If ever there was a good time to give short shrift to principled arguments on behalf of justice, the punishment of sex offenders could very well be that time. The caricature of the typical child molester — a man with sunglasses and a mustache, peering out his window as he cruises by the local middle school — is not a figure that should, or ever will, invite sympathy.
So it is understandable that the town of De Pere, in the interest of wiping clean such a stain on the fabric of civil society, would want to impose harsher restrictions on sex offenders. De Pere’s city council passed a law this past Tuesday mandating that registered sex offenders avoid loitering within 200 feet of public parks, schools or other areas where one would conventionally expect to find children. The ordinance applies to all sex offenders and will be pertinent to them even if they are not under state supervision.
The measure is not alien to the universal human urge to defend its young — perhaps that is why the city council passed it unanimously — but the casual disregard of De Pere’s city council for the rights of society’s most detested individuals is an act of insanity all the more troublesome because it is so excusable. De Pere’s ordinance may make a city council feel good about their ability to defend a threatened community. It may make police feel as though they have the legal muscle to nip pedophilia in the bud. It is also a drastic violation of human rights.
The idea that all sex offenders — every individual who has committed a crime that is remotely sexual in nature — are a threat to children reeks of a paranoia with no interest in hearing the voice of reason. Every class of offender, whether his or her crime victimized children or not, will now be painted with the stigma of pedophilia, the most egregious brand of sexual crime it is possible to commit. And while the bitter pill of reality may be difficult to swallow, it is impossible to see how certain classes of sexual crime — with their own psychological motivations and underlying causes — can in any way make an offender more disposed to harm children than the average citizen. The drunken partygoer who became too aggressive in a moment of alcohol-induced self-confidence is no more likely to be De Pere’s next pedophile than its average inconspicuous male park-goer.
Society has the right — and the responsibility — to protect itself from any individual who would do it harm. However, if such restrictions are truly necessary, it begs the question as to why these offenders, so unworthy of loitering in parks, are worthy of living in civil society at all. Parks, above any other public area, are where someone would be most expected to “loiter.” If this amount of latitude, so willingly given to any other member of society, is denied to sex offenders, then it is challenging to see how the city council of De Pere has any true willingness to see sex offenders rehabilitated. It is not an act of insensate brutality to acknowledge that the average pedophile may very well never be fully capable of existing in society. And if that is the case, attempting to make him or her stay away from parks will do little to discourage an underlying disorder that renders an individual more fit for a prison cell than the tree-lined streets of De Pere.
One must also question whether the measure is not simply designed to drive sex offenders out of De Pere altogether, so that another town in Wisconsin can bear the proud mantle of a municipality that is friendly to sex offenders. During a discussion on the ordinance, Alderman Bob Wilmet cited his concern that De Pere could become a dumping ground for sex offenders that are fleeing neighboring areas, where ordinances are stricter. As a patchwork of local regulations concerning the conduct — and in many cases, the living circumstances — of sex offenders begins to spring up across the state, it will be increasingly difficult for them to not only find a place to live in a state that has supposedly welcomed them with hesitant arms, but to be able to travel at all without fear of violating a draconian ordinance drafted upon the whim of well-intentioned councilmen.
Sam Clegg ([email protected]) is a sophomore majoring in economics.