(Weekly Update #220)
Dear Members and Advocates,
One of my favorite movies of all time is the 1983 comedy, Trading Places. The movie is about two brothers who are the owners of a large commodities firm. They make a bet on whether they can take two people from opposite ends of the social hierarchy and see if the men are able to function in their lives if they trade places. They frame one of their top executives as a thief and get him arrested. Then they take a homeless hustler and put him in the executive’s place. The executive struggles to survive having lost his job, his fiancée leaves him and he eventually spirals to the point of attempting suicide. In the meantime, the hustler thrives in his new role and his new life, despite being on the streets just weeks earlier. The film has nothing to do with the registry, but the same social experiment that the brothers performed is very reminiscent of what takes place in our world.
Last week we posted an article about a man who committed suicide after he was convicted in a law enforcement sting. The news reports don’t discuss how his arrest came about and we won’t speculate, but in a number of these online stings you will have a person looking to meet someone on an app intended for adult dating but they are baited into a “child sex trafficking sting”. Many of these men were not seeking to engage in sexual activity with a minor – they were on an adult dating app. Unfortunately in too many cases, undercover officers aggressively groom the men by baiting and switching in a fictional minor, steering the conversation towards sexual topics and encourage them to do something they were possibly never inclined to do in the first place.
You have to wonder how many people currently on sex offender registries for online solicitation or traveling to meet a minor would have never been “sex offenders” if they did not encounter the undercover officer and were not prodded to commit a crime. Likely, but for the sting they would continue in their lives, they would continue in their jobs, perhaps they would have met an actual adult (which is why they were on the dating app to begin with), they could have fallen in love, gotten married, started a family, etc. Much like the executive in the movie Trading Places, but for the intervention, the trajectory of their lives would be completely different.
But Florida is not done with the experiment, because even when the individual is done with his sentence it continues. The lifetime “registry” comes with a myriad of rules and requirements. If you miss one, knowingly or unknowingly, intentionally or unintentionally, it’s a third degree felony. Florida puts your picture on the internet so that when someone searches your name the first thing that comes up is your “label”. They restrict where you can live, sometimes to less than 1% of the area in a city. They restrict where you can go, where you can work and continuously change the rules at any given moment. They make it practically impossible to succeed. Can you imagine what it would be like if instead of having laws trying to trip you up and impede your success, the laws fostered success? How different would our lives be if the reentry process helped you find suitable housing and employment? And how much more successful would we be if the laws encouraged healthy community involvement and family reunification instead of isolation? I’ll bet most of us would be doing much better than we are now and more importantly our communities would be safer.
The cruel experiment in Trading Places did make for a funny movie, but in real life it’s not funny. If, instead of baiting people into an offense, more resources were focused on prevention, perhaps we would have less crime? Curiously, isn’t that the objective of the criminal justice system? It sure doesn’t seem that way when you have law enforcement officers manufacturing the crimes they arrest people for. You can’t tell me that with all the advancement in technology and artificial intelligence, law enforcement does not have the know-how to filter out and remove or drastically reduce the number of illegal images on the internet. If the cast of an MTV reality show can figure out how to do reverse image searches through Google to find the true identity of a “Catfish”, certainly they can teach the federal government how to do something similar.
But they don’t and their reasons for not doing so have sparked debate about the ethics in many of these stings. In a New Yorker article from last year on drug stings, one former agent was quoted as saying, “undercover methods are relatively unhindered by constitutional or legislative restrictions. There are no clear legal limitations on the length of the operation, the intimacy of the relationships formed, the degree of deception used and the degree of temptation offered and the number of times it is offered. No judge is required to sign a warrant, and law-enforcement officials do not have to provide any evidence that a person is already engaged in criminal activity before initiating an undercover investigation.” That’s not to say that there are not plenty of wrongdoers out there, but then why not apply resources to solving actual crimes instead of manufacturing crimes and trying to lure people into them?
If the argument for stings were that it’s simply easier to shoot fish in a barrel, I’d understand (I wouldn’t agree with the general concept, but it would make sense to me). But with the advent of technology and artificial intelligence, you would think finding actual criminals would be easier today than it was decades ago, as well. If major marketing companies have the power to know what we are shopping for before we type it in, there are clearly tools available to help flag actual online predation. Filters can be implemented through internet gateways to flag files that match known illegal image attributes. The government can also compel social media and dating sites to perform identity verification when opening accounts. Something as simple as that would at least reduce the number of fake profiles and would prevent actual underage children from joining adults-only dating apps. And if the companies complain about the unconstitutional infringement of implementing such requirements, wouldn’t that be justified by “if it saves one child…”?
The government can also invest more resources into education. If that same officer whose job it is to sit at a computer and pretend to be a 14-year old spent the same amount of time going into the schools and speaking to audiences of students about sexual abuse prevention, perhaps they could prevent numerous children from becoming victims or even prevent them from becoming perpetrators when they grow up. It just seems like a horrible misapplication of resources to put time and money into “fictional children” when there are actual children who are in need of protection.
Nobody forced the man who killed himself last week to commit suicide. That was his own doing. I just can’t help but think he would be alive today if not for the reverse sting to protect a fictional kid. I also can’t help but wonder how many fewer people would not be considered “sex offenders” had the same not happened, had law enforcement implemented tools to help remove (or drastically reduce the number of) illegal images online, or had more resources been invested in educating our children and the general public of the risks and consequences existing online. Most importantly, how many actual crimes would be solved or prevented if we focused resources on prevention rather than punishment. I am confident that our communities and ourselves would be far better off if we found a way to successfully integrate returning citizens into our communities, rather than setting them up to fail.
It’s time to rethink the registry.
The Florida Action Committee
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Aug 6 – Meet-and-Greet in Apopka
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SOME HEADLINES FROM THIS WEEK
UPDATE The agenda for the forthcoming Brevard County Commission meeting has been posted and they WILL be discussing the amendment to their sexual offender/sexual predator ordinance. We are calling upon members to appear at the Commission meeting to speak against the…
Not knowing you have to register something or not having the mental capacity to understand how to register is not a defense to a registration violation according to the Supreme Court of Kansas. A person required to register in Kansas was convicted of a failure to…
RealPage agreed to pay over $9.73 million to resolve claims that it violated the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) by allowing incorrect sex offender registry data on tenant screening reports. The class action lawsuit settlement benefits individuals who were…
The state of Florida is reporting such a severe shortage of teachers that it has recently announced a program to hire military veterans and spouses with absolutely no teaching experience or educational qualification to teach our children. Counties across the state are…