Sexual predator price tag seems a bargain

Non-journalists are always complaining about editorials masquerading as news. Usually, they’re wrong. But sometimes reporters and their news editors are so obviously, nakedly, unabashedly (although not admittedly) making an editorial point that it’s painful to read. And mainly (to one like myself, who does not worship at the altar of the god Objectivity or even belief humans are capable of it) because it’s so badly done.

It’s particularly painful if you happen to be a real editorialist. News people, generally speaking, simply don’t think about what they’re writing about in the necessary ways to do it well. So they come blundering into an issue that they have defined poorly and explained badly, making a mockery of serious commentary. This is not because they lack intelligence. It’s because their jobs don’t require them to think about things that way. When you have to set out your opinion on various aspects of an issue, day after day, for the world to pick apart and throw stones at, you think a lot harder about what you DO think, and WHY, and what the implications are. And parts of your brain that were shut off when you were in news and strictly forbidden to air opinions suddenly get oxygen and start to function. It’s sort of weird. After I’d been in editorial for a couple of years, I was sort of embarrassed to recall some of the facile assumptions I held about issues before I really started thinking about them.

But when you are telling yourself that you don’t HAVE an opinion about it, that you are utterly objective, and yet have an editorial point you’re pushing with all your might, the result is likely to reflect that lack of understanding about what you’re doing.

And the thing is, you can’t even fully explain to news people this epiphany that hit me after I made the transition. You couldn’t even state it without insulting them. (In fact, I’m sure you are horrified at my arrogance, and you’re nothing but a layperson. But seriously, it’s not that I’m BETTER or SMARTER. It’s that the different functions make different demands of whatever poor faculties I may possess.) So you just held your tongue, and were frequently appalled by news people’s ventures into places where they should not go.

For instance, take a look at the piece that ran on the Metro front of The State over the weekend. But this is not about The State, but about the Charleston Post and Courier, from which the piece was reprinted.

The original headline was “S.C.’s tab $7.4M for predators,” which wasn’t particularly helpful, so we go to the subhead “Treating each sex offender in program costs state about $63,000 per year.”

An excerpt:

For 12 years, South Carolina has tried to protect the public by keeping its most-dangerous sex offenders locked up behind concrete walls and razor wire long after their prison sentences have ended.

But that sense of security comes at a steep price.

The state shells out about $7.4 million each year to treat those confined under the Sexually Violent Predator Act, which allows authorities to lock up some sex offenders indefinitely for the purpose of alternative care. That translates to about $63,000 per offender annually for each of the 119 predators in the program…

Oooh, golly — $63,000! Of course, it occurred to me immediately that that was probably less than what other states spend on similar programs, because SC always goes the cheap route. And sure enough, the story admits that inconvenient fact down below, but sandwiches it between TWO admonitions to ignore that fact, because… well, because it’s still just too damned much money we’re spending:

Those costs have put the squeeze on many governments struggling to cut expenditures in a crippling recession that has forced layoffs, furloughs and deep program cuts. Though South Carolina spends a good deal less than many other states on its predator program — New York spends $175,000 per inmate and California, $173,000 — the effort is still a drain on already strained coffers.

I mean, knock me down and hit me with a club, why don’t you?

So really, what we’re left with here is whether we think is whether we should keep sexual predators locked up. I happen to think we do. Lots of other people think we do as well.

But that’s just because we’re dumb as a bag of hammers, apparently. We’re a bunch of Neanderthals taken in by “this get-tough tactic” sold by pandering politicians. We are fooled by a “sense of security” rather than the real thing. And the politicians aren’t about to back down and “be seen as soft on rapists and child molesters.”

That’s what it’s about, you see. The mob’s desire for vengeance. Pitchforks and flaming torches. Irrational, emotional responses to problems that could easily be resolved by putting the money into “increased supervision of sex offenders in the community,” the way Colorado has done.

