Sunday, September 21, 2014

Public right to knowledge versus Privacy

I am a bit slow sometimes when it comes to things and last night, someone told me there was some news that was a bit of a bombshell in regards to someone I consider an online friend.  It was a surprise to me, and it made me think a lot about how I react to things when I first hear them.

The person in question came out - not as in came out that they were homosexual or transsexual -disclosing that they were a registered sex offender.  I went to read that person's post about it to see what they had to say about it.  If you're in the WoW community then you would know who I am referring to, but I don't see the need to publicise it further with specific references because this post is about my thoughts on the subject.

The complaint was registered with regards to a child so I was surprised that the offense wasn't listed as a child sex offense which has even GREATER social backlash.  In Australia there has been a lot of clamouring for sex offenders to be listed online so that the public can be made aware of the "dangers" of having a known offender living close to you or working at your local store.  The government of Western Australia has a Community Protection website where "Dangerous and High Risk Offenders" can be searched by the public.  Queensland has recently rejected a sex offenders register, and it is a very polarising topic within the public.

I have not been a supporter of a public register because I know that witch-hunts will ensue once those people are revealed.  They are trying to protect their families, is their claim, which I understand. However, I don't ever think it's right to infringe on someone else's freedom because of your worry about the danger they pose.  There are other ways to take those steps to protect yourself and your own, and I tend to believe if people were truly dangerous, our justice system would have dealt with it. I am sure many people will say that is not the case.

Making this a public register opens all sorts of doors for "other" public safety concerns.  For example, as a medical professional, some patients have the belief they have the right to know if their treating doctors have HIV or Hepatitis. Of course, I disagree with this.  We have Universal precautions in place that protect the patient from infection - and those same precautions protect US from patients who have those diseases.  I treat patients all patients with the same precautions and assume that anyone could have those diseases.  And then what's next - all HIV patients should be some sort of public register so people know who not to have unprotected sex or share needles with them?  You shouldn't be doing that anyway!

What about armed robbery?  Assault? Murder? Does the public need to know these too?  Where does it end?

I went and googled US registry of sex offenders and entered the details of my friend to have a look at what crimes were committed before I made my judgement.  There were no offenses or convictions listed - which corroborated their story.  This is different from Australia where you actually have to be convicted of a serious or dangerous crime to be on the public register.

I won't deny that when I first heard it, I thought of all my interactions with that person to see if they had done anything that would indicated they were dangerous or predatory.  I couldn't think of anything - in fact, that person was rather reserved and I am the boisterous one!  I read their story and immediately thought I could see how the misunderstanding or mistake could come about, and after checking it out to the best of my ability I found that their story seemed to be as it was. Some would say that if I was a true friend I should have believed them at face value, but I don't think there is anything wrong with checking all sides of a story.

There are women out there who cry rape or assault falsely to use as a weapon, but these are few and far between. There are many more real victims than these malicious ones.  But the ones who are accused are forever tarnished.  It's a blight that never goes away.  And unfortunately for my friend, for the rest of their life, they will live with the tarnish, even if no wrongdoing was committed.  And these Americans have made it public, and you can search for it via your area to see what "offenders" are around you.  Ugh, talk about no privacy at all.

If you think back to Christie Golden's WoW fiction, War Crimes, rehabilitation and being given the chance to change, be given a second chance, and be a better person were a big part of that story. This is a little different - my friend has been labelled as having made a mistake and is now paying the consequences of that.  But even if there was significant crime, I think that one should judge from their present and not their past.  Be aware of it yes, but don't let it colour all your interactions, and judge on their current behaviour and attitudes. Though my voice matters little in the big picture, I let my friend know that the disclosure changed nothing between us.  I just hope everyone does the same - and I think for the most part, they have.  Those who didn't - well, I respect their choices but maybe you wouldn't want to have friends like that anyway.

12 comments:

  1. Here in the States we have a phrase, "Paid his/her debt to society." It means that a person served time after a criminal conviction that term is considered fulfilled. And yet a person that has "paid his debt" cannot vote, is required to report said conviction whenever applying for a job, and is denied any other number of things that us Upright Citizens take for granted.

    Granted, a repeat offender, especially a child sex offender, is a worrisome thing. I'm not sure where we're supposed to put these "lepers" of our society, but people do have some expectation of security that the government is expected to meet.

    But aside from incorrigible cases, it bothers me that we stack the deck against those convicted of even the most innocuous offense.

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    1. It is a bit stacked, isn't it. Once you've made a mistake you always pay for that mistake. For a justice system that encourages a person to reform, it doesn't help them much once they DO reform. A repeat offender of course is worrisome. That's what we all fear. But sometimes people get caught in the traps and I should be grateful that I am not one of them, but I am sad for my friend that is.

