Neon Green with Anger

colson2Wisconsin and Ohio are considering bills that would require serious sex offenders, particularly those who prey on children, to affix neon green license plates to their vehicles. Sponsors say that the goal behind this legislation is not only crime prevention, but also to raise public awareness. That leaves an obvious question: raise public awareness so that we can do what? Unleash a wave of vigilante-style violence against former sex-offenders? Terrify people in parking lots? Or perhaps our goal is to assure that these offenders will never re-integrate into society again. Wisconsin and Ohio are not the first states to go this route. Last year, Mississippi plastered the faces of imprisoned sex offenders on one hundred billboards across the state. Yet this well-intentioned effort to protect children may actually end up traumatizing them: The billboards send the signal that danger is lurking around every corner. And I know of no evidence that this, in any way, deters further crimes. Let me be clear: Sexually based offenses, as the announcer on Law and Order: Special Victims Unitputs it, are “especially heinous”—none more so than those committed against children. We must protect children and hold offenders accountable for their crimes. But at the same time, we have also got to give them the opportunity for change: Prison Fellowship volunteers do this every day, bringing the transforming power of the Gospel into our nation’s prisons. But what do we do about sex offenders once they have served their time? How do we protect the public and potential future victims? It’s a really tough issue, because the repeat offense rate is so serious. But I know this: Neon green license plates are not the answer. They are not the answer because laws inspired by fear or the need to “do something”—whatever “something” might be—are seldom good laws. Look at the three-strikes-and-you’re-out legislation in California. The state felt it had to do something about repeat offenders. So, three felonies, and you go to prison for life. That sounds good, except when you consider what purpose is served by sending a shoplifter to prison for twenty-five years to life. Oh, and then there is the problem, too, that the state cannot manage its exploding prison population. But there’s another dynamic at work here. Now, I am not Freudian, but if I were, I would wonder if there is not a bit of compensation going on. Could it be that our society punishes sex offenders harshly out of displaced anger over the sex-soaked society we have created? Seeking newer and harsher penalties for sex offenders coincides with the hyper-sexualization of our children. Coincidence? I don’t think so. A recent Washington Post article describes 10-year-old girls sliding low-riding jeans over “eye-candy” panties, while 12-year-olds blurt out lines from sexually suggestive pop songs. Meanwhile, preteen boys pose provocatively for Calvin Klein ads. And pornography—one of the leading causes of sex offenses against children—is held to be a right that trumps the protection of children. Let’s get smart! These are things we can do something about, instead of just sitting around debating the color of license plates.  
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For Further Reading and Information
State Wants Special Car Plates for Sex Offenders,” Reuters, 1 March 2007. “Mississippi Billboards to Feature Sex Offenders,” On Deadline blog, USA Today, 20 February 2006. Faith Schwartz (Brobst), “The Scarlet ‘S’: Sex Offenders, Step Up and Be Branded,” The Point, 1 March 2007. Gina Dalfonzo, “Re: The Scarlet ‘S’,” The Point, 1 March 2007. Zoe Sandvig, “Re: The Scarlet ‘S’,” The Point, 5 March 2007. Faith Schwartz, “Thumbs Up for Florida,” The Point, 23 March 2007. Zoe Sandvig, “The Scarlet Sex Offender,” The Point, 11 January 2007. Catherina Hurlburt, “Things We Would Rather Not Know,” The Point, 1 November 2006. Gary Warth, “Pilgrim Church Weighs Whether to Allow Sex Offender to Attend Services,” North CountyTimes, 9 March 2007. Lacey Phillips, “The High Cost of Tracking Sex Offenders,” Capital News Online, 5 March 2004. Stacy Weiner, “Goodbye to Girlhood,” Washington Post, 20 February 2007, HE01. Gina Dalfonzo, “And They Say There Are No Role Models Anymore,” The Point, 27 March 2007.


Chuck Colson


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