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The Precipice
By Shelly Stow
Published: 10/29/2012

Precipice We either live in a civilized nation or we don't. Our legal and judicial system, based on the time-honored premise that one is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law as drawn from the 5th amendment, either means something or it doesn't. Either our laws are in place to protect the guilty as well as the innocent or they aren't. Our laws and our Constitution either stand for all, or they stand for none.

Once before our country stood balanced on the precipice of injustice becoming the norm, at a time when, in a large portion of the nation, people of color were accorded few if any civil or human rights and were regarded as being, literally, worth less than one of Caucasian ancestry. We managed to draw back from that precipice, but today we stand at yet another, and this one may succeed in destroying us where the other did not.

We have created another monster to fear, another whose life is worth less than any other not in the same classification--the "sex offender." I put it in quotes not to make light of those sexual crimes that cause harm to others but to show that it has become a clearly defined, easily identifiable sub-category of Americans. A "sex offender" is anyone on a sex offender registry for any reason, for crimes great and small, and ranging in age from nine to ninety. Violations of civil and human rights visited upon a sex offender are somehow okay. One would not wear that label were he not deserving of the vilest treatment.

Therefore, when, in Washington state, a hate-crazed vigilante with a gun shot and murdered a man who was on the sex offender registry for consensual teenage sex fifteen years ago, a man who was now a husband and breadwinner and father of two little boys, the "fans" of the killer called him a "hero" on blogs and comment boards and said he should be released from custody so he could continue doing "God's work."

And now that Patrick Drum has received a sentence of life without parole for that murder in Washington, once again the comments on articles are praising his action and defending his murder spree as justified because of who he chose to murder, a “sex offender.” One commenter called for his release and an apology from the government.

And, in South Carolina, a man who may or may not have raped a teenager was shot down in the street, and the comment boards overflowed with praise for whoever murdered him. Those making the comments became judge, jury, and executioner, for they pronounced him guilty, passed sentence, and in every way but taking hand to gun, put him to death without a second’s hesitation.

Men have murdered entire families, sometimes their own, and been given a fair trial. Men have murdered heads of state and been accorded their rights under the law. Men have committed the most atrocious of war crimes, annihilating thousands upon thousands, and have been treated with basic decency as they faced their accusers in court.

But none of those men were “sex offenders.” None of those men lived in twenty-first century America bearing a label that marks them as one who is to be accorded no rights, no decency, no fairness, one who has no right to claim the most basic of all rights, that of innocence until guilt is proven.

The precipice gapes and widens, and its message is this: if our laws do not protect those judged to be the least deserving among us, then they do not protect any of us.

Shelly Stow is a member of Reform Sex Offender Laws [RSOL] and Texas Voices, the Texas affiliate of National RSOL.

Other articles by Stow


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  22. Fred Davis on 05/13/2013:

    Registries can be a slippery slope when one group is singled out homogeneously and who have finished their sentence and this is used to incrementally move toward another politically incorrect group. Gun owners squirmed when their second amendment rights may have been applied to a registry for them.This is a slippery slope indeed. One can stack the Supreme Court with progressives that implement new law with no problem or conscience. Creating a tax to force health law is making law. We have progressives on both sides of the aisle today. A kid is a pre pubescent goat and those young adults should not be applied synonymously with animals to bastardize English to promote egalitarian socialist agendas. It was Lenin who was an advocate of egalitarianism in Russia and no fault divorce and we all know how those precepts turned out with the Bolsheviks and they addressed the first women's congress. This exacerbated the murder of born children as in Pennsylvania here today. Reagan signed no fault divorce and look at the family today. No fault divorce and the elimination of illegitimate children was the beginning of multitudes dying and the eventual decay of the Soviet Union. There is no reason that crime cannot be just and fair at the sentencing level with a jury trial. All men are "created" equal. After that the choices we make determine our blowback or reaping.Common Law and common sense should have priority of position over trial lawyers and activist Courts,

