Saturday, September 09, 2006

Guilty Without Proof

In an effort to allow victims of childhood sexual abuse to seek retribution from their alleged perpetrators years after the statute of limitations has expired, the Ohio legislature has enacted a law that would create a “civil registry” of people who have been accused of but not charged with or convicted of sex offenses. The registry would be very similar to criminal sex offender registries in that those listed would be subject to the same types of restrictions—community notification requirements, restrictions on where he or she can live—as convicted sex offenders. The law allows a victim to petition the courts to add the alleged perpetrator’s name, photograph, and address, where it would remain for six years, whereupon the alleged perpetrator could petition to have his or her name removed if no other accusations have been made and the judge believes that he or she is not likely to abuse anyone.

Victims of sexual abuse by priests in Ohio had wanted the government to lift the statute of limitations for one year so that they could sue their abusers, but instead the Catholic church apparently endorsed this alternative solution.

This is a terrible idea. One would hope that a judge would not add a person to the registry unless compelling evidence existed to substantiate the claims of abuse. How many accusations would be sufficient to add someone to the registry? One? Another problem is that a tremendous potential exists for the misuse of this law. Who is to say that someone with a grudge could not convince (or pay) a judge to add a name to the registry?

The fact is that those added to the registry will have been merely accused of a crime, not convicted in a court of law. The stigma that goes along with being a sex offender is bad enough for those who actually have committed the crime. Imagine being wrongly accused and having to live under that oppression. Ohio’s supreme court needs to put a stop to this law before it causes irreparable harm—and before other states decide to adopt the law as a model.


Tony Arnold said...

What in the world is going on with our country and government? I never thought our recent imbalance of power would have such detrimental effects.


JMG said...

We just cannot punish someone based on an accusation. This is so Orwellian in nature that it's frightening.

Tony Arnold said...

Which very few read anymore. Part of the problem.

Bush made Orwell look like a prophet.


Purgatory Penman said...

I am appalled that such a thing could even be considered in our country. Whatever happened to "innocent until PROVEN guilty?" It is bad enough that the many neighborhood restrictions are imposed upon someone who is accused of statutory rape when the "victim" is a mature 16-year-old and the activity was consensual. So many young men have had their lives ruined because they didn't ask to see a birth certificate.

I don't condone any kind of pre- or extra-marital sex, but it is one of the subjects on which our country has gone absolutely crazy. The punishment mode is used in almost every aspect of our lives.

I wonder. Can't priests get malpractice insurance? When they or anyone can be punished for just being accused of a crime, it would seem that someone would come up with an insurance policy to protect against punitive altar boys, or the like, who might want to use their association with a priest for monetary gain sometime in the future.
Purgatory Penman's mom.

Stoned-Campbell Disciple said...

1984 is a "prophetic" text if I can use that loosely. JMG I agree with you here. As much as I despise a person who would hurt a child in any way much less in the way under discussion, it is equally criminal to place an innocent person on a list that carries such consequences.

Many things are happening in our land that make us wonder ...

Bobby Valentine

m said...

I agree that accusations are no way to go about putting restrictions or stigmas on others. No one should carry the penalties or repercussions of a crime when it has not been proven that they are guilty of committing it. However, they should definitely repeal the statute of limitations. And, I cannot disagree more with the statement “the stigma that goes along with being a sex offender is bad enough for those who actually have committed the crime”. Those that have commited the crimes in question (regarding the Church) and typical rape and sexual abuse, are the lowest of the low and the fallout and effect on the emotional health of the victims are as yet immeasurable and the extent is unknown. That being said, if anything, the punishment should be even more drastic for those convicted. I agree that there should probably be a greater distinction within the law for cases of statutory rape. I have friends that say statutory rape is a social rule. In Brazil (as an example), it is not uncommon for men in their later 20's to marry young girls in their early teens. And they seem to have no problem with that in Brazil. However, in other countries of the world, a man can flat out rape a woman and she has no retribution at all. Should that be okay everywhere as well?

JMG said...

Thank you for your comments, m.
Different cultures, because of their varying beliefs and customs, abide by different norms, so what one culture believes is OK is not in another. As an example, in our own country, it used to be perfectly acceptible for very young people to marry. Our great grandparents, and maybe even grandparents, likely married as young teenagers; however, today that practice is not allowed. I also don't think it's ever OK for a man to rape a woman, but we cannot change the laws and customs in other countries.

I also agree that the crime of rape and sexual abuse are "low." And I also realize that many who commit such types of crimes are either incapable of or unwilling to be healed of whatever makes them want to do such things. However, some people do "reform" and go on to live normal lives without succombing to the temptation to offend again, but our society ostracizes all sex offenders to the extent that anyone with a conviction is automatically a "throwaway" without much of a chance of gaining employment, housing, or friendships. These are the people I was referring to who must live with the stigma.

Ayatollah Mugsy said...

This cannot possibly pass constitutional muster, can it? But I suppose I've thought that about other government actions in recent years and been proven wrong.