I find this irritating for several reasons, including the fact that I am NOT a “lock ’em up and throw away the key” yahoo. I actually happen to believe that one of THE greatest policy errors committed year after year in South Carolina is that we lock up WAY too many people who don’t need to be locked up. And we do it because politicians DO play on irrational fears of crime and desires for vengeance on the part of the public. This is foolish, because it simply makes no sense to lock up a guy who wrote back checks. It DOES make sense to lock up a guy who robbed a liquor store and pistol-whipped the clerk into a coma. There’s a difference.

And difference involves a calm, rational assessment of whether someone is a threat to others.

But here’s the thing about sexual predators. Their crimes are not like other crimes. One can rationally understand why an unemployed person — particularly one with a drug addiction — might hold up a liquor store. If he was particularly desperate or high from his latest fix, you can understand his getting violent. You don’t condone it; you punish it; you lock him away for a while to protect society. But someday, when he’s clean and sober, when he’s established a record for calm behavior and maybe when he’s no longer 19 years old or even close, you let him out. It’s a rational decision to lock him up, and a rational decision, under the right circumstances, to let him out again.

But while we’re all prone to greed and many of us have violent impulses, we know about living with those things and dealing with them. But most of us find it unimaginable that anyone would ever, under any circumstances, be attracted to child pornography. And while the thought of anyone having to do with such may make us angry, may make us want to run for the torches and pitchforks, it’s perfectly rational to think, “If someone can EVER have such an impulse, can they ever be sufficiently normal, or sufficiently in control, to be allowed to walk free in the world where our children play?”

Sexual desire is such a complicated, mysterious mechanism even at its healthiest. The sheer galaxy of factors — the light traveling to my eye and through neurons to parts of my brain that process color and contrast and pattern recognition combined with experience-based understanding of such subtleties as facial expression combined with precognitive programming on the cellular level all mixed up with the biological imperative to reproduce — that causes me to react as I do when I look at this picture or this one or, for comic relief, this one is so independent of will and resistant to reasoning, that it’s quite natural to assume that in a person in whom such mechanisms are so twisted as to lead them to unspeakable crimes… well, it’s just not going to go away because of a few years in a quiet place with regular sessions with a therapist.

Of course, we could assume wrongly. And indeed, a quick search on Google establishes that there is no end of arguments out there against the widely-held notion that sexual predators — rapists, and those who prey on children — are incurable.

Fine. Let’s have that discussion. Let’s see the data, and hear the latest findings. But of course, that news story didn’t bother with that. In other words, it didn’t touch upon the one question upon which the issue of whether to treat sexual predators different from other criminal was well-founded or not.

But then, that’s a common flaw in news stories, especially (but not only) those of the ersatz-editorial type: They don’t mention, much less answer, the one question I most want to see addressed. I have spent a huge portion of my life reading, all the way to the bottom, news stories that piqued my interest and made me think, “Maybe there’s an editorial or a column here,” only to find that the one ingredient most needed to help me decide what I thought about it was entirely missing. Which means it got into print with neither the writer nor his editor thinking of it. Which means that the one ingredient most valuable to the reader, as a citizen trying to decide what to think about this issue, is missing.

Nor did it touch upon the second question that should arise, which is whether the circumstances surrounding such crimes are indeed so different as to cause us to set aside such constitutional considerations as equal treatment before the law (due process would seem to be covered by the additional hearings necessary for such commitment). But newspaper stories have finite length, and I would have been happy merely to have had the first question answered, or even acknowledged. But it wasn’t.

And I find that hugely frustrating.

50 thoughts on “Sexual predator price tag seems a bargain

  1. Brad

    Man, every time I read back over the bluntly loaded language in those lead grafs, I am insulted anew… “has tried to protect the public.” Really? OK, in how many cases did this FAIL to protect the public?

  2. Kathryn Fenner

    The biggest problem I see with the “lock ’em up and throw away the key” approach is that when actually faced with doing this, juries are notoriously unwilling to do so. “Who are we to judge who is incurable?”

