Friday, December 22, 2006

GPS Tracking of Registered Sex Offenders – Most Misguided Law Ever?
I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately about the changes in California law requiring registered sex offenders to wear GPS tracking devices. The change in law seems to have spawned more debate after the fact than when it was actually voted on, which is a shame, as a public debate would have been a very good thing in this case.
Before I go any further let me make my perspective absolutely clear. I think people who commit sex crimes are the scum of the earth. My mother was an abused child, my best friend was raped in high school. I hate these people. I think all of them should be strung up by their balls, or at least locked up where they can’t do any harm for the rest of their lives.
So, I have no problem with increasing the level of punishment meted out to sex offenders. The problem is, I would really rather that punishment focus on making sure that they don’t repeat their crimes, and in that regard tagging them with GPS devices is completely useless.
Firstly, the things don’t work very well. They’re easy to disable (seriously, some aluminum foil will do the trick). All they show is where a person is – they can’t track what the person is doing. Unless our concern is keeping a particular person away from a particular place, and we have cops on hand to swoop in and stop them if they get too close to that place, the things are basically useless. Where they might have some applicability is in cases of stalking, where a person has been forbidden to be within x number of feet of a particular building, but even in that case they wouldn’t do much good when the stalking victim had to leave the house.
Secondly, they deceive the public into thinking that we’re “doing something” about sex offenders when in face we’re missing the real issue by miles. Whether we’re talking about child abuse or the rape of adults one fact remains the same – in the majority of cases the victim knows their attacker. What the focus on high-tech hocus-pocus like GPS devices does is reinforce the idea that most cases of sexual assault are the result of “stranger danger”, of the masked man in the dark alley or the creepy guy hanging out by the playground. In the majority of cases that just isn’t the reality. I’m not saying that those people don’t exist – they do, but the fact remains that in a minimum of 70% of cases (some agencies say the number is over 90% when considering attacks on children) those who are sexually assaulted are assaulted by people they know and trust. That’s the icky fact that society just can’t seem to face. This whole GPS idea is another way to not face that unpalatable fact.
What we’re doing is dodging the real conversation that needs to happen about what to do with sex offenders. Since obviously I know that the string them up by the balls idea isn’t actually a viable option, what is? I’m voting for lifetime sentences for serious offenders – and I mean for the actual lifetime of the person, not 8-10 years.
We also need to take a serious look at how sex crimes are classified in general. Putting flashers in the same category as rapists doesn’t make much sense, though I still think that flashers need to be caught and to basically have the crap scared out of them badly enough that they think twice before doing it again. Actual, bone-fide rapists need to go to jail for life, and there need to be a lot fewer legal loopholes that allow them to escape punishment. Our age of consent laws are a mess of confusing and conflicting regulations, and they need a serious overhaul. Prosecutions for statutory rape when the participants are only a couple of years apart are absurd. Sentences for actual child abuse, with an adult abuser, need to be much, much heavier. The fact that the law treats gay sex differently to hetero sex is a disgrace.
There’s a lot of work to be done, and applying silly technological band-aids isn’t helping.


Jamie said...

The GPS thing is news to me but, and, while disturbing, not surprising. My problem with it is the way we treat these people who've supposedly done their time, ostensibly even changed, been rehibilitated as the result of said serving (a ridiculously pollyannish view of the American penal system, granted). Either change the punishment (as you suggest, give 'em life, I might be convinced of that, in certain cases) or let them get on with their lives back in society. Tracking (and publicizing) sex offenders' every move is no answer, and it sets a scary precedent.

Cassandra Says said...

See, I'm not buying that any sex offender released from our prisons is remotely rehabilitated. If anything they're more likely to have become a far more efficient predator, which is why I'm in favor of not letting them out at all. The recidivism rates for sex crimes are startling. GPS tracking, however, is useless, expensive and, as you said, sets a dangerous precedent. What other categories of criminals are we going to track next? Are we just going to microchip everyone like we do our pets?