Thursday, September 03, 2009

Contempt of courts?

Skeptic finally got around to posting my long article* on the criminal-justice system, which has proved exceedingly controversial since it first appeared in the current edition of the print magazine in July. Editor Michael Shermer also made the piece the subject of a searching and introspective blog post of his own. It includes salient portions of a wonderfully lucid, even poetic dissenting opinion from an unlikely source: a prisoner, identified only as "convict #771782," who claims to be serving "two life sentences plus 205 years for murdering his algebra teacher and two students when he was 14."

It behooves me to point out that the statistical error (a miscalculation of percentages) in the opening graph was not mine. It was, rather, an editorial flub that crept into the piece during the course of editing.


While we're on the subject of criminal injustice (and I'm in the mood for controversy), this nation simply must outgrow its puritanical mindset with respect to the administration of so-called justice vis-a-vis certain sex crimes. I have in mind, particularly, teacher-on-student sexual assault when the teacher is a female. And before we proceed, tell me: When did it become "assault," exactly, to persuade someone, even an underage someone, to be kissed or even fondled? OK
, maybe it's a crime, if society decides that's how it wants such scenarios handled...but it's not an assault, to my mind. That terminology represents the politicization of justice, unfairly coloring the perception of the incident itself. My dictionary defines assault as "a sudden, violent attack." And while I grant you that there are subordinate/secondary definitions that more closely apply to the likes of kissing and fondling, I would strongly urge us to err on the side of the original definition in approaching sex crimes of this nature. (To be clear, I am not talking about any kissing or fondling that occurs in the course of a rape!)

Anyway, I'm mindful of this today because a local teacher recently was sentenced to serve up to 30 years for molesting a 14-year-old female student; in fairness, the student was just 12 years old when the (female) teacher began "grooming" her for an intimate relationship. Now, do I think this is appropriate behavior for teachers? No. Of course not. But does it warrant
spending the next three decades behind bars? No. Of course not. As a disclaimer, I will confess that I don't know the details of the sex itself. (Fairly graphic content follows.) If the teacher strapped on a dildo to penetrate the young girl, taking her virginity and causing her a great deal of pain, perhaps that mitigates in favor of a harsher sentence. But still not 30 years. And if what the teacher actually did was, say, lick the girl to orgasm.... People, there are sexual predators in the traditional senseby which I mean, thugs who pull female joggers off into the bushes and hold a knife to their throats while they rape them anallywho don't serve anywhere near 30 years. I'm sorry, the sort of rape that takes place in the case at hand is just a different crime. And when it comes to female teachers like Deb LaFave "raping" hormonally crazed 16-year-old boys... Once againhow many times have I said this now?I'm afraid I have to go with Bill Maher: I'm not sure it's a crime when the victims spend the balance of the semester exchanging enthusiastic high-fives with their friends.

* which is really more of an essay.


Noadi said...

30 years is certainly excessive when put in the context of some of the sentences violent rapists often face. 30 months and being barred from teaching minors would be far more appropriate.

I don't know if I said it here before but I think the true crime in these instances isn't the sex. It's the abuse of authority and power that teachers have over students and manipulating their emotional immaturity.

Steve Salerno said...

Noadi, when people say "I may have said this before" or some such, it always reminds me of how difficult it is to keep the material fresh--which of course is my burden, not yours. Nonetheless, I do think there's value in keeping these issues in front of people. My football coach used to say it takes 11 repetitions--of anything--to even begin to get the hang of it. (Then again, that could also be one of those apocryphal, baseless "laws" or "rules" for which I'm always criticizing the self-help gurus.)

Anonymous said...

But Steve, your question is really your answer. You say "of course" it's wrong for teachers to do this, and you admit there are behaviors society wants to discourage. You even said this on your comment on the Shermer site (and I have to say I'm floored again by some of what you said there). So if that's true, isn't punishment part of the deterrent process that changes the behavior on the part of these teachers who you want to cut all this slack so they can have sex with their students?

However I do agree that it's different in the case of that young blond you show here. :) That's my second smiley lifetime.

Noadi said...

I knew you had brought up a similar topic before and I couldn't find the post to see if I was repeating myself.

Steve Salerno said...

Yep. I go back to the same well too often, I guess. Thank God some of you folks are loyal.

Anonymous said...

Steve, this piece, from The New Yorker, on a (likely) innocent man executed in Texas may interest you.

Among many galling things described in the article (such as the witnesses' changing recollections of the events), is the instance of *two* psychology experts, one of whom was a marriage counselor and the prosecutor's friend, and another forensic psychiatrist who got thrown out of APA (after the man's conviction and because of charges not directly related to this case), both testifying that the defendant was a "dangerous sociopath" without even meeting him once.

It defies decency, common sense, and, I hope, law (not to mention ethics).

Anonymous said...

The points that I've read in Sham seem very accurate and noteworthy, but your points on someone manipulating and molesting a adolescent in their care are quite shocking. You state that young teenage girl being raped dildo (I consider it rape because the girl was psychologically immature and manipulated by an adult in a position of authority) doesn't constitute someone being imprisioned for 30... well their are people out there - like me - who do believe that crime would constitute such a sentence. Have you ever known someone who has been 'groomed' and abused by an adult in a position in authority? Have you ever researced into the psychological effects? Yes you have pointed out that you don't know the details of the case - that is honest - however have you asked the question of previous convictions? Or other relevant background information? Possible undisclosed 'incidents' that were dealt with behind closed doors? I'm currently working for a assitant manager who had to change store locations because of propositioning the young teenage workers and being 'caught' in a 'bad situation' with another young memeber of staff (my dept manager knows the details but won't tell me because he knows I'll confront the assistant manager). He got transferred to our store and is now propositioning the youngest members of the staff, whom are all afraid to report it officially although most of the store knows unofficially. These kind of things go on and are swept under the carpet.