    The second issue is that we label too many offenders “sexual predators”–one kid shows another kid, of the same age ( I think maybe 13) a dirty picture–kaboom: “sexual predator–I successfully fought that one, but the solicitors were all too ready to put my client on the registry.

    And yes, I wish they’d dial down the rhetoric, too. Not much useful comes out of it, and it’s invariably sloppy.

  3. Doug Ross

    This is why we should enforce the death penalty. There are certain crimes that should result in a punishment of death rather than a lifetime spent in prison using up finite resources. The death penalty solves the problem of cost and threat to society for the price of a single injection.

    As for the question of how much it costs in SC versus other states, you state yourself “Really? OK, in how many cases did this FAIL to protect the public?” If it’s working for $63K per inmate, maybe that’s all we need to spend. In fact, if other states are spending less with the same results, we should be following their lead.

  4. Herb Brasher

    In the same vein, there’s an interesting commentary over on about the recent NYTimes article portraying Pope Benedict (Cardinal Ratzinger) as one commentary had it, “God’s Rotweiler . . . while letting abused children hang.” The NYTimes has some good commentary it at times, but this is not only an example of editorializing a news story, but of spinning it totally out of control.

  5. Karen McLeod

    It’s not an easy answer. I think it’s not good to lock people up indefinitely, but I don’t know that these people can be trusted on the street. Most of the articles I’ve seen suggest they can’t. Adults can take evasive tactics to avoid rapists. Children are not that aware, and making them too aware of that kind of danger destroys their childhood with fear(very) little bit of a program today on NPR that was talking about the latest understandings of the criminal brain from a neurochemical point of view, and how this understanding may, in time, affect the legal system. That’s scary too. Do we offer people the choice of taking (literally) mind altering drugs or staying locked up? Do we test people regularly for pathological neurochemistry? Do we say to people, “Your brain works differently, therefore you can’t be allowed into society?

  6. Matt

    Very interesting post. I share the same sentiments about these predators. Money well spent.

    I’m more interested in the commentary you provide on the whole journalism/editorial/etc. aspect of this article in the P&C.

    After taking a journalism class or two in college, I came to believe that there may not be such a thing as “objective journalism”. “Just the facts, ma’am” is what I used to wish our various news media outlets would provide. But isn’t it true that the deciding what news stories to report–even if you are just reciting the five W’s–is like an editorial comment in-and-of-itself? Someone, somewhere had to decide that the cost of detaining sexual predators in South Carolina was newsworthy. Even if the article is completely objective (which is probably a subjective determination anyway) the mere fact that it was deemed “newsworthy” to appear in a newspaper is like an editorial comment.

    I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

  7. Brad

    Basically, Matt, you are conflating two separate senses of the word “editorial,” senses that newspaper people see as distinct and separate. But as you suggest, they may not be as separate as conventional news people would like to think. On the one hand there is “editorial” in the sense of “opinion.” On the other is “editorial” as in the adjective that refers to things having to do with editors, such as what you refer to here, which is “editorial judgment.”

    If he’s good at his job, an editor exercises editorial judgment all day, every day. Go to this event or that one or that one (you CANNOT do them all)? Cover this with an advance that tells people about it in case they want to go, or write about it when it happens and report what happens after, or both? If AP is covering the same thing, send somebody or use the AP? The reporter that normally covers this is tied up; send someone else who will have steeper learning curve, or let it pass? Tell the reporter he has to call these three other people, or is the story good now? How hard to sell the story in the news meeting in the afternoon? Push for A1 or save ammo for something better? Fight with the desk for more than the 12 inches they’re allowing? Is the story ready, or must it be held another day to tie up loose ends? Editing the story, a choice on every single word whether to go with that one or scores of other possibilities — which communicates exactly the right denotation and connotation, a seemingly infinite choice of combinations of words. What’s the lede? What’s the nut graf? On and on and on and on… and every decision has to be made RIGHT NOW, no hesitating, many of them in well under a second.