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  2. What I want to know is what caused the person who was threatening to expose him this need to do so? What would it benefit anyone to air this?

    Just sounds like a vindictive person to me.

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    1. I'm not sure, and I don't really want to know I guess. What's done is done. Some people can be vindictive I guess.

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  3. I really dislike the slippery slope arguments, Navi. I don't think they help your case at all. That said, I agree with you that these registers are very dangerous and not really helpful to anyone. In any job where it would be relevant, they'd have to go through a police check, so that is already working as intended. I can only imagine it would help women who have already been assaulted and are more suspicious than most when it comes to dating or relationships - honestly, most women and pretty much all men would not even think to check a sex offender registry before they enter a relationship, so it really isn't very useful given the privacy concerns.

    And all that is assuming that we're talking about the Australian version of the registry, which as you said only contains convicted offenders! I cannot even begin to imagine the type of witch-hunts that would plague those who somehow end up on a registry without even being convicted! They would have suffered enough backlash (perhaps justifiably, since lack of conviction does not mean lack of guilt in many cases of sexual assault) from their personal and professional communities at the time of the charges - they shouldn't have to face it from total strangers when they move house or job. For the rest of their lives. I can get behind wanting to make offenders suffer for their crimes - even if they aren't convicted but are likely guilty - but come on, there has to be a point where enough is enough. Registers like this are more likely to go beyond enough than to actually protect the public.

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    1. You should always give people the chance to reform. There is no excuse for being as barbaric as the person themselves, even if they deserve it, as it makes us no better than them.
      As for my arguments - I can only look at things from my own perspective. Males are more often accused of being sex offenders than females so I have less risk of that being applied to me, so from an empathetic point of view I have to choose something else that could apply as a stigma that has a negative association. I looked at the US version of the registry and everyone ever accused is on it, it seems. A very different version of the Australian one.
      Oh, maybe you're referring to me defending those who want to be witch hunters. I am merely stating their point of view. It is always important to look at the other point of view - not necessarily to agree with it, but just to understand it. Understanding, is the beginning of wisdom.

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    2. Haha no I was just talking about the "what next, assault? Robbery? Murder?" line of argument. I am pretty much in total agreement with your stance on the issue of sex offender registers, for all the reasons you stated.

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  4. Having been involved in child protection cases where there was very real abuse, I feel something does need to be done to keep children safe but I don't think public lists are the answer because there are too many people who make assumptions and kick off witchhunts. The Australian system of only putting those who were actually convicted of a crime on the register does seem to make more sense than the system described in the original post. In the UK as far as I'm aware people can be asked to be removed from the registry after a period of 15 years without another offence being committed although some convictions are automatically removed after certain time frames. However I believe that like in the US you don't have to actually be found guilty of a crime to be added to the registry.

    In the city closest to my home the Police are trialing a system where women can contact them to see if their current partners have any history of domestic violence because it's a real issue in said city and I'm not sure that's the right way of doing it either. I bruise really easily (it's a family trait) and I've had multiple policemen and other professionals I met through work let me know that they were there for me if I had any issues I wanted to discuss regarding to violence at home even though I am genuinely clumsy and not being beaten up by anything other than the furniture I keep bumping into. There is a fine line between trying to keep people safe and having a system where either mistakes haunt their makers forever or they become the victims of laws set up to protect people from predators. .

    One of my husband's school friends was accused of rape a few years ago and his life was made a living hell. His name and address was published in the local papers before his trial, cue stones through the windows and threatening letters in the mail, Whilst he was found innocent of everything other than stupidity at his trial, he ended up having to leave the country and seek work elsewhere because the Police kept hounding him. I think that perhaps that's the issue, the "Bad Guy" isn't always the obvious person. Women lie about rape, children lie about abuse and so do their parents. So it then comes down to is some collateral damage acceptable on either side? If the answer is no, then we need to figure out a better system going forward.

    I tend to take people at face value until they do something which causes me to examine their behaviour further and having worked in a field where disclosures like HIV, hep B, criminal convictions etc were mandatory, I think it didn't help some of my colleagues built relationships with those we were meant to be helping. For example I worked with a guy who had HIV, I knew before I met him because I'd read his file like a good little girl before setting out to see him in his flat. We introduced ourselves and he offered me coffee. Now it was a freezing cold day and I had loads of paper work to go over with him so without hesitating I said yes. He looked at me and said would be it wrong if I hugged you, I asked why he wanted to and he said that everyone else in my field he's ever offered to make a drink for has always said no and looked at him like he was Typhoid Mary, which turned out to be their loss as he made excellent coffee.

    Bottom line, we all have skeletons in our cupboards and whilst I believe that people who have hurt children to the levels I've seen at work should burn for eternity, people are wrongly accused and/or reformed on a regular basis.

