Trigger warning for discussion of rape and mention of domestic violence and child abuse.
The title of this AlterNet article is New Laws Banning Sex Offenders From Social Networks and Online Gaming May Go Too Far.
…Really. Never would have guessed that that could possibly be the case.
From a civil libertarian perspective, I’ve always been deeply uncomfortable with sex offender registries and other laws limiting their freedom. They strike me as cruel and unusual punishment. There is a reason we do not keep people in jail forever; many of them are probably innocent. Even for those who aren’t, being forced to live under Miami Bridge is not really recommended by any scientifically validated criminal rehabilitation programs.
Even worse, all this actually contributes to the rape culture. It creates the idea that rapists are some kind of slavering beast-monster very different from Our Kind of People and as long as we keep them away from decent folk and under Miami Bridge we’re at no risk of rape. The problem, of course, is that most rapists are undetected, and that nearly all rapists are perfectly ordinary people. You are not safe from rape because you avoid the sex offender next door; in fact, you’re at far higher risk of being raped by your partner, parent, or friend.
These new laws simply expand the security theater of sex offender registries. In a world where about 1 in 20 men and an unknown number of women are rapists and even more are abusers, banning sex offenders from Facebook, xBox Live, or Match.com just gives you a false sense of security. In reality, most of the rapists and abusers on these websites are undetected.
It also gives people a sense that they’re Doing Something about rape. Stuff is Getting Done. The problem is being Dealt With. But in reality, as in most cases when someone wants more to be seen dealing with a problem than to actually solve it, the action is completely fucking useless. Everyone gets to feel good about those horrible sex offenders being segregated to their own part of the Internet far away from all the good people. And meanwhile children are being molested by their grandparents, women are being hit by their husbands, men are being raped by their boyfriends…
I mean, holy shit, the dating sites aren’t even banning people with domestic violence convictions. The hell? That’s not even half-assed. That’s quarter-assed.
It also helps people ignore other problems that are real problems. I’ve been online since I was ten years old. In that time, I’ve gotten quite a few people twice my age hitting on me. You know what I did? Blocked them, ignored them, made fun of them, politely thanked them for the compliment but demurred, or (once or twice) flirted back in an entirely consensual and mutually enjoyable manner. On the other hand, the use of the Internet to bully is an enormous problem; Facebook means that kids can’t escape their tormentors, even when they go home. Hell, there are some comments (mostly deleted) that have left me sobbing at my computer. Are you telling me that that one creeper who hit on me in sixth grade (I deleted his message and laughed) was more damaging than those comments?
That’s not even getting into the issue of the sex offenders themselves. First of all, there’s a reason we don’t allow indefinite and lifelong punishment for most crimes: it’s a civil liberties violation. For all we know, Joe Sex Offender is innocent (after all, the Innocence Project has proved that many people have been convicted of rapes they did not commit) and really should be allowed to play xBox and have a Facebook in peace.
Second, think about the recidivism rates! Which kind of person is more likely to commit a sex crime again: a person who feels marginalized from society and has nothing to lose, or a person who has a job and a bank account and friends and a favorite video game, and knows very clearly that if they commit a sex crime they’re likely to lose it all.