    All of them are exercises of judgment, which of course is subjective.

    Popular critics of media like to say those choices tilt one way or another politically. But that’s not the problem. The problem is the tilt toward being facile, toward not thinking hard enough. If what is presented to the reader is too shallow, too confused in its emphases, to be useful to the reader, that’s much more important than a lean to the left or right. That’s what concerns me.

  8. Burl Burlingame

    “Sexual Predator” is also a catch-all for crimes that do not harm the public. For example, in many places, if a drunk guy urinates where others might see him, he’s guilty of a sex crime, despite the unlikely scenario it will be repeated.

    And …

    Journalism IS a judgment call. Even the choice about whether or not to cover something indicates editorial choice. That choice is honed from years of making similar calls about what is of public interest and what is a public waste of time and resources.

  9. scout

    I don’t know whether to comment on the predators or the media. They can both be disturbing. I find myself being frustrated by TV media much more often than print media, but that may just be because I don’t read the paper that often (Sorry, Brad)…though my husband does and reads me articles and/or hands me things to read often enough that I feel I get some exposure. And I agree with your assessment of the questions they didn’t ask there. I think I would have been frustrated by that story and not known why exactly – I probably couldn’t have articulated it like you did (thanks). I tend to get most of my news from NPR. I find it frustrating when I hear the local TV news cover the same story I’ve already heard on NPR and they often leave out really crucial details or just don’t get the basic information in a logical order to make narrative sense. Sometimes I wonder if the newscasters even understand what they are reporting about. So I guess that would be an example of them not thinking hard enough. Contrast that with other TV news outlets where the presentation seems to be a very conscious manipulation of the information to play into certain fears or sensibilities – which isn’t very honest. Both are very frustrating. Newspapers certainly may have their issues, as you point out, but I think they still generally have more depth than a lot of TV news, at least.

  10. bud

    I find this irritating for several reasons, including the fact that I am NOT a “lock ‘em up and throw away the key” yahoo. I actually happen to believe that one of THE greatest policy errors committed year after year in South Carolina is that we lock up WAY too many people who don’t need to be locked up.

    Here’s where we can find some common ground. I agree 110% with that statement. I would start by decriminalizing (or legalizing) marijuana and gambling, including video poker machines. How many South Carolinians are locked up for violating those victimless “crimes”. And we can certainly expand on the electronic monitoring stuff. Just ask Lindsey Lohan how well that works.

  11. bud

    As for Doug’s comment about the death penalty, it is a well established fact that death penalty cases cost far more than those where the death penalty is off the table. The death penalty should be abolished. I’ll state all the reasons at a later time.

  12. bud

    But most of us find it unimaginable that anyone would ever, under any circumstances, be attracted to child pornography. And while the thought of anyone having to do with such may make us angry, may make us want to run for the torches and pitchforks, it’s perfectly rational to think, “If someone can EVER have such an impulse, can they ever be sufficiently normal, or sufficiently in control, to be allowed to walk free in the world where our children play?”

    But that would effectively bring about an end to the Catholic Church.

  13. KP

    I doubt there are any states that spend less than we do incarcerating any kind of prisoner. I recall reading that we rank very high among the states in incarceration rates and pretty much last in cost per prisoner.

  14. kc

    Sounds like a great boondoggle for the benefit of the psycho-industrial complex. Pay for a shrink or “therapist” to say someone poses a threat, and then keep the person locked indefinitely while paying the shrink for treatment.

    If someone’s served his time, he should be set free.

  15. Brad

    Bud, I almost didn’t allow that totally gratuitous, outrageous slander against the church. If you meant it as a joke, it wasn’t funny. I’m taking it as serious because I don’t think of you as a jokey kind of guy.

    But I’m going to allow it so that I can respond by saying what I should not have to say, but will.

    No, Bud, it wouldn’t. It would no more bring an end to the Catholic Church than it would to any other church or other large group that brings young people into interactions with men, a certain percentage of which will have this problem.

