New Outrage: Sex Offender or Teenage Jerk?

Hi Readers! Ever look at a map of the local sex offenders, the ones with little dots showing where the guys live who prey upon helpless little children? Well, as of this week, there are two dots that won’t come off until the guys die of old age — which could be quite a while.

Right now, they’re both 16.

The boys committed their crime at age 14. And just what was it?

Horseplay. Stupid, disgusting horseplay. According to NJ.com, the kids pulled down their pants and sat on two 12-year-olds’ faces for the simple reason that they “thought it was funny” and were trying to get their “friends to laugh.”

That’s how one of the teens explained himself to a Somerset County, N.J., judge back in 2008. (His friend headed off a trial by pleading guilty to the same act.)

The judge then considered what he had in front of him, and rather than think, “These punks could use some community service time and maybe a suspension from school — plus an in-person apology to the kids they sat on,” he thought, “These two are sex offenders.”

After all, what they had done was, technically, “criminal sexual contact” with intent to humiliate or degrade. And so sex offenders he ruled they were. That meant they were subject to Megan’s Law. In New Jersey, such offenders, even as young as 13, have to register for life.

This past week, the young men appealed their sentence and lost.

What does it mean to be on the sex offender list? First of all, the public knows where you live. Websites and newspapers can publish your photo. So can TV news. Parents can warn their kids never to go near you.

In many states, registered sex offenders have to live a certain distance from where kids congregate, be that a school, day care center, park or bus stop. So these young men may have to move to the sticks.

When they get a job (Good luck! Not many places are dying to hire registered sex offenders), they have to notify the authorities of where they’re working.

They also have to re-register four times a year, and if they miss an appointment, they can go to jail. In some communities, they have to turn their lights off on Halloween. In others, they have to answer the door saying, “I’m a registered sex offender.” All because of this stupid prank they pulled at age 14.

And meantime, their presence as a dot on the map is terrifying everyone in their neighborhood. After all, they’re on the sex offender list!

“These lists were originally conceived by most of the voters who cheered them on as lists of people who had some sort of psychological compulsion to sexual predation,” explains Walter Olson, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. People assume anyone on it is “a permanent menace.”

These guys are more like Dennis the Menace, which is why we have to change the criteria that land folks on the registry. These young men were never “predators.” And as the years go by, the idea that they pose a danger to children will become even more ridiculous. When you’re 20, 30, 40 — 80! — you don’t do the things you did as a 14-year-old trying to impress your buddies. Why is Megan’s Law blind to human nature?

If it were making kids safer, maybe we could overlook how obtuse it is. But a 2008 study found that, in New Jersey at least — where little Megan Kanka, for whom the law is named, was murdered — the law showed no effect in reducing the number of sexual re-offenses or reducing the number of victims.

It’s time to change the law and the registry. Otherwise, too many of the dots on a sex offender map will be victims, not criminals. — L

No Photographing Children without Parental Consent?

Readers — We’re getting to the point where ANYTHING having to do with children is so fraught with inflated fears that we are going absolutely crazy. Consider this bill just introduced in the New Jersey state assembly: It would outlaw the photographing or videotaping of kids in situations in which “a reasonable parent or guardian would not expect his child to be the subject of such reproduction.”

How’s that for vague? So, suddenly, a kid in the background of your park pictures is taboo if his dad is mad you’re taking a pic? Or maybe you’re breaking the law if you’re videotaping your child’s pool party and the other parents haven’t signed a waiver? Since when is photography a crime? The camera really does NOT capture anyone’s soul. Promise!

The bill was prompted by an incident last summer in which a 63-year-old man was caught taking pictures of some pre-teen girls. The geezer admitted to police he was photographing them because he found them (fully clothed): “sexy.”

For the record, that is kind of creepy. But it’s also harmless. And one man’s ickiness should not criminalize anyone with a camera. If photographing kids becomes illegal, we will have entered a new kind of society. A kind of totalitarian one, where our everyday rights have been stripped away, supposedly for our “protection.” Except that now we can be arrested for something that poses zero danger!

Somehow, I don’t feel safer. And I don’t feel my kids are safer, either. — L

Would we have any pictures like this if the proposed law was passed?

Controversy of the Day: Pool or Pond?

Hi Readers — Today’s New York Times has a really great piece about a town in New Jersey whose sand-bottomed, spring-water filled swimming hole has been the joy of local kids since 1929. Until, of course, today.

Now half the residents want to fill the pond in and replace it with a standard concrete pool, making it easier to watch their children. The other half say this is helicopter parenting taken to extremes. The pro-pool people cite the death of a 14-year-old last year — the third drowning in 80 years — as proof that the swmming hole is unsafe. Personally, I’m terrified of drowning and feel terrible for this boy and his family, but are 3 deaths in 80 years proof that something is unsafe…or proof that something is actually quite safe: One death every generation?

Anyway, I figured this was something we’d like to discuss. And if you’re off at a Labor Day picnic, splashing in some sweet body of water somewhere, all I can say is: I’m jealous. (And stay safe!)  — Lenore