Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Sexual Predators and Home Schooling

Recently, I was at the Barnes and Noble bookstore over at DePaul Universty, browsing through the magazines. I picked up a copy of The Economist, which had an interesting cover story entitled "America's Unjust Sex Laws". There's a truncated version of the story online, but you really should read the entire article (which is probably only available in print) in order to understand the basis for the claims being made in the article.

At the risk of seeming as if I'm defending sexual predators (which is definitely NOT the case!), I must say that I thought the aforementioned article made some good points. Among other things, the article discussed laws which prevent sex abusers who've been released from prison from living within close proximity to public schools or school bus stops. Here was the author's conclusion on that subject: "Restricting where sex offenders can live is supposed to keep them away from potential victims, but it is doubtful that this works. A determined predator can always catch a bus."
That makes sense. I admit that I'm no expert, but it seems highly likely to me that reasonably intelligent sexual predators would deliberately target kids living or being schooled in areas which are distant from their own homes, in order to minimize the likelihood of apprehension by law enforcement officers. That being the case, it seems to me that laws which limit the areas in which such prior offenders can live are a bit pointless. But when it comes to the emotioal issue of sexual predation, it seems to me that a lot of folks put their brains on hold.

In the same issue of The Economist (page 26), there's an article on home schooling. (The online version of that article doesn't seem to have been abridged, although I haven't compared the two side by side.) I think it's particularly appropriate that the two articles appear in the same issue of that magazine. There's an obvious point which has apparently been overlooked by the people who have passed laws restricting where sexual predators can live: Namely, that such laws are unlikely to protect children who are being home schooled, unless those laws are written so broadly that they prevent sexual predators from living in all residential neighborhoods!

In other words, if your children attend public schools, then they are more likely to be "protected" by such laws than they are to be protected from similar laws if you choose to home school those children.

This should particularly concern Christians, it seems to me, since the article on home schooling correctly observes that most home schoolers these days are conservative Christians who want to be able to teach their children in a manner which is consistent with their beliefs, and who want to protect their children from gangs and other bad influences.

If arguments in favor of the aforementioned laws are credible — in other words, if such laws do in fact help to protect children from sexual predators — then home schooled kids are being treated as second-class citizens who are less deserving of such protection than public school students.

Admittedly, it could be argued that home schooled children are inherently safer than kids attending public schools, in spite of the fact that the aforementioned laws probably don't cover them, for the simple reason that their parents are far more likely to be able to keep a watchful eye on them than school teachers would be. (Among other things, there are far fewer kids to watch over. Plus, the parents have a vested interest in the safety of their own kids, one which is not shared to the same degree of intensity by public or private school teachers.) But the point is that laws which offer more protection to certain children than to others are inherently inequitable.

If the author of the article in The Economist is correct, such laws should be opposed because they are ineffective and therefore pointless. On the other hand, if that author is wrong and such laws do in fact offer a substantial measure of protection, then those laws should also be opposed, because home schooled children are exempt from the protections offered by such laws, unless the extremity of the situation justifies inequitable distribution of protection on the grounds that imperfect protection is better than no protection at all.

Those who have written such laws seem to have forgotten that vulnerable children can be found in all kinds of places, such as shopping malls, zoos and parks. Such places would not be covered by such laws in most instances. At best, even if sexual predators didn't know how to drive or take the bus, such laws could only be said to offer a measure of protection. Parents which relied on such laws to keep their kids safe would just be fooling themselves. An illusion of safety is more dangerous than a realistic assessment which causes parents to always stay on their guard.

Another point: Restricting where former sexual predators can live has the effect of creating "zones" in which all sexual predators congregate together, making it increasingly likely that their aberrant lifestyles will be reinforced, not discouraged. For a similar reason, well-intentioned housing projects for the poor proved to be disastrous here in Chicago and elsewhere. It wasn't that there was anything about the architecture which created criminal tendencies. But putting together large numbers of out-of-work people created opportunities for mischief which otherwise would not have existed.

If we truly believe that sexual predators cannot be rehabilitated, then it seems to me that lifelong incarceration without the possibility of parole is the only solution which equally protects all children from predation regardless of where those children live or go to school. In that case, we should be especially careful that the people who are sentenced in such a manner truly represent a substantial threat, because lifelong imprisonment with no chance of parole would truly be unjust treatment for some of the offenses (such as "statutory rape" which involved consensual sex between people who weren't the "right" age) described in the article in The Economist.

On the other hand, if we have concluded that some sexual predators who have served their time ought to be released, then we ought not to punish them even after they have been released, in a manner which substantially increases the likelihood that they will become repeat offenders because they have become social pariahs.

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