    Catholic priests are no more likely to be pederasts than men at large. Period.

    In fact, rather than put an end to the Church, such an approach, perfectly applied, would put away the few people within the church who are a problem and put an end to the problem, just as it would do in the larger society.

    Your rank, grossly unfair, deeply offensive prejudice results from the phenomenon of secular media having a fascination with the church and sex. The narrative goes like this: The church is a horrible, atavistic institution that doesn’t let women be priests and won’t let priests marry, so no doubt they’re all perverts. Our sex-obsessed secular culture seems incapable of reaching any other conclusion, because, of course, celibacy is impossible. And when you find a few twisted sickos that fit the narrative, it becomes a huge deal in the way that an Episcopal priest in the same situation or a Baptist youth minister or the head of a scout troop do not. Those cases are just as horrible, the victims just as deeply violated and permanently harmed. But it doesn’t fit the narrative. The narrative that you embrace so fully you take it to absolute extremes.

    It is right to hold the church and every other institution for its failures to deal effectively and justly with this horror when it occurs.

    But what you said is a vicious slander, pure and simple.

    There. That’s what I have to say about that. And now, I will allow no more such over-the-top slurs of my or anyone else’s faith on this blog.

  16. Kathryn Fenner

    Brad– I think the better question is
    “Are Catholic priests now or in the past fifty years more likely to lose their easy access to children and position of authority over those children upon being determined to be pederasts?”

    I have no statistics or links, but that is the real issue, to me.

  17. Jesse S.

    Rant mode:

    Have to agree. A few friends of mine have spent some time in prison, none of them were violent offenders and none molested children, but you can’t convince anyone of that. A jailbird is a jailbird and if you do anything but shove bamboo shoots up their fingernails you secretly have compassion for them, the child molesters.

    I try to explain it to friends, that convicts are breathing human beings, but instead of even listening they simply respond with, “did you know this child molester did this, how awful; I just don’t see how you can want things easy for these people, they rape children”. So I concede, what if we just kill all the child molester, even allow the family to torture them first, leave their heads on pikes on Broad River Rd and the response is still the same broken record, “but what about the child molesters?”. The saddest part being that this response often comes from usually smart, reasoned folks; idiots have to stop and think about it. There is a disconnect a mile wide on this subject. It is as if we have politicized ourselves and the programming is complete.

    I guess it is what plants crave.

  18. Kathryn Fenner

    @Jesse–Yes–these evil child molesters are God’s children, too, and they were children once themselves–children who were, if research is correct, very likely themselves abused–so we victimize them again by placing them beyond the pale.

    So envision this: your son is, God forbid, molested. Now he is more likely to become a molester himself. Do you turn him in to be locked up for life prophylacticly just because he is far more likely to hurt another child? I hate slippery slope arguments, but since we’re proposing locking up people for longer than we lock up murderers, it seems apt here.

    I have an idea: let’s try to create an environment where child molestation is well nigh impossible outside the home, and empower children to speak out about abuse. Let’s fund DSS generously so kids who are abused get the best possible help, immediately.

    Nah–let’s just round ’em up and lock ’em up…

  19. Doug Ross


    How much money would it take to implement your plan to eliminate child molesters? Where will you get the money from? What if you spend a billion dollars and you only cut the number in half? Then what? Spend more to cut it in half again?

    I thought this topic was about the “most dangerous child molesters”? not all of them? The most dangerous child molesters are the ones who WILL most likely commit the crime again if released. They are ticking time bombs that cannot be defused. No matter how thick your rose colored glasses are, there will always be that small segment of the population that is a) too far gone to help and b) too much of a threat to society to release. There are sick, sick, sick individuals out there who are beyond repair. Keeping them locked up for decades means wasting money that COULD be spent on prevention.

