America is swimming in fear soup, especially when it comes to kids. There is almost nothing a child can do, eat, wear, watch, touch or enjoy that doesn’t come with some sort of warning. For instance, have you seen the wearable monitors that measure a baby’s blood oxygen while he’s sleeping? Even healthy children are monitored as if they’re in intensive care.
When childhood seems that scary, parents — and society — believe they must be on high alert all the time. The resulting hypervigilance means that the easiest way to sell a product or politician is to invoke a childhood danger. And the easiest danger to invoke is, of course, the predator.
We’ll look at America’s predator panic: How we got here, what it’s doing to us, and possible ways to bring some rationality back to a country consumed by fear.
Lenore Skenazy is “America’s Worst Mom.” (Google it!) The New York City columnist- turned-reality show host got that title after letting her 9-year-old son take the subway, alone. In response to the media blowback, she founded the bookblog and movement, “Free-Range Kids.” Her feisty belief that our kids are safer and smarter than our culture gives them credit for has landed her on talk shows from Dr. Phil to The View. She has lectured internationally, from Microsoft’s headquarters to the Sydney Opera House, and has written for everyone from The New York Daily News (on staff for 14 years) to Mad Magazine. Yep. Mad Magazine. She’s also host of World’s Worst Mom, a reality TV show airing on Discovery/TLC in most of the world (but not America! Are you a TV exec looking for a great new show?).
Lenore has been an outspoken critic of public registries: “Seeing a bunch of dots on a map is enough to make us lock our kids inside, where they get fat, bored and addicted to ‘Halo 3,’ because we think it’s ‘Halo 3′ outside. Goodbye, any sense of community! Which is ironic because community – knowing and looking out for each other – is exactly what makes neighborhoods safer.”
Sex Offender Advocacy as a Social Movement
After first reviewing the pervasive and false myths behind current sex offender policies, Leon will discuss how reform efforts relate to the larger context of justice policy in 2014 and probe the questions: What lessons have we learned? Where are the opportunities for the future?
Chrysanthi Leon, JD, PhD, is associate professor of Sociology & Criminal Justice with appointments in Women & Gender Studies & Legal Studies at the University of Delaware. In Fall 2014 she will serve as interim chair of the department of Women & Gender Studies. Leon received her graduate degrees from UC Berkeley and is a research fellow at the Criminal Justice Research Program, Institute for Legal Research at the Boalt Hall School of Law.
She is an interdisciplinary scholar in the area of law and society with particular emphasis on the roles and experiences of women as they relate to the justice system. Her book, Sex Fiends, Perverts and Pedophiles: Understanding Sex Crime Policy in America, is available from NYU Press. Building on this research, Leon consults with groups and organizations grappling with how and whether to welcome sexual offenders as participants in their communities.
In addition to other publications regarding sex offender policy, recent research with Corey Shdaimah gives voice to women in prostitution: Leon is co-editor and contributor to a special issue forthcoming in Studies in Law, Politics and Society and an edited book under contract with Columbia University Press, scheduled for release in 2015.
A Commitment to a Long, Hard Haul
Establishing a chapter of advocacy to challenge sex offender issues, and to show support to those experiencing the laws, takes diligence, organization, a core of people with similar beliefs, designation of persons with various talents, resistance to disappointment and misunderstanding, a thick skin, patience and a driving passion to show that there is a better way.
Bowers has been director of SORT (Sex Offenders Restored through Treatment) since 1993. Currently one of several issues chapters of CURE (Citizens United for the Rehabilitation of Errants), SORT’s original goal was to assist in promoting restoration of those who have sexually offended by offering therapy location information for those paroling, providing suggested self-help material to those incarcerated without therapy options, and urging and promoting positive counseling that maintains respect for the offending person as a human being while condemning his/her behavior.
In 1997 Bowers took over the helm of SATA (Sex Abuse Treatment Alliance), a non-profit organization assisting in prevention by coordinating efforts to reduce sexual abuse through sharing services, professional education, referral sources and/or support, research, public education and responses to the media. In 1999 SORT became a program of SATA. SATA-SORT promoted restorative justice and therapy in the field of sex abuse prevention, provided information and advocated with policy makers and media about the importance of therapy.
The proliferation of countless laws aimed at those with sex offenses has significantly changed the needs and concerns of those involved in the criminal justice system. SATA-SORT expanded to also include the laws in specific states and nationally, how they affect persons sentenced, during prison and upon release. SATA’s name and its non-profit status changed to CURE-SORT in May 2013.
The Science and Policy of Risk Assessment
Evidence-based practices are touted as offering the best results for both the community and offenders. In particular, risk assessment is at the core of a new penology. Actuarial risk assessment is argued to represent best practices in judging future dangerousness and offering results that are objective, empirical, and standardized. This presentation challenges the foregoing assumptions that appear to support the idea that current methods of risk assessment are scientifically valid and legally acceptable. The most popular risk tools for sex offenders, Static-99, RRASOR, and VRAG, will specifically be addressed.
Dr. Melissa Hamilton is a visiting criminal law scholar at the University of Houston Law Center. She earned her J.D. from The University of Texas School of Law and a Ph.D within the fields of criminology and criminal justice from The University of Texas’s graduate program. She was an editor of the Texas Law Review, was awarded the designation of Chancellor based on academic achievement, and graduated with honors. After law school, she clerked for Judge Sam Johnson on the United States Circuit Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. Hamilton also has years of prior experience in the capacities of a police officer, corrections officer, and undergraduate lecturer.
Hamilton’s research interests are oriented toward interdisciplinary scholarship involving interpersonal violence, sex crimes, mental health and the law, sentencing, and civil commitment. Her scholarship includes traditional legal analysis as well as empirical studies, and she regularly publishes in law reviews, policy journals, and social science periodicals.
The Injustice of Our Great Nation
A veteran Texas motivational and faith based speaker, Dr. Steven DavidSon will speak to the injustice of the criminal justice system while sharing from his own personal experiences that have led him to understanding the importance of law reform. As a child of the sixties growing up in San Francisco, Dr. DavidSon lends a unique perspective to the travesty our Nation that has been left to harbor while speaking directly to the ways in which to overcome the obstacles through uplifting and motivational words of encouragement and strength.
Born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, Dr. Steven B. DavidSon has come from a rich Christian heritage of ministers, teachers, and lay persons. Since the 1970s, he has been involved with several ministries. He has attended a number of colleges and universities including the University of Arizona, University of San Francisco, Simpson University and Golden State School of Theology. He possesses advanced degrees in administration and pastoral ministries including a Master of Divinity and earned doctorate in Christian Counseling.