When “Child Porn” Isn’t, And The Woman Who Insisted We Differentiate

Hi Readers: Two important things today. The first, and saddest, is that Mary Duval has passed away. I wrote about her here. She was the mom-turned-activist after her 16-year-old son Ricky was put on the sex offender registry — for life — for having consensual sex (twice) with a 13-year-old girl he thought was his own age.

Mary fought first for him, and then for all the folks on the ever-expanding registry who pose no threat to children. She leaves behind her two beloved sons, a movement for more just and rational sex offender laws, and barely enough money to pay for her funeral. If you would like to make a contribution, please write it out to Ricky’s aunt, D. Logan, and send it to: D Logan,  765 Mesa View Drive,  Space 24,  Arroyo Grande, CA   93240.

One of the things Mary fought for was to help our country get a grip. None of us want predators preying on children – I mean, really, that’s pretty obvious — but as our fears for our children grow (inflamed by everything from Law & Order to Nancy Grace), politicians pander by creating “tougher and tougher” laws against sex offenders. Sometimes those laws end up going overboard, taking with them all common sense. For a prime example of where this can lead,  check out this article, about a California high school yearbook that was recalled because, according to CBS:

The background of a school dance photo shows a 17-year-old boy’s hand inside the clothing of a 15-year-old girl in a way that suggests sexual penetration.

“The photo was taken at a dance and the suspect and victim are not the focus of the photo. They are in the background and likely didn’t know they were in the photo,” said sheriff’s spokeswoman Cynthia Bachman.

In fact, even the high school yearbook advisor didn’t notice this naughty bit. Nonetheless, now students are being asked to bring the books back to school for a refund. And what happens to the kids who hang onto them? 

THEY COULD BE CHARGED WITH POSSESSION OF CHILD PORNOGRAPHY. For real!

That’s why Mary Duval will be so missed. She fought the dumbing down of the terms “child abuse” and “child porn” to the point where normal, non-violent activities could qualify as crimes. She fought so that normal, non-violent folks like  teens who have sex with their girlfriends, or send sexts, or HOLD ONTO THEIR YEARBOOKS would not end up as official sex offenders.

Why is this a Free-Range issue? Because the more non-dangerous activities we start labeling as “dangerous to children,” the more society becomes convinced that our children are in constant peril. So the more ridiculous laws we pass, and the more we pull our kids inside, and the more we distrust our neighbors and everyone else. (For a lovely example, see my post on the church that will not allow married couples to teach Sunday School unless a third adult is in the room with them, lest the dad molest the students and the wife refuse to testify against him.)

It is so easy to inflate fear and so hard to bring it back down to the real world. This was Mary’s calling. I believe it is also mine.

R.I.P. Mary Duval. — L.

Should a Teen Who Forwards a Sext Land on Sex Offender Registry?

No, says the dad of the boy in question. Here’s the story: Boy #1, age 14, had a girlfriend who sent him a nude picture of herself. Then he and the girl broke up and he, repulsively, forwarded the photo to kids at three other schools. It seems that some of the kids who got the photo passed it along again. Let’s call one of those kids Boy #2.

Along with a couple of others, Boy #2 is now facing sex offender charges. His dad believes his son should pay for his cruelty. He has taken away the son’s computer and cell phone service, which had been rewards for good grades and behavior. He also believes his son should do community service and even get charged with a misdemeanor or harassment. But he argues that placement on the sex offender registry means the boy’s future is “gone.” The article continues:

Deputy prosecuting attorney Rick Peters said those charges might sound harsh, but that’s the statute they have to use, “In this case do I think the requirements for the charge itself seem harsh to a layperson? I think it is because I don’t know that this particular type of situation was contemplated by the legislature when they drafted the legislation.”

Which is why we have to change the laws. I agree that sexting is serious — or what I mean is, it’s extremely serious when someone breaks the bonds of trust and makes a private photo public. But does it mean that a teen who did that — or even another teen who stupidly forwards a forward  —   should be placed on the sex offender registry, which is often for years, or even life? Is he really on par with a career predator?

No. And the more we dilute the registry with cads instead of actual criminals, the more we terrify neighborhoods even as we dilute our crime-fighting resources. The more time police  spend  monitoring teen sexters, the less time they have left to spend  monitoring monsters. In a way it’s parallel to drug offenses: I’d much rather the police crack down on drug peddlers and kingpins than on someone who smokes a joint.

