Thursday, December 18, 2008

Unlikely force fighting sex crime's stigma

From the Houston Chronicle:

It's true that a decade ago, he was convicted of sexually abusing a 16-year-old girl who was half his age. But the registry doesn't divulge that his victim was his girlfriend who now is his wife, with whom he has three children.

Glancing at his profile, there's little to distinguish him from the repeat pedophiles and violent rapists who are among the 54,000-plus registered sex offenders in the state's database.

"I just can't equate my offense with the guy who sat next to me in my therapy sessions who raped his 5-year-old stepson," said Ezell, 42.

The military veteran, who lives with his family in a bedroom community south of Austin, is so angry about his lifetime registration requirement that he has joined forces with hundreds of other sex offenders similarly aggrieved about being on the registry.

This unlikely political force, which dubs itself Texas Voices, vows to fight the state's — and the nation's — sweeping registration laws.

The group believes community notification laws fail to protect the public, because they don't distinguish dangerous predators from otherwise harmless men and women who foolishly had sex with underage lovers, served their sentences and don't need a lifetime of public scrutiny.

More here.

Whatever your opinion about what journalist Judith Levine has described as "intergenerational sex," it is quite certain that people like Martin Ezell are not a danger to society. Clearly, the law needs to change to reflect differences between the pathological and the stupid. I say "stupid" only because Ezell's pursuit of a relationship with an underage girl broke the law, not because I necessarily disapprove of their now decade long romance. That is, older men coupling with younger women has been the norm throughout the entire history of human existence--remember the Nurse going on about how Juliet was nearly over-the-hill at the age of fourteen in Shakespeare's play Romeo and Juliet? Only in this sex paranoid era are we unable to have a rational discussion about the pros and cons of such relationships.

For the record, and it is evidence of my own sexual paranoia that I feel like I need to assert this, I personally have no interest in romance or sex with anyone under the age of eighteen. Or under thirty for that matter. But I do think that some of these relationships with teenagers, particularly when the above age partner is in his or her early twenties, are just fine, healthy and positive even, good for everybody involved, including the families.

But it is near heresy in our culture to even suggest such a thing.

Indeed, when the above mentioned writer Levine published her missive on underage sex and sexuality within our culture a few years back, Harmful to Minors: the Perils of Protecting Children from Sex, it was immediately controversial. As in almost didn't get published controversial. Levine was branded as a pedophile in some quarters for simply daring to philosophize on the subject. And that's a truly awful thing. If we can't even discuss the issue without being subject to witch hunts, then the existing discourse, for what it is, is automatically dishonest and misleading. This cannot possibly be healthy.

I'm glad this group, Texas Voices, is attempting to articulate a common sense message about sex and society, but we'll see how that works out. The cultural atmosphere around this issue is so poisonous that I wouldn't be surprised if the group was dismissed by many as some sort of neo-NAMBLA, and I'm not talking about the North American Marlon Brando Look Alike organization.