Complicated Problems, Bumper-Sticker Solutions

A recent column in the New York Times reminded me (as if such a reminder was needed!) of American lawmakers’ penchant for “solving” problems by passing “quick and dirty” laws that may placate a constituency, but do little to actually solve the problem at hand–and often do considerable collateral damage.

A particularly pernicious example is the one highlighted by the Times, 

a wave of laws around the country restricting where people convicted of sex offenses may live — in many cases, no closer than 2,500 feet from schools, playgrounds, parks or other areas where children gather. In some places, these “predator-free zones” put an entire town or county off limits, sometimes for life, even for those whose offenses had nothing to do with children.

Protecting children from sexual abuse is, of course, a paramount concern. But there is not a single piece of evidence that these laws actually do that. For one thing, the vast majority of child sexual abuse is committed not by strangers but by acquaintances or relatives. And residency laws drive tens of thousands of people to the fringes of society, forcing them to live in motels, out of cars or under bridges. The laws apply to many and sometimes all sex offenders, regardless of whether they were convicted for molesting a child or for public urination.

I vividly remember a friend’s anguish when his younger brother–who had just turned eighteen–was placed on Indiana’s sex offender registry for “molesting” his sixteen-year-old girlfriend, despite her protests that she had initiated their voluntary encounter.

I understand the desire to “do something” when a genuine molestation occurs. I understand the pressure on lawmakers to respond to a parent’s demand for action (particularly when that parent is politically active or connected). But at some point, everyone needs to take a deep breath and recognize the unintended–and pernicious– consequences of “solutions” created by people who fail to understand the complexity and dimensions of the problem.


  1. I completely agree with what you said. There is some evidence that these laws may increase the risk of an individual committing another sexual offense. However, it is not against the law for an 18 year old and 16 year old to have sex. In the example you gave, someone is changing the ages.

  2. In my family alone, three grandsons and two great-granddaughters have been sexually molested. Only one case resulted in arrest and prosecution which was unrewarding to the point it was laughable to be called justice.

    One grandson’s molestation began at age 4, he displayed all classic symptoms of molestation, including killing his kitten, but was ignored by his mother till he finally overcame his fear and told her. That was when the Indiana system displayed it’s lack of interest in processing these cases and which enables them to continue. His mother took him to an ER; the exam showed no sign of penetration, that is because it was all oral sex. He talked to his father and stepmother about who had been molesting him and what was done; his father went to Child Protective Services who informed him they couldn’t talk to him due to confidentiality laws. He was NOT asking question, he was trying to give full information but they refused to listen. From there he went to the Prosecutor’s Office; their story was that, due to no evidence of penetration they could do nothing. From there he went to Indianapolis Police Department sex crimes unit – their reasoning might have been the worst. They refused to take a report because he didn’t have custody of his son and they didn’t want to get in the middle of a custody suit.

    Meanwhile, those of us seeking help – without his mother’s assistance – were making calls to organizations and authorities but getting nowhere. I lived in Florida at the time contacting anyone I could think of; finally wrote a 13 page letter to Senator Richard Lugar, little more than one week later I received his response. He had contacted the state director of Child Protective Services, the Chief Prosecutor and the Indianapolis Chief of Police. Told me if I didn’t get satisfactory action soon to let him know.

    Less than two weeks later the molester, his babysitter’s teenage son, had been arrested. His name is Kevin Shafer, he was barely under 18 years of age when arrested, he was convicted but due to being a “juvenile” he received no punishment and all records are sealed. He has continued his molesting and is a registered sex offender. The afternoon after the trial and conviction, I received calls in Florida from Child Protective Services and the Prosecutor’s Office telling me I had no right to contact Senator Lugar. The following week I received a letter from the Chief of Indianapolis Police stating the same complaint. The judge ordered counseling for my grandson, his other grandmother had a friend who was a psychologist and talked to my grandson one time after he had killed his kitten. He stated that my grandson was fine and needed no counseling. My letter to the judge received the response that she – yes SHE, a mother herself – couldn’t consider my letter as it was ex parte communication.

