Ohio wants to be the first state to require sex offenders and child predators to have special fluorescent license plates.
The reason is the same old excuse behind the rest of the billion-dollar let’s-segregate-the-molesters industry: “helping families make informed decisions for themselves and their children,” as State Senator Keven Coughlin of Cuyahoga Falls says.
Decisions about what? “Quick, change lanes, we don’t want to be behind a molester.” “Honey, don’t wear that belly blouse and mini-skirt outside, there’s a molester’s car parked across the street.”
I’m still trying to get data on other laws that publicly tag molesters after they’re released from jail. Megan’s Law is the most comprehensive, affecting every police and sheriff’s department in the nation. It’s bad enough that laws like these soak up law enforcement money that could actually be used to make communities safer, not to mention money that might actually treat some of these offenders.
No, the worst thing about laws like these is that they reinforce the public’s terror and rage: terror about their ever-increasing sense of vulnerability. Rage about their dreadful sense of powerlessness. Result: a bloodthirsty desire to punish someone, someplace, for destroying the pleasures of parenthood.
Predictable response: segregate the sex-offending bastards. Prevent them from living anywhere reasonable, from getting a decent job, from getting treatment.
I’m actually quite sympathetic about how people are desperate to feel like they’re doing something to make themselves and their families safer. Given the constant reminders that the world is now too treacherous to let kids out of the house–courtesy of Fox “News,” Law & Order, Amber Alert, and the NRA–every reasonable American is scrambling to feel empowered. How can someone feel “I’m not gonna take it anymore”? Mess with the lives of molesters.
There’s no data to suggest that any of these programs actually make our kids and communities safer. They certainly don’t make anyone feel safer—in fact, just the opposite. But they make people feel they’re doing something. Ohio will pass this law without actually researching whether it will benefit anyone besides the company that makes frames for the new license plates. Try it in one county for a year, then evaluate? Who has time for thoughtfulness–we’re in a crisis!
Today, any public policy that helps people feel less powerless is perceived as good–even if it has no impact, or makes a problem worse (for a case study, see abstinence-only sex ed). There is no science, no law enforcement data to show that tagging sex offenders makes the rest of us safer. It just makes people feel less impotent for a day, and more frightened into the open-ended future.
Why not simplify the problem and just execute sex offenders?
Actually, the Texas House of Representatives has just passed that law. Yes, really.