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Sexual Predators: Are Tougher Laws The Answer?

Audio

Aired 5/14/10

Later today, a man who's admitted to raping and killing two San Diego-area teenage girls will be sentenced to life in prison without parole. Some say the murders of Chelsea King and Amber Dubois could have been prevented had the state had tougher sanctions on sexual predators. But others question whether stricter laws make a difference.

— Later today, a man who's admitted to raping and killing two San Diego-area teenage girls will be sentenced to life in prison without parole.

John Albert Gardner III pleads not guilty to murder and other charges in the case involving 17-year-old Chelsea King in San Diego Superior Court on Wednesday March 3, 2010.
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Above: John Albert Gardner III pleads not guilty to murder and other charges in the case involving 17-year-old Chelsea King in San Diego Superior Court on Wednesday March 3, 2010.

United By Tragedy

Amber Dubois (L), 14, and Chelsea King, 17, were murdered in northern San Diego County. Their slain bodies were found just days apart, although Amber was missing for more than a year. A registered sex offender plead guilty in raping and killing both girls. The San Diego community has turned their anguish into outrage as they seek justice and answers.

Amber Dubois (L), 14, and Chelsea King, 17, were murdered in northern San Diego County. Their slain bodies were found just days apart, although Amber was missing for more than a year. A registered sex offender plead guilty in raping and killing both girls. The San Diego