You hear it all the time; a man gets caught soliciting an underage girl and the public cries out! He’s called a “monster”, a “predator”. Chances are he will spend several years in prison and live the rest of his life labeled as a pariah; a “registered sex offender”. Unless, of course, the man is politically or socially connected.
We recently saw two examples of the double standard when it comes to prosecuting individuals for sex offenses. Last week actor James Franco, 35, solicited an underage girl on vacation. The series of texts and Instagram messages were publicly broadcast when the teenager posted them online. He apologized for the incident on Live With Kelly and Michael, said he learned his lesson and seemingly will be allowed to go on with his life. Two weeks ago, a former Tennessee Alderman, Richard L. Smith, was sentenced to only two years probation and only two years on the registry for also soliciting a minor through texts and social media.
What distinguished the actions of these two individuals from the thousands who serve long prison sentences and a lifetime as a sexual offender? Their political and social connections.
The most glaring examples are Joshua Lunsford and John Walsh themselves. Joshua Lunsford is the brother of Jessica Lunsford, who was abducted and killed in 2005 and after whom several sex offender laws are named. Two years after her death Joshua Lunsford was sentenced to only 10 days in jail, one year of probation and no registration requirement for fondling a 14 year old girl. John Walsh, father of Adam Walsh, another child victim and after whom the country’s most elaborate sex offender law is named, admitted to dating his wife when she was a minor. He even joked about it on a Biography Channel documentary.
Florida is not without its own double standard. In 2006, Florida Congressman Mark Foley, who was chairman of the House Caucus on Missing and Exploited Children, which introduced legislation targeting sexual predators and created stricter guidelines for tracking them, himself was caught in a sexting scandal targeting an underage congressional page. He was never charged.
Apparently, in America justice is not blind. It’s not what you did that determines whether you should serve a lifetime of punishment, stigma and shame on the sex offender registry, it’s who you know.