  23. Squeeze on 05/12/2013:

    wiseman While Shelly highlighted some shortcomings in the CJ system, I believe there are some efforts to correct the system. First let us separate the predatory sex offenders from the non-predatory offenders. these are best identified by the mental health proffessionals. While there have been some retribution by general populations against registrants these have been relatively a small number of incidents. However that in and of itself does not justify the elimination of the registry. Some states have decided to let the Mental Health community make those decisions whether a sex offender is no longer a danger to society. Minnisota is a good illustration of that. I personally had 2 serial sex offenders(pedophiles) escape from a mental health facility in Minnisota where they were being held indefinitly after their criminal commitments had been satiosfied. They were captured in my city. There were incarcerated in my jail and after completing my background research I discovered they had been multiple noffenders in several states and a province of Canada. They were predatory and no amount of treatment was going to change that. A registry would not have helped locate them as they travelled from place to place. However they never should have been released back ointo society in the first place. Instruments developed over the years would have identified them as predatory, their history of actions like gaining an education to teach school after offending the first time) would have been a flag that they were planning to gain easy access to children. They were eventually returned to Minnisota but only after my and others efforts to get them back to confinement under MH laws.As a recovering victim of a serial molester when I was a kid in the 60's and 31 years in Law enforcement/Corrections I am saying the registry serves a good purpose but it is not perfect. We must be diligent to protect those who need protecting to the unfortunate eroding of some peoples liberties. Every right we enjoy in our society unfortunately has some downside to it.

  24. Fred Davis on 11/06/2012:

    When one leaves God, one views things through the jaundiced perspective of judgment (resentment) rather than discernment. This is what happens when one seeks to be God rather than depending on Him. The only problem with the jaundiced view is that He says that man weighs the action but God discerns the heart. Who can know the heart of man? Where was the vigilante when God created the heavens and the earth? God calls those that judge according to law without mercy and grace whitened sepulchers. The problem with taking law into one’s own hands through activist courts and trial lawyers or vigilantism is that the same unjust judge that will yield to the pressures of the people against due process will be the same judge that will be in the same seat when the vigilante’s child needs justice. There is something about sowing and reaping. Paying it forward in a wrong way can bring the precipice in view faster. This is a great article! Resenting through judgment the mistakes of others sets one up for judgment from natural law in the future. The former offenders need to be careful of falling into the trap of resenting the vigilantes, lest they take on some of that spirit. Resentment is a two-edged sword, and so is injustice. First they made the black father in the family unit less than a person by law. Then they took away the personhood from young adults and robbed these young adults of their rights using the juvenile justice system to remove their fifth and sixth amendment rights. This happened with good intentions but the road to hell can start there when man out of order or out of priority of position thinks he can fix things that he messed up on his own. This article was so on target as were most of the responses! One must remember that resentment clouds the judgment that should come through unemotional discernment. The resentful heart of the one who judges is revealed. One does not have to do much to watch nations go down when no due process is given for even one group. All one has to do is wait. Then the next generation of children will reap the bitterness and vengeance because of those that hated justice.

  25. yellowroselady on 11/01/2012:

    This discussion is very much needed. The issue of sexual abuse has gone on longer than any of us have been alive. And, if many will be honest there is a dirty old uncle or grandpa who has gotten away with some type of sexual offense for years. Why you ask? Just as studies have indicated 95% of these cases happen within the family environment and will never be reported. So, where does that leave us? I think more education and less legislation would be a good place to start. Children and teens need to be empowered as to their safety and ways to self protect. I am in no way saying children are totally responsible for their well-being but, then again parents can't be everywhere with their child. Had you rather be proactive with those 95% of "attempted" offenses or remain reactive after the damage is done? On another note the NCMEC says that "ALL Children Deserve to be Safe" and our organization, Women Against Registry seeks to bring awareness to the collateral damaged experienced by families of registrants who have paid their debt and should be allowed to live their lives. My son was abused by his biological father beginning at the age of 6 and that was not uncovered till he was 22 years old so I have some knowledge about it happening to someone close. I will say that folks can decide to remain a victim or work to get their life back (Oprah Winfrey, Tyler Perry,and numerous others). There are over 760,000 men, women and children registrants across the states and the offenses range from urinating in public all the way to rape. Multiply that number by 2 or 3 family members of the registrant and there are well over 2,500,00 folks struggling to help someone re-integrate. A registry does not protect kids! Vicki Henry Women Against Registry dot com

  26. breakingchains on 10/31/2012:

    I think that Ms. Stowe did a fantastic job on the article above. It needs to be brought out that not all SO's are child molesters. I really feel sorry for FRHR, they really need to seek help from a therapist because people like that, that hope all SO's are done away with, with out even knowing what they have done is really sad and scary. I feel bad about what happened to FRHR's daughter but that just proves what has been said before, that most molestation accures from inside your own home, NOT From people on the registry. I will say a prayer for GOD to touch your heart and give you some forgiveness and peace. Also for your daughter to find peace in her life from what has been done to her.

