In Puritan America, a married woman’s illicit affair with a minister landed her in jail. After her release, Hester Prynne was sentenced to forever wear a big red “A” on her dress. 

Nearly 375 years later, the U.S. continues to be scandalized, tantalized and perplexed by sex, especially about sex offenders. Tough on crime, we’re still struggling to learn: 

  • Why domestic violence and incest are so under-reported by victims? 
  • Why most people think every sexual offender is a serial rapist? 
  • Why, even among therapists, many continue to believe sex-offenders to be untreatable? 
  • Why supervision after offenders’ release tends to-wards punitive rather than restorative? 

It’s time to bring the subject of sex crime out of the dark ages, time to help victims shed the shame and trauma of their experience. It’s also time to allow offenders an opportunity to show they can change, make amends and start to earn back trust and acceptance from society.

Bully Pulpit to the Bullpen: “Forget about Forgiveness!”

When he was 13, Luke Heimlich began sexually molesting a 4 year-old girl, a relative of his. When he was eventually charged with the felony crimes, he was 15 and the victim was 6. In exchange for his pleading guilty to one count of molestation, he was mandated to serve two years of probation and ordered to take sex offender treatment. Upon his release from probation and graduation from treatment, he was deemed a “low risk” for re-offending.

Fast forward 5 years. Luke is a junior at Oregon State University and a star pitcher for the Oregon State Beavers. Well, he was a star pitcher until it came to light that he had not fully complied with Oregon law, specifically on when he had to re-register with the state as a sex offender.

In Washington, a juvenile with his record can be relieved of the requirement to register if he has not had any further criminal charges. Depending on the severity of the crime, the offender can appeal to be  removed from the registry after two, or five, years of clean conduct.

Regardless of his legal standing in Washington, Luke understood that Oregon law required him to register as a sex offender. And he did that. Each time he moved his residence. Every birthday since 2014, when he arrived in Corvallis at the university. Except this year. Maybe it was intentional. But maybe it was merely forgetfulness, with Oregon State headed to the college world series with Luke as the leading pitcher.

So, the county cited him for that failure. And then, almost as promptly, the Benton County District Attorney’s Office dismissed the charge. Why? Probably because it was a mistake, not the end of the world.

End of story? Oh no, not by a long shot. The media hyped the failure to register story into a national scandal about sex offenders in college sports. Never mind that Luke has done his punishment and treatment. Never mind that he has been a model citizen, student and athlete for the past 3 years.

To his credit, Luke took himself off the team as they were headed to Omaha for the World Series. He said he didn’t want the story to be a distraction for his team. The victim’s mother, understandably, said she was shocked that he would ever be allowed to play baseball on a college team. Apparently, American media agree with her.

The fallout has not stopped. Because of the news, Luke has been removed from draft consideration this year by the major league baseball teams. He was one of the best pitchers in college baseball this year, on the country’s #1 college team. Now, instead of playing in the college world series and being drafted by a major league team, Luke gets at least another year of wearing a bright red “SO” on his jersey. His comment: “I have taken responsibility for my conduct when I was a teenager…I understand that many people now see me differently, but I hope that I can eventually be judged for the person I am today.”

I’m not an apologist for college athletes who flaunt their stardom with criminal behavior. We should not forget what Luke did to that innocent child and we should better fund public sex education. We should also continue to support victims’ advocacy, and not lose sight of it in light of the offenders achievements. Not at all!

But I am saying that once a punishment has been served, we should allow the person to regain a normal life. We should allow former felons to get out from under the media’s punitive thumb. And we should recognize in our national culture the grim apparition of Puritanical condemnation, which never loses its appetite for raw meat.

 

 

 

Impressions at a Prison Art Exhibition

Impressions at a Prison Art Exhibition

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Sexual Privilege...who Pays Depends on Gender and Economic Status