  20. Kathryn Fenner

    Who determines who the “most dangerous child molesters” are? To most people, that’s redundant. If we are so serious about protecting our children, we’d come up with the money–we’d sell those obscene soccer mom Chevy Suburban Subdivisions (thanks, Dave Barry) and subdivide the McMansions–or take in Gramma and Grampa….we’d decide to stop “nation-building” and we’d invest in our future….

  21. Doug Ross


    How about this guy from earlier this year?

    ” Delaware pediatrician Earl Bradley has been indicted on 471 counts of sexual crimes against 103 children. The indictment is based on video and digital evidence showing all of the victims, all but one of whom were girls, Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden said.”

    “The charges against Bradley, 53, include rape, sexual exploitation of a child, unlawful sexual contact, continuous sexual abuse of a child, assault, and reckless endangering, the AP reports. Yet more charges in one of the worst sexual abuse cases in American history are expected to surface in the coming months. Bradley’s lawyer says he plans to base his client’s defense on mental health. “It’s kind of hard to argue with videotapes,” he said.”

    Even his own lawyer says he’s guilty. So we’re better off paying to have this monster stay in prison for 25-35 more years? For what purpose?

  22. Kathryn Fenner

    @Doug–Are you saying we kill him? Are you saying we treat and release?
    I say, we can segregate him from society, but it is always wrong to kill in cold blood and call it “capital punishment.” Sometimes doing the right thing costs more.

    Why wasn’t he caught sooner? When I have had exams by male docs, there was always a female nurse present, matter of policy. That’s what I’m trying to say: we need to do better to make our kids safe–including acknowledging that “stranger danger” accounts for a very small percentage of abuse. It’s our scoutmasters and clerics and stepfathers….

  23. bud

    I don’t believe a long drawn out death penalty case would cost less than a life term in prison. But even if it did the death penalty is just state sanctioned murder. Seems like cruel and unusual punishment to me. But the best reason NOT to have a death penalty is that it almost certainly increases crime by glorifying it.

  24. Doug Ross


    Yes, we kill him. In fact, we let the parents of the kids who were molested by him have the option of pushing the button collectively to start the flow of drugs that stop his heart. Then they can tell their kids that that guy won’t ever hurt anyone again. That he’s gone. Not locked up for decades as a constant reminder to those he hurt.

    Every dollar spent on incarceration could be spent on prevention.

    Read the details of the case. Some of the kids were toddlers (I think as young as 2).

    Much like the “war on drugs”, it won’t matter how many tax dollars you want to spend on preventing the abuse, you can’t eliminate it… especially for the sick, twisted people who are beyond help. You probably can’t even reduce the frequency very much… there would be a point of diminishing marginal returns that could not be overcome.

    Unless you are willing to essentially treat every person as a potential molestor and outfit the country with video cameras in homes, churches, schools (and then somehow monitor them all constantly), you have no possibility of making sex offenders disappear. So the question will always remain – do we spend money to keep the worst of them locked up forever or do we
    do society a favor and punish them in a way that fits the horrific nature of the crime?

    There are plenty of people like me who would have no qualms about killing those who have chosen to kill others.

  25. Doug Ross

    And what about this guy from this morning’s paper:

    A father who kills his 2 year old and puts him in a garbage can full of cement… you think at age 29, he deserves to spend the next five decades “segregated from society” with access to television, educational materials, three meals a day, healthcare, legal counsel? Really? That makes us a better society?

  26. bud

    Doug’s example if the type of tragedy that we get MORE of not less while we have state sanctioned murder. In there sick mind these crazed killers just lap up the excitement and energy of the ongoing hoopla surrounding death penalty cases and the ultimate description of the execution. Many of these nuts would simply seek excitment in some other way if it weren’t for the constant glorification of executions. It’s one reason why the US murder rate is among the world’s highest.

    One more thing, it’s an indisputable fact that innocent people do get put to death. What kind of people are we to accept the killing of innocent people. I oppose killing by our government, in Iraq and in the death chamber. Both serve only to foster still more death.

