By Alex Knepper
Our post-Cold War bogeyman is the child molester. He manifests himself in the daily scare segment on the Today Show; in macabre, hyperbolic convolutions by Oprah, and in NBC’s (in)famous To Catch a Predator. He is a sociopath, he is mentally disturbed, and he is about to break into your house, rape your child, and bury her alive in a shallow grave. And worst of all: he is the mass-man — he lives among us.
Recent scholarship — mostly by women, men are petrified by the stigma surrounding sexual controversies — has started shooting holes into this TV-ready outrage, perpetuated by demagogues like Bill O’Reilly and Nancy Grace. Women like Vanessa Place and Susan Clancy have bravely stood up against the mob to demand that common sense be restored to its rightful place. More recently, one of the lynch mob’s leaders, Martha Coakley — who, in an attempt to look “tough on crime,” kept a man falsely accused of “Satanic child rape” in prison — was denied access to the halls of the Senate. But these are drops in an ocean of manufactured outrage. On the whole, the mob has seized control of our discourse.
The result of this moral panic is that sex offenders of any kind — whether a stranger-rapist, child molester, someone who was peeking at kiddie porn, or even someone who had sex with a fourteen-year-old at the age of nineteen — are being denied their basic civil rights and liberties. Laws restricting the right of sex offenders to buy homes — since some neighboring homes will have children, after all! — have become so draconian in the city of Miami that they are forced to live under bridges (Videos) after being released from prison. But which politician will speak up for sex offenders? Except to say that our laws aren’t “tough enough,” of course.
Our laws are actually very tough. We — rightly — punish sex offenders harshly. Absolutely no one thinks that child molesters or rapists should be “let off easily,” and it’s an utter farce to pretend that anyone thinks otherwise. But even criminals — and even the most vicious among them — have rights as American citizens. Today, though, thanks to the Supreme Court, registered sex offenders have even lost the simple right to not to be locked up without a trial.
So who will defend the rights of the lowly?
“Not I,” says Stephen Breyer, writing for the majority:
The Supreme Court ruled Monday that federal officials can indefinitely hold inmates considered “sexually dangerous” after their prison terms are complete.
The high court reversed a lower court decision that said Congress overstepped its authority in allowing indefinite detentions of considered “sexually dangerous.”
“The statute is a ‘necessary and proper’ means of exercising the federal authority that permits Congress to create federal criminal laws, to punish their violation, to imprison violators, to provide appropriately for those imprisoned and to maintain the security of those who are not imprisoned by who may be affected by the federal imprisonment of others,” said Justice Stephen Breyer, writing the majority opinion.
President George W. Bush in 2006 signed the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act, which authorized the civil commitment of sexually dangerous federal inmates.
The act, named after the son of “America’s Most Wanted” television host John Walsh, was challenged by four men who served prison terms ranging from three to eight years for possession of child pornography or sexual abuse of a minor. Their confinement was supposed to end more than two years ago, but prison officials said there would be a risk of sexually violent conduct or child molestation if they were released.
That’s right: even if you’ve served your prison sentence, you still have no rights. And there is no further recourse. The Supreme Court has spoken. (Scalia and Thomas, as usual, got it right in dissenting.)
Of course, you have to be “mentally ill” to be denied release. But who but a “mentally ill” person would rape a child or masturbate to naked kids, right? “Mental illness” is not empirically verifiable — indeed, the “science” of psychiatry has, in its illustrious history, defined everything from homosexuality to defiance toward authority as “illness” — so there is literally no way for the prisoner to fight the authority of the man in the white coat.
The bottom line is this: the rule of law does not apply when it comes to psychiatric power or the whims of the lynch mob. Welcome to America in 2010.