I feel terrible for the girl in this case — outraged — and believe her tormentors deserve punishment. But their punishment should fit the crime of cruelty, not the crime of child rape or the crime of creating child pornography. As we twist the idea of the sex offender registry away from criminals who pose an immediate threat to the neighborhood toward anyone demeaning, or even thoughtless, I’m not sure we make anyone safer.  And we may ruin more young lives than we save. — Lenore

No More Sleepovers?!

The latest victim of parental terror? Sleepovers. According to this AP story by Kelli Kennedy, parents are afraid of everything from junk food to “inappropriate” movies, to Internet surfing, to the possibility of  their children being drugged and raped. 

The modern parental thinking method applies: Since a drugging/fondling incident DID happen once, and since it was ON THE NEWS, it must be  happening ALL THE TIME, and it could POSSIBLY, even PROBABLY, happen to MY kid, so in order to avoid this fate, I must PROTECT my child by glue-gunning  her to my side. (Ouch!) 

Now, as I hope you know, Free-Range Kids does not say that horrible things never happen. It does say (I does say?) that basing our parenting decisions on worst-case scenarios does not make us better parents. It makes us the parents of kids who don’t get to do much. Who think the world is crawling with creeps. Who say things like the 9-year-old I just heard of: “I can’t go outside! Someone will kidnap me.”

How can you keep your kids safe on an overnight? The AP article quotes Michele Borba, author of “12 Simple Secrets Moms Know,” who gave pretty simple advice: Get to know the family. If they seem normal, let your kid go. Remind her (or him)  that she can stand up for herself if something gross happens. And that she can always talk to you about anything weird or upsetting that she did and you won’t be mad.

There. Now I, too, am talking as if going on a sleepover at a friend’s house is like spending the night in Attica. From what I remember, there’s a lot less throwing chairs and a lot more throwing pillows. — Lenore

Why I’m Not Taking the Advice of an “Expert” on Child Molesting

A comment on my post, “Of Peanuts and Pedophiles,” included a link to a Salon story on child sexual abuse. Voila: http://tinyurl.com/cc2qys .

It’s a disturbing piece, by a guy who worked for a year in a treatment center for juveniles who have raped and molested other kids. Hearing their histories gave him a, “peek inside a dark world I never wanted to see.” A peek so disturbing, he wrote, that he never even hired a babysitter after that. “The risk wasn’t worth the reward of a night on the town or attending an event for my own enjoyment.” From his (tortured) perspective, he couldn’t trust anyone – even a 13-year-old girl in pigtails- not to be a sexual sadist.

The young molesters he was dealing with not only raped repeatedly, they were arsonists.  And, no surprise, they’d all been molested when they were younger, too. You just can’t t get sadder or more upsetting than that, which is why I must reject the man’s advice:

 “Don’t trust your children with anyone. .. Trust no one. No babysitter. No friend of your child’s. No adult. No kid. No one.”

Look, I doubt I’d be able to trust anyone, either, if I worked all day in a prison filled with rapists. That was pretty much the writer’s experience. In working with incredibly troubled youth – kudos to him – his outlook got seriously skewed. If you ate dinner every night, year after year, with Hannibal Lechter, chances are you would beg us, in desperate tones, “For the love of God, NEVER order the filet!”

Personally, we’d understand where you were coming from. We’d even appreciate – a little, I guess – learning about the darkness most of us never confront.

But then we’d have to discount your counsel, because your experience is so far removed from everyday life. What you think of as “common,” isn’t.  Most kids are not rapists. (And, for the record, most grown-ups are not cannibals.)

Naturally, many people who read the Salon piece will see it as confirmation of their worst fears. They will clutch their children even closer, because it fits right in with the stories we see on the news and on the crime shows about the worst of the worst. This steady diet of doom is warping our view of the world just as working with mini rapist/arsonists warped the author’s. It can get to the point where his advice sounds like just good ol’ common sense: Where your kids are concerned, trust no one.

“I hope it will make parents PRUDENT not paranoid,” he wrote.

But if we trust no babysitter, no teacher, no play date, ever, the only thing left is for us to watch our children 24 hours a day. Literally. Never let them out of our sight.

That’s not childhood, that’s lockdown.

For the kids who committed no crime at all.     

— Lenore

P.S. By the way, people who trust no one, ever, ARE paranoid. Not prudent.