  27. Kathryn Fenner

    @Doug Ross–short answer–yes.

    Long answer–only a sick person would do something like that. What kind of society kills sick people because they are too expensive to feed? Hitler?

  28. Brad

    Doug, I’d kill them in a skinny minute. And I don’t think I’d lose sleep over it.

    However, I don’t believe I have the right to, however badly I want to. If I could STOP them by killing them just before they did those awful things, I would. But that would require perfect prescience. And the argument that those who have done these things once will do them again — well, that argument is just strong enough to convince me to lock them up for the rest of their lives, for the simple reason that the likelihood of their harming another is so great that it overrides any considerations of their right to be freed when they’ve done their time for the specific crime. But it is NOT certain enough to justify my killing them, however much my hands may itch to do so.

    It’s a delicate balance of competing considerations. I want to respect civil liberties in almost all cases, but some people need to be locked up and never let out, and that category includes people who commit crimes indicating that they are deeply, profoundly, horribly twisted. Murder? Anyone can commit murder, under the right (or wrong) circumstances. Murderers are often model prisoners. But someone who sexually molests a child? Beyond the pale. Lock them up for good. And of course, to answer Burl, that is light years away from other stuff we call “sex crimes.” Peeping Tom? All men who have ever perused “Penthouse” are peeping toms. Such an offense is like a parking ticket compared to rape or child molestation.

    The irony, Doug, is that the reason (or one of the main reasons) I oppose the death penalty is that I believe it exceeds what should be the power of the state. The state has an obligation to try to kill you when you’re walking through a public square hosing people with an AK-47. But it does not, or should not, have the right to kill you once you are securely restrained and cannot harm others. That oversteps a line that should exist between the state and the individual.

    It’s not that I feel fuzzily sympathetic toward them because they were abused themselves, or lonely or socially dysfunctional or whatever. The actions of the people you refer to have put them beyond my having those feelings for them. But the cold, rational, analytical part of me tells me that I’d be overstepping my rights to follow my impulse to kill them.

  29. Doug Ross


    Well now that you’ve brought in Hitler, how can I argue with that?

    If you can’t tell the difference between genocide and capital punishment for heinous crimes, we can’t get anywhere.

    From a comment I read on The State, what the “lock them up forever” crowd doesn’t want to think about is that locking these people up is typically a death sentence anyway. Child killers and child molesters will normally be dealt with by the inmates in fairly short order. And guess what – a lifer who kills a child molester in prison doesn’t really have much to lose, eh?

    How about we compromise and just agree to put these people in a 8 x 8 cell with no other interaction with humans? Give them food, water, and that’s it.

  30. Doug Ross


    The only part of your philosophy on the state’s role in killing people that has always bothered me is that you seem to have a different set of rules when it comes to military action versus domestic policy especially when it comes to collateral damage with innocents being killed. You may try to tell me I just don’t get it — but I don’t think I ever will.

  31. Doug Ross


    There is no correlation between the existence of the death penalty and the occurence of serial sexual abuse of children. None.

  32. Mark Stewart

    Brad, I have the feeling that you are going to catch some heat for your Peeping Tom comments.

    Spying on another person to invade their personal privacy is a far cry from purusing a magazine. While it certainly does pale in comparison to child molestation, I doubt anyone who has been victimized by a Peeping Tom would call those actions the equivalent of a parking ticket.

  33. Kathryn Fenner

    Hitler not only killed the Jews (and the Gypsies) he killed the sick and developmentally delayed. Why not, said he, they cannot contribute by working and they should not pass on their faulty genes. They will just be a drag on society.

  34. Herb Brasher

    I guess I commented off topic, but I thought the main point of Brad’s post was the news coverage of concerning molesters (and news coverage in general).

    Can I ask a dumb question? What does the state consider to be a “child”–in other words, what constitutes child porn, does that include pictures of a 16 year old?

