Friday, October 27, 2006

Moral Panics and Pretend Policy

Doug Berman links us to Norm Pattis' takedown of a CT case involving a man possessing child porn (but with no evidence or record of action) and the legislator who's using it for familiar purposes. The offender was evaluated very low risk, received probation, recommended for treatment and got it, and is judged under control. Not good enough for the legislator, who is proposing mandatory jail time for sex offenders and notification of anyone living within 500 ft. of one. Not to be outdone, the US attorney is considering prosecution. Of a man who has apparently never done anything to anyone and has already served a sentence for that. Pattis calls it "hysteria" and "nonsense" and says sex offenders are our new witches. It's the same thing that happened to innocent child care providers in those sad, ridiculous, destructive days of the 80s. (How ridiculous? I'll never forget hearing a DA say, "I start with the presumption the child is always telling the truth." That's how I knew we'd crossed into lunatic-land, as subsequent heart-breaking events and releases showed.)

In social science the phenomenon is well enough known to have its own concept--"moral panics." They're as well-defined and predictable as eclipses, which also scared ignorant people who listened to opportunistic shamans who played their fears and explained causes and effects in equally certain and totally wrong terms. As we've emphasized here lately, there are good (that is, effective) ways to deal with sex offenders of all types (starting with identifying the type you actually have) and bad (that is, counterproductive and ultimately more dangerous to children) ways. IOW, there is real policy that truly tries to understand and deal with a problem and there is pretend policy that understands little and wants people to believe a problem is dealt with when it is not. This is not the former. (Pattis probably doesn't want to read about this case involving a third-degree misdemeanant being sent back to his family in Canada and the howls from politicians there. Same mentalities, just different faces and mountains.) In the end it's sad really, but we're dealing with humans, after all.

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