Sex offenders who prey on children are special case

September 2, 2009


And what should we do with our monsters?

That we have no answer to that question, that we lack consensus on what to do with sexual predators, is evident from the range of our responses to their crimes. From the Catholic church shielding pederastic priests to the profusion of databases that let you check if your neighbor is a sex offender, to the pseudo celebrity enjoyed by Mary Kay Letourneau when she married her former student Vili Fualaau, whom she raped when he was 12 and she was 34, our responses scream irresolution.

And then, there is Miami, which inadvertently created a shanty town of sex offenders with an overly broad law forbidding all of them — from the lowly peeping Tom to the psychotic rapist — from living within 2,500 feet of places where children gather.

We don’t know what to do with our monsters. But I submit that we owe it to Jaycee Dugard to learn.

We have all been duly appalled by her story, of course: she was a sun-kissed 11-year-old from South Lake Tahoe who was snatched in 1991 before her stepfather’s horrified eyes. She was rescued last week, a 29-year-old woman who has spent the intervening 18 years living in a shabby warren of tents, tarps and sheds in the back yard of her captors, registered sex offender Phillip Garrido and his wife, Nancy.

Maybe you think the most horrific part of this story is that Dugard allegedly bore two children by Garrido, the first born when she was about 14. Maybe you think it’s that authorities could have rescued her three years ago — neighbors called 911 to report children living in the backyard — but failed to do so. Maybe you think it’s the 18 years of life and education (Garrido did not allow her to go to school) she lost, irretrievably. Maybe you think it is her psychological ruination.

All that is heart-tearing, I agree. But what gets me is that Garrido should never have been on the street in the first place. When he allegedly took Dugard, Garrido was on parole for the 1976 rape and kidnapping of a young woman. For this, he was given a 50-year federal sentence and — the crime crossed state lines — a life sentence in Nevada.

He got out after 11 years.

Ordinarily, I am not much for mandatory minimum sentencing and other “tough-on-crime” measures politicians pass when they want to look as if they are doing something. Such laws have a tendency to remove human judgment (and common sense) from the equation and to produce as many miscarriages of justice as justice itself.

I make an exception for sexual predators who prey on children.

The crime is viscerally repulsive, yes; the idea of some pervert violating the body and vandalizing the innocence of a child stirs fundamental disgust. Indeed, child rapists are said to be the one kind of criminal even criminals loathe.

But the bigger reason I make an exception is simply this: at least some of them apparently can’t help themselves, driven by compulsions they can’t control and science cannot yet cure. Granted, the research that exists on the subject is sparse and often contradictory. It is hard to determine true recidivism rates due to a number of variables, beginning with the question of how recidivism itself is defined (e.g., by re-arrest or re-conviction). By some estimates, as many as half of all pedophiles will commit the crime again. Others put the figure far lower.

My problem is, I don’t know what figure is low enough that I would feel safe allowing a Phillip Garrido to ever again breathe free air. His alleged crime brings me out from irresolution and into a cold clarity. It makes the question easy.

What should we do with these monsters? Simple.

Lock them up. Lose the key.


denak 8 years, 6 months ago

As much as I empathize with the general sentiment of the article, it doesn't solve two basic problems.

First problem: The "perv in the alley" is less likely to rape, murder or abuse a child than the child's parent. Women account for the overwhelming majority of child homicides. I bring this up not to deflect responsibility or the danger of stranger abductions just to show that the "stranger danger" mentality we have is a red herring. Our children are much more likley to be hurt in the home than to be kidnapped on the street by some perv and held captive for 18 years. Before we tample over people's individual rights (and yes even disgusting pedophiles have rights) we should recognize and address the real danger to our children and that is abusive parents.

Two, locking them up and throwing away the key is unconstitutional and does not solvethe problem. Yes, it locks someone away for life but it does nothing to address the issue of treatment (which isn't very sucessful as Pitts noted).

This is a hard issue. But simple solutions (ie lock 'em up and throw away the key) doesn't solve the problem and until we do something about the violence in our own homes, it doesn't matter how many people we lock up, we are going to continue to have this problem.


tomatogrower 8 years, 6 months ago

And the registry is becoming a joke. Do you know there are guys on there who were just stupid enough to date a girl who was 15, going on 20. It doesn't make it right, and they should be punished, but a lifetime on a sex registry? Only the real perverts should be on that list. I think a couple of years ago they featured a young man who had sex with his girlfriend and the parents had him charged. He married his girlfriend and they have 2 kids, and, at that time, a strong marriage, but he was still on the registry.

workinghard 8 years, 6 months ago

Upon checking the Kansas sex offender list, I see now that some must only be on the list for ten years. So evidently it is not lifelong anymore.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.