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    1. Your poor husband's school friend - you hear these cases and it's so hard. I think if people heard both sides of a story and looked at evidence then you would be able to make better judgements on things. A lot of the time it's people acting on the first thing they hear.

      HIV is one of those things - obviously I see that a lot at work and patients sometimes tell you how they appreciate you being human around them, just by shaking their hand - most people avoid touching them as if, like you said, they were Typhoid Mary.

      That's an interesting thing happening inthe city near your home. I wonder if that works out well?

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  5. Hi Navimie<
    I felt the same punch to the gut when I listened and read the announcement. After I processed the shock, I also looked at my interactions with this person. Throughout these interactions, he's been kind and considerate. As I consider his recounting of the events from 17 years ago, I also thought about California (where the events occurred) 17 years ago. At that point we were almost rabid to prosecute and punish even suspected offenses. A trial at that point would have been fruitless. Thus a no contest plea was probably a prudent move in that era.

    Anyway, I appreciate your thoughtful post and am glad to count you a new friend.

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  6. Hello there. I thought long about replying to this thread. I wasn't going to, but I felt it important to voice some feelings I have.
    Firstly, I am not disclosing who I am, although I think those who know me well will be able to tell. The reason for this lack of disclosure relates to following point. I was a victim of child sexual abuse.

    I found many of the comments made in this post upsetting, but I think unless you were a victim of this crime, you cannot understand it. Its affects my life every day. It makes me question my ability to be a proper parent. It has had a chronic effect upon my esteem.

    As a result, I feel that child sex offenders, even those who only commit a single act, have engaged in a crime that perhaps is beyond others. The robbing of innocence.

    I do feel that some statements have been made without thought of their effects upon others who might be reading this blog,
    "but maybe you wouldn't want to have friends like that anyway"
    "it bothers me that we stack the deck against those convicted of even the most innocuous offence"
    "Just sounds like a vindictive person to me"

    I have read the story behind the original post, and I would ask all to consider that you are only hearing one side of the story. It may be true. But, it may not be the recollection of the person on the other side.

    Due to my history, I find it very difficult to deal with these sorts of matters, and if I knew the person in question, I probably could not have further dealings with them. Thats me.

    I do feel that I have not articulated what I wanted to say well at all, so I might finish it up. My intention hasn't been to offend, but rather to highlight that, although the discussion was meant to be looking at both sides, I'm not sure that some posters realised the connotations of words written.

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    1. I don't think there is anything offensive at all in your post. I was an adult when I was raped but that has left huge scars on my psyche and I can't imagine what it must have been like to go through something like that as a child. I certainly wasn't prepared as a grown woman. I'm currently pregnant and am terrified at the thought of breastfeeding because I feel physically sick whenever someone touches my breasts because of what happened. Events end, bruises fade but those feelings last a lifetime and taint the way you look at life from that moment onward.

      I don't know what the best system would be. Take my husband's school friend, he did something I personally find repugnant but it wasn't rape. On the other hand, she lied to the Police and in court before finally admitting the truth. However it was his life which was ruined. My gut instinct though based on my own history was to ban him from the house in the run up to the trial. I didn't care what my husband said, it was enough to me that he was accused of one of the worse crimes I felt a person could commit. When the evidence in court proved the story he told my husband when he was first arrested, I felt sick. I suppose that's why I'm on the fence here, having once allowed my own history to cloud my judgement towards someone. That said, I can understand why you say:

      "and if I knew the person in question, I probably could not have further dealings with them. Thats me."

      It's hard to trust when that trust is ripped from you and I think your use of the word "could" rather than "would" is telling. I don't think anyone would blame you either.

      If people could be made not to lie about abuse, about rape and that we knew everyone on these lists were truly guilty, then sure, make them public... but where there is doubt and ambiguity in some cases, it colours the water, making it harder for us to legislate our way out of it. At the moment as I see it, we have two choices. Penalise everyone who is found guilty or pleads in a similar way or run the risk of children being hurt by someone who should have been on those lists before they got from saying looking at pictures on the internet to taking a little girl with learning difficulties into the woods (a real case I was involved in the aftermath of). As a soon to be Mother, an Aunt, a Godmother my instinct is to say the former is better than the latter. Society has a duty to protect the young, the vulnerable and at the moment we need to use a fine net which sometimes catches the innocent. Banning people with convictions of that nature from working with children yes of course, but I still don't think I'm comfortable with Public lists because Justice is supposed to come from the courts not be driven by the emotional feelings of discovering the guy two houses down was found guilty of a crime twenty years ago.

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I hope these comments work! Not sure why people can't comment lately, it makes me sad :(