On the eve of a pivotal and controversial election in Alabama, it is time for America to have an honest and educated discussion about sex. As millions of Alabamians head to the polls in an election that may have repercussions deep into the future of our nation, the reason not to vote for Roy Moore is not because he has been accused of sexual misconduct.
It is because of what he represents: a record of ignorance, discrimination, and violent gun-enabling policies. He is not a candidate that thinks of the republic and its constitution that apply to all people regardless of race, color, religion, sex, or sexual preference. That is the reason to say no to Roy Moore and the Republican agenda that Alabama’s election will fuel — not because the media is calling him a pedophile.
We doubt that Roy Moore is a pedophile, and we do not know if he is guilty of the allegations swirling about him during his campaign. However, the debate over Moore has ignited a media firestorm focused on sex offenders and pedophiles. Unfortunately, as it has been for the past three decades, the firestorm is no more than sensationalism, misleading labels, and unfounded facts.
There is a certain irony in Roy Moore being accused of sex offenses and labeled a pedophile because he is a member of the party that drove the sex scares in America. Frequently, sex offenders are considered the scourge of society, media, courts, and prisons. Before they were elevated to their present status, 1980s cocaine addicts and dealers filled the criminal boogey-man void.
Since the 1960s, drugs had taken center stage in the criminal justice system as the vilest of offenses against society. As drugs seeped from counter-culture to Main Street, America’s politicians seized on the opportunity to garner popularity and votes by attacking illicit drug use with tough-on-crime agendas. In the early 1970s, President Nixon launched the war on drugs, a veiled assault on hippies and African-Americans. It did not take long before legislators were screaming for mandatory minimum sentences, extended terms of incarceration, and ballooning budget requests for law enforcement agencies.
The result of the decades’ long war included overcrowded prisons, discriminatory policing practices, militarization of domestic law enforcement, constitutional rights violations, and illegal drugs on every street corner in Anytown, U.S.A. Instead of addressing the problems that lead to drug use, addiction, and dealing, politicians jerked their knees and kicked out volumes of statutes designed to assure the public that America would soon be safe and drug free; fund the prison-industrial complex; and win money for their home constituencies in anti-crime grants and contracts.
In the 1980s, as King Cocaine slithered its way to Wall Street, movies, and mainstream America, public outrage over drugs ebbed and lawmakers needed a new target to drum up votes, budget money, and their high-roller Washington, D.C. lifestyles. The search coincided with a period when young girls were going missing all over the country. So many girls disappeared that it prompted Congress to establish the Center for Missing and Exploited Children in 1984.
Republican lawmakers (and some Democrats) soon turned their full attention to sex offenders as the plague-du-jour in America. In 1992, Minnesota’s Republican governor, Arne Carlson signed Bill 371 and established the nation’s first sex-offender registry. Shortly thereafter, the United States Congress passed the Jacob Wetterling Act of 1994 (H.R. 3355) sponsored by Rep. Jim Ramstad (R-Minn.). Since then, legislators have fallen in love with sex offenders as the newest pork-barrels to supplement lobbyist cash; and the media dropped “if it bleeds it leads” in exchange for high-school gym teacher mug shots.
The war on drugs and the sex-offender scare share commonalities in American policymaking. They are both prime examples of public-scare driven reactionary lawmaking and both propel campaigns and elections, while ultimately failing the electorate.
Disclaimer: We do not condone criminal sex-offenses, sex acts against children, or the harassment, assault, or other unwanted acts, advances, and offensive behaviors against girls, women, boys, men, gay, lesbian, straight, transgender, or any other person.
However, with that being said the Roy Moore scandal— as well as every other breaking sex scandal of 2017 — has demonstrated America’s need for an attitude adjustment. While republicans push for Moore’s election, despite the allegations leveled against him by multiple accusers, thousands of other men and women have lost their livelihood and more for less. In a twist of legislative fate, democratic lawmakers are now the ones screaming for lifetime prison sentences for men like Moore accused of sex crimes — just because Moore is the opposition.