  27. FRHR on 10/31/2012:

    Don't point fingers at me and call me stupid and mean. My daughter was molested when she was a little girl by my very own brother. She didn't tell me about it until he had been dead for several years. She suffers from depression and other problems. As far as I'm concerned, he took away the good part of her life, and she will never be a happy, normal person. What kind of sick f*** does something like that to a kid, especially his own niece? If I had known about it while it was happening, I can't say I wouldn't have killed him myself even though he was my brother. The laws that punish people like that can't be too harsh. So don't call me names and tell me how bad it is for the poor sex offender. It should be worse.

  28. Edie Billings on 10/31/2012:

    Kudos to Ms. Stowe for exposing an ill conceived system that has gone awry. If people like FRHR would look into the "registry" and see who is on there,what they're on for and become aware of the collateral damage this registry causes, maybe he would tone down his harsh rhetoric.This is beside the fact that 97% of sex crimes are committed by those not on the registry. We need more people like Ms. Stowe, Texas Voices, and others who can educate the public about this injustice. Many thanks for your article.

  29. Ngu on 10/30/2012:

    FRHR, it really saddens me to hear you feel that way. I myself have been a rso for 21 years now, since I was 17. Due to a consensual encounter I had with someone I thought was 16. Turns out she lied and was 14. But I'm not some sick person who likes molesting kids, nor was I then. I will say a prayer for you FRHR that one day you will be able to look at all sides of a situation and not be so closed off with hatred! You have a Blessed day!

  30. Wisdom of Solomon on 10/30/2012:

    First, I would like to commend Ms. Stow for bring to us this very insightful article. To me it shows that there are people in this world still capable of putting forth sound reasoning and judgement. Her article points out very clearly the dangers we as Americans face when injustice is allowed to prosper and flurish. Sex offender (SO) laws are an abomination, we all know that. Even proponents of SO laws cannot muster a reasoned or principled argument for these laws existence. Emotionlly charged catch phrases like "protecting children" are their main weapons to justify SO laws. But a reasonal mind would know that being able to look someone up on a registry (internet) cannot and will not protect anyone--how can it? THINK! In addition, neither will keeping someone 1000 feet from a school or other place where childern gather stop a true and determined individual from abducting a child--how can it? THINK! No, neither of these so called safety measures can or will work. Therefore, SO laws are ENABLING laws. They ENABLE society to discriminate, disenfranchise, brand, scoff, deny, and yes even MURDER, as Ms. Stow points out above, those subject to SO laws. Indeed, SO laws protect no one. On another note, I am particularly ashamed of federal judges who have, out of political necessity, upheld these laws time and time again. These judge know for certain SO laws are unconstitutional but insist on keeping them in place to appease proponents of SO laws. Finally, as to the comments made by FRHR above, I feel very sorry for this individual. He/she has not the capacity for deep intellectual thought but is influenced by the HERD mentality. Therefore, anything that comes forth from the mouth of this person should be overlooked. Thank you.

  31. FRHR on 10/30/2012:

    What do I think? I think this is pretty much bleeding-heart liberal crapola designed to make us feel sorry for sick people who molest kids. Why should anyone get bent out of shape if a few of those sickos get offed? Where are the tears and concern for the victims? Until this country gets its priorities straight, we will just keep on destroying innocent kids and coddling those who destroy them.

  32. Mary Palmer on 10/30/2012:

    Very well written! The "sex offender" hysteria is certainly the new witch hunt. Unfortunately, the general public just doesn't get it until their loved one is added to the naming and shaming list.

  33. rwsmom on 10/29/2012:

    Thank you Ms. Stowe for bringing this situation to light. You are so correct about the stigma that those convicted of sex crimes face. The laws are too vague and do need to be reformed. I applaud you for taking a stand and speaking out about the wrongs of our judcial system and legislation.

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