    Since I manage to post off topic most of the time, here’s another one: I have a friend, son of a missionary, who was head of a Christian youth organization for several years and at age 35 started a relationship with a girl who was 14. The relationship lasted 3 years–at age 17, she came forward. He’s ended up in jail for 15 years, first offense. Even if eligible for parole after 6 years, I find that pretty heavy. I know that the girl has been grievously wronged and marked for life, but I’m still not sure that locking people up in a case like this is the answer.

  35. Brad

    FYI, something y’all might not have noted in that Charleston story, way down… This is not just a matter of “You’re a sex offender, you’re locked away for life.” The state is VERY selective about who goes into that category:

    Authorities have screened 5,498 offenders since the predator law was enacted in 1998. Of those, 192 offenders — around 3.5 percent — have been committed as sexually violent predators, said Mark Plowden, spokesman for state Attorney General Henry McMaster.

    By comparison, there were 12,244 registered sex offenders walking the streets of South Carolina as of last week, according to the State Law Enforcement Division…

    In South Carolina, the courts have released 65 people from the state’s program after treatment…

    So this isn’t just “they did a bad thing; we’ll lock them away.” It’s more like, “they are permanently this way, and in these cases it’s been determined that there is a very high probability they’ll do it again.”

  36. Kathryn Fenner

    @ Herb–South Carolina has a complicated system, which factors in the relative ages of the parties and the absolute age of the perpetrator–except when it doesn’t.

  37. Burl Burlingame

    In some societies, a girl at 14 is considered of age. If she was in a relationship for three years, it might have been a real deal. Kids that age are capable of sex, they’re just not capable of good judgment. Predators who go after pre-pubescents are another breed.

  38. Mark Stewart

    Any 35 year old who dates a 14 year old is more than a creep, he’s a molester. There’s no real consent capable of being given – it’s coercion with a 14 year old, period. A child would be just as victimized at 14 as at 8 years old; even if we may rationalize it differently.

    We all need to keep in mind who is most likely to be a child molester – someone who has regular contact with children whether through school, church, activities, sports, family connections, whatever.

    Unfortunately, those who give the most to our children are the ones we need to watch the closest. And that’s just a sad fact of society.

  39. Kathryn Fenner

    Underage, but post-pubescent: I think it gets murky for a lot of people there–you’re right that truly *informed* consent cannot be given (watch the film, written by Nick Hornby btw, “An Education” if you really doubt that). The young person may think he or she is giving consent, but doesn’t realize what’s going on–most likely stars in the eyes from the glamour of an older person’s attention. There is also the inequity of power.
    In pre-urban societies, life expectancy is low, as are life options. A teenager in our society can really make huge, life-altering mistakes that last a long time.

  40. Mark Stewart

    I truly hope it is not murky for a lot of adults. 14 and 16 is one thing. 14 and 35 is an entirely different matter – and even worse when the adult is in a position of authority. I don’t see any grounds for rationalizing this as being anything other than a horrific crime perpetrated against a child.

  41. Herb Brasher

    No question that it is a horrific crime. I guess the question is still whether locking a person up is the answer for that situation, and I’m not sure that it is.

    But since it is the son of a friend, and someone I knew personally when he was growing up, it’s hard for me to be objective, and of course I don’t have any expertise in this whole area.

    I’m just thinking that we like to take the easy way out a lot of times–just lock people up, or kill ’em off, then they are out of the way.

  42. Kathryn Fenner

    @Mark Stewart–the murkiness comes as the ages get closer and/or the younger person gets older–14/35–ew! But what about 16/22? 17/25? 14/19?

  43. Mark Stewart

    Kathryn, as the world is shaded grey kind of guy, I still believe that there are hard distinctions that must be made in life.

    I would reply, which of those three additional examples you gave seem balanced and without the coercion of maturity (such as it might be given the topic here)?

    I would answer, none is acceptable.

    Somehow, High School seems like a hard line. If you are both in school, it’s a parental issue. However, if one is out – too young, too old or a drop-out – then it’s a law enforcement/societal issue.


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