    There are two nearby motels in my neighborhood that are home to dozens and dozens of registered sex offenders, most of them child molesters; 6800 and 7400 East 21st Street. There are no warning signs to travelers that they are surrounded by these monsters; that would violate the sex offender’s civil rights. Could actual bumper stickers, listing the addresses and a warning about these places be acceptable legally? Just askin’

  3. I expect that a significant portion of the population could legally be classified as sex offenders by having a younger girl friend in their senior year of high school.

  4. Can’t say that I know much about the dynamics of molestation but it seems logical to me that one of the places most free if it would be schools.

    It seems also that one type of crime that we are obviously not smart enough to regulate justly are sex crimes. That doesn’t mean though that we can give up on trying.

  5. I agree with Hugh. The facts as laid out, an 18 or 17 year old having sex with a 16 year old would not constitute a crime. 16 is the age of consent in Indiana..

  6. If memory serves, the age of consent law was changed to avoid this consequence, after several similar situations. (This was some 20-25 years ago.) It’s also possible that the girl was just shy of her 16th birthday.

  7. Culture evolves. That’s merely a fact. There are those who benefited from previous cultures who hoped that their advantages would be permanent.

    Sorry. Time marches on.

    While law should never attempt to regulate culture it must recognize it.

    There is hardly anything more culture bound than sex. And it can be safely said the impact of sex befalls all of us.

    So we have trauma like the gay marriage issue.

    That’s made more complicated by the modern mindset that freedom is me centered rather than us centered.

    We are free, all of us equally. Insisting that only some of us can marry but not all of us is something that we got away with in earlier cultures. Not because it was right but because it was convenient.

  8. Sheila; I’m not sure I fully understand your last paragraph in this. There are complexities, to be sure, but my family also found total disinterest and refusal to take action for the stupidest of reasoning by the Prosecutor’s Offices; at the time there were City and County Prosecutors.

    In 1970 my 13 year old son Mark delivered the Star, mowed neighborhood lawns, repaired mowers and bicycles, hauled trash for people, cleaned garages and basements, etc., anything to earn spending money. When an older couple, the Cunninghams, moved into the house one block from us at the corner of East Washington Street and Kenmore Road (Irvington), Mark got their lawn mowing job as they were moving in. He also cleaned their basement and garage and helped move heavy furniture so it didn’t seem unusual when Harold Cunningham asked if he would help move bedroom furniture. They went upstairs, he let Mark go into the room first, shut the door, exposed himself and told Mark to “jack him off”. Mark’s comment was, “That is stupid.” Then Cunningham attacked him; Mark managed to get away, ran across the bed to get out of the room and the house.

    A call to police brought immediate action; the officer took down Mark’s description of what happened and went to the Cunningham’s. He wasn’t at home, when his wife asked why the officer wanted to talk to him, she was told what Mark said. Her response was “With what he’s done in the past, I’m not surprised.” It took almost two weeks to find him at home and he was arrested…and released on bail. Then the fun and games began.

    Both prosecutors offices refused to accept the attempted molest charges because Cunningham “he doesn’t have a record of this crime”. Repeated calls did no good, the City Prosecutor Edgar Lamb was an old high school friend so I called him at home. I had not attempted to use the friendship for special favors but went through channels. This “friend” also refused to file charges for the same reason even after being told Mrs. Cunningham’s response – I pointed out that he doesn’t have charges against him because authorities have probably refused to file them just as they were doing in this case. Ed finally agreed and commented, “If he is convicted this will give him a record.”

    The case was in Judge Barton’s court; a highly qualified judge and respected throughout the city. At the second court date, Cunningham again had no attorney, Judge Barton told him if he came with no attorney the next court date, he would be taken immediately to jail. Third time is charm, right? Cunningham did come with an attorney BUT sitting on the bench was Judge Pro Tem Mercer Mance who grinned throughout all testimony, including Cunningham’s admission of guilt. Mance found him guilty, gave him a 30 DAY SENTENCE, IMMEDIATELY SUSPENDED THE SENTENCE AND STATED THAT, BECAUSE CUNNINGHAM WAS DRUNK, HE BELIEVED THE BEHAVIOR WAS NORMAL. He then commented, maybe he would benefit by some alcohol counseling.

    This had a lifelong effect on Mark, the terror of the attack and the total disinterest of the court and the judge in this justice system. It hasn’t changed whenever I have sought justice; and now the defense attorney assigned to my brutal attack and robbery 17 months ago is being handled by the lead defense attorney in the Richmond Hills case. It seems she has no time to be bothered. Is this one of those “complexities”? This case is not related to a sexual attack but I doubt the situation would be any different.

  9. “Social media can be very dangerous.”

    No. People are dangerous. The police are very dangerous. Social media is inert, as it is absent animating force.

    Sheila again dances around the gravamen, as she’s fully invested in the system, but I’ll come right to the point. We need to castigate, punish and resist police, judges, prosecutors, jailors, and anyone who participates in any unjust prosecution.

    The two dominant sides are fearful of the conclusion America needs to remember if it again wants freedom. Just because a government has passed a law doesn’t mean it’s Law.

  10. I should have included that right now on the IUPUI grounds, SPEA is holding Cop Career Day. As this is a large event of which SPEA is quite proud, don’t expect Sheila, a SPEA employee, to point a well deserved finger of scorn at the police for being parasitic and ruinous demons plaguing America.

    There’s not enough real crime that the police have the ability to solve, much less prevent, so they busy themselves with phony and destructive activities such as attacking kids smoking weed, teen sex and high-schoolers taking naked selfies.

    I’d be impressed with Sheila if she took a strong anti-police stand.

  11. Who would ever be anti-police???

    There are those good, bad and benign doing every job in the world. Every enterprise should be weeding out the bad. If they’re so bad they are breaking the law they should be prosecuted.

    Nothing else should be considered. Not their position, race, caste, religion, class, gender, location or ethnicity.

    That’s the way America is designed to work.

    Let’s all work to make it act that way.

  12. Just curious? Whatever happened to the statements that comments would not be longer than the length of Sheila’s Blog? Maybe it would be good if people started their own personal blogs huh?
    Reference today’s discussion; many children will never tell in their lifetimes about any molestation because almost always it is somebody they are related to or that the family knows very well. The same idea seems to apply to many women who are raped. Many of them don’t tell either because of fear of husbands or boyfriends being disgusted or people thinking they asked for it, so I think many statistics are not correct and never will be and how do you address that?

  13. Sabra: I tried hinting around the issue of overlong, drawn out comments that are two to three times longer than Sheila’s blog posts. I tried more than once.

  14. Betty and Sabra; Mea Culpa! Mea Culpa! Mea Culpa!

    I am often guilty of long comments, as are a few others. Some people have had the fortune – or misfortune – to have more life experiences than others, we are afforded the ability to speak out on this blog. I sometimes glean useful information I didn’t know before, other times are not so rewarding. There are instances, such as the issue of child molestation and and lack of justice in this justice system, which deserve making public personal issues. Someone out there might have answers as to the lack of response from police and the justice system or help with an ongoing problem. I am rarely disappointed in the local justice system because I expect results between little and none; however, it does often anger me.

    If Sheila were opposed to the long-winded comments or the ridiculous remarks from one “frequent flyer”; she has the authority to say so…and her son probably gave her the option to delete any comments she chooses. She also has our E-mail addresses if she wants/needs to contact us directly. If you aren’t interested in any comments; there is a small arrow at the bottom right corner of this blog which enables you to scroll all the way past the comments and move ahead with your life.

  15. I’ve watched from a perch in crisis ER outrageous behavior in both directions. Terrible institutional neglect and CPS run amok in prejudgment and error. Sunlight, leadership and hiring practices are the best avenues we have institutionally but for justice or healing I tend to look elsewhere. I have great sympathy – pity sometimes for victims in both over and under attended instances. Both are devastating. Both suffer from heightened reactivity which leads to repeated errors compounded by pitiful pressure. Advocate for health before events occur if at all possible as after its too late and often too much to ask.

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