for two jungle gyms, some benches and a brick wall…The action marks the latest campaign…to drive sex offenders farther into the fringes of society.  The state law already bans offenders from living in huge swaths of urban areas, pushing them into industrial districts and remote towns and into neighborhoods…that lack schools and parks…

Clustering of “sex offenders” is the inevitable result of these draconian residence policies, and Los Angeles isn’t the only place where politicians are now legislating to “solve” a problem they created themselves:

Shiloni Transformation Ministry has taken a stand against…the Anti-Clustering Law being made statewide in Alabama.  This law was passed in 2010 for the City of Birmingham…as a “test run” for the entire state to adopt this very damaging piece of legislation…[which] effectively disabled our ministry from being able to take in former sex offenders out of prison…HB 85 does state that there is a provision…for half-way houses that are “state approved”…[but] there is no state approval agency or standard set in place…Bill Grier…of Shiloni…[said] “The State of Alabama has…opposed the assistance of any and all convicted sex offenders…This…supports recidivism because they have no structured environment to…enable them to move forward”…the State of Colorado Department of Corrections Study in 2003…found that residency restrictions had no effect on recidivism of sex offenders, but a positive…environment, such as a halfway house or…supportive family, increases an offender’s likelihood of living a productive, successful life once their sentences have been served.

sex offender bridgeGrotesquely-unjust government policies nearly always have to get worse before they get better, and “sex criminal” banishment laws have now reached the tipping point; they are so clearly monstrous that even people who are not themselves directly affected are beginning to oppose them, as in the example above.  It’s going to be a long time before the victims of these registries are freed from rampant persecution, but perhaps sex workers may be somewhat luckier:

A proposal to banish sex workers from Atlanta has stalled amid growing opposition that includes LGBT activists and gay residents…The…City Council’s Public Safety Committee dropped the proposal…instead looking to convene a Working Group on Prostitution to gather recommendations on how to best deter prostitution.  That’s quite a departure from the Stay Out of Areas of Prostitution proposal, which was on a fast track to approval earlier this month…

The vast majority of so-called “sex offenders” are people who were accused of perfectly ordinary human behaviors criminalized by our twisted society; the remainder are far more likely to reoffend if they’re denied normal social interaction.  Neither they nor streetwalkers nor anyone else who hasn’t committed mass murder deserve to be driven out of communities as lepers once were; it’s time to consign such atavistims to the same rubbish-heap of obsolete legal penalties where the pillory, the lash and the headsman’s axe are buried.

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