As a nation, we cannot continue to legislate based on emotion, anger, hate, and retribution. If Moore’s campaign for office results in a single statute mandating life in prison for a sex crime, then democracy has failed Americans of every party. Likewise, if Roy Moore does go to trial, he should face the same Republican-driven laws as any other defendant — regardless of how severe or unfair his party now claims those laws to be.
The laws are severe and unfair because the sex offender scare of the past three decades has resulted in significant changes in many states’ criminal statutes. In some jurisdictions, rules of evidence and hearsay testimony are different during a sex offense trial. In many, there are no statutes of limitations. Many defendants convicted of a sex crime still face long mandatory sentences and even life in prison without the possibility of parole…more severe sentences than for a person convicted of a homicide in some instances. It is nearly impossible for an accused offender to have a fair trial because of the legal wrangling, political pressures, and media-fueled misconceptions. Roy Moore is smack dab in the middle of a crisis he helped create.
The statistics do not justify the reactionary statutes that stem in part from an inflated number stated by a researcher in a 1986 issue of Psychology Today and erroneously quoted by the media from the New York Times to Oprah. Robert Longo, a counsellor who worked with male sex offenders, said that by his research “as many as 80 percent” of untreated offenders released from prison would commit a new sex crime.
Within a year of publication, Longo’s statement had become the basis for both legislative and media allegations that all sex offenders were inherent and incurable dangers to society. The problem with that premise is that Longo’s number was an estimate. Thus, the birth of a criminal justice fallacy that gave rise nearly ten years later to the Supreme Court of the United States reversing a lower court and permitting the unconstitutional ex post facto application of Alaska’s sex offender registry. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the Court’s majority opinion that the risk associated with sex offenders is “frightening and high.”
Twenty-five years on, there is still no empirical evidence to support Kennedy’s rationale. Even today, sex offender statistics are grossly overstated, under researched, and inconsistent when presented to the public. Some states’ departments of corrections have conducted their own rarely published studies that place sex offender recidivism second to homicide as the lowest rates of re-offense. Other studies and experts, including those from the U.S. Department of Justice, Johns Hopkins, and Florida’s Barry University, suggest that sex-offender recidivism rates are more likely in the 5 to 15 percent range — a far cry from the frightening 80 percent still relied on by most courts.
DSM V Criteria for Pedophilia: Over a period of at least 6 months, recurrent, intense sexually arousing fantasies, sexual urges, or behaviors involving sexual activity with a prepubescent child or children (generally age 13 years or younger).
Roy Moore’s candidacy will do little to shed light on a serious problem or the solutions. Instead, it will enflame labels like pedophile and predator to strike fear into the hearts of parents everywhere. Though he may be predatory, it is likely that the media and democrats are irresponsibly bandying about the pedophile label. Moore faces accusations by several women who allege molestation or assault when they were between 14- and 28-years-old…beyond the pre-pubescent stage of development that entices pedophiles. Yet, like many judges, Moore’s opponents erroneously apply the pedophile distinction to anyone under the age of majority. As Doug Jones has discovered, it gets votes.
The Alabama senate race highlights the problem our nation faces, and it is not the election of an assumed “pedophile” to public office. The crisis in Washington, D.C., Alabama, and state legislatures across America is that we pass laws, exact punishments, and invoke labels without knowing the facts. And as a country, we vote in the same ignorant manner.
Republicans are desperately trying to hold onto control of the Senate — likely so they can pass more severe laws against sex offenders, drug addicts, and other Americans to woo back voters. Yes, they are doing it unethically, but more disturbingly, the public is allowing it. Anyone can listen to Moore and hear the message he sends. His is a message of hate, discrimination, power, and limited constitutional values and to us that fact alone makes him more dangerous than being a presumed sex offender with a recidivism rate lower than a drug dealer.
Featured Image: People