When I taught, students were required to prepare and present a research investigation that hopefully demonstrated their skill in using the scientific method. Very often my charges would offer their work based on optical illusions. The above diagram is one of many called Ehrenstein illusions. What do you see?
Perception is singular yet we hope universal. We live knowing we are connected with others; that these others experience the world in similar fashion. Back in 6th grade, I learned I was red/green colorblind. Now this does not mean I have no color receptors, but that mine function differently from most of you out there. I do have color confusion with browns and greens. There have been numerous times when my wife has urged me to change the color combos I dressed in that day. I wonder if my appreciation of artwork is based on some misperception of the work. An artist’s palette cannot be decoded by me.
A while ago, we visited friends in Florida during the first week of February. I rose early and went outside to retrieve the daily newspaper. I was dressed in shorts and a tee shirt. As I picked up the paper I saw a gentleman out for his morning walk. He was dressed in sweatpants, parka, winter cap and gloves. He looked at me and I looked at him as if we were both a little bit off.
Differing perspectives from the same set of data will produce head scratching conclusions. It can be perplexing, to say the least.
Just before the recent elections, my wife and I received in the mail a letter telling us of the recent relocation of a Level 3 sexual offender to a street near an elementary school in our home town. The man had served his time and, with our county closing trailers in which he and others had been housed, needed a new residence. This man had been convicted of forcible sexual assault on an EIGHT YEAR-OLD child. He was now living on a street bearing the name of that elementary school! The letter urged us not to vote for a particular candidate since he and his party leaders would continue to do this type of relocating. The powers that be have decided they see no problem with housing such an offender in an area where he will see, daily, children walking to and from school. In my mind’s eye, I previewed a true horror film in which, to paraphrase an old thriller movie, the voiceover intones, “He’s on your block!”
A November 12th, WPEC TV essay in Palm Beach, FL, Sexual Predators: Why the laws aren’t working, highlighted a glitch in the system that allowed released offenders to describe their residency as transient, meaning they more or less resided in a general area of the county. A TV reporter attempted to find some of these offenders at their so-called addresses and came up empty. Newsday, Sunday November 24, warns about 467 sex offenders that New York State cannot locate. Movies and TV shows will use the relocation and hopeful anonymity of a sex offender as a theme in its dramas. Advocacy for fair treatment of released offenders speaks of humane treatment for this group. But, they are not all Valjeans, nobly trying to live an honorable life, nor are we all Javerts intent on destroying whatever chance they have.
A 1990 study by HE Barbaree and WL Marshall published in Behavioral Science and Law found that the recidivism rate for child molesters with female victims ranged from 10% to 29% and for child molesters with male victims the range was 13% to 40%. Recidivism is the act of a person repeating an undesirable behavior after they have either experienced negative consequences of that behavior, or have been treated or trained to extinguish that behavior. It is also used to refer to the percentage of former prisoners who are rearrested for a similar offense.
In 2005, The Leadership Council on Child Abuse and Interpersonal Violence found that overall follow-up studies typically find recidivism for sexual offenders at 10%-15% after 5 years, 20% after 10 years and 30%-40% after 20 years. The article notes these numbers are conservative because not all offences are reported.
Conversely, a Wall Street Journal article from January 24, 2008, by Carl Bialik writes that recidivism is more an emotional response than a reality. Recidivism rates vary widely depending on which crimes are counted, the timeframe of the studies, and whether repeat offenses are defined by convictions, arrest or self-reporting.
Arthur Herman, in his book The Cave and The Light, writes of the philosopher Plato. “…there is always a higher standard, a model of excellence by which everything we do or say or encounter must be measured-and inevitably be found wanting. At one level we become …conscious of our own shortcomings and weaknesses. We move through life aware we could be, or should be, someone different: more honest, more courageous, more compassionate.”
Recidivism is therefore a troublesome issue. There are advocates for the released/paroled sex offenders. There are community activists, NIMBYs, rightfully frightened by the potential for harm to their children, putting a former predator so close to prey. It is easy to be philosophical about the question, to wish for more honesty, courage, and compassion. I do not question the visceral response of any community.
Not all offenders fall into the category of child abductor. Yet I cringed when I read an article that categorically noted how rare the murder of a child such as Carlie Brucia is. Doesn’t the very fact that it happened make it one too many? Dylan Thomas wrote, After the first death there is no other.
We all have different viewpoints on a multitude of issues. I believe we must universally agree to insure our children’s safety. We can keep a watchful eye on our kids. We can lobby for stronger pre-reentry psychological programs prior to relocation. We can argue for prudence, for compassion. We can press our case against the audacity of policies that put violent offenders near potential victims. And, then again, put forth the proposition that people are entitled to a second chance. It is all about perspective.
But we cannot ever blithely go on as if these offenses will never be repeated or that we will be there forever. Better to instill, to build in our children a sense of self-reliance and strength to deal with questionable situations they encounter.
Furthermore, Remember the most dangerous predator is the one unknown, the average looking one, the one unidentified, and now the one hiding from authorities.
It is in our hands to deal with this unsavory issue in as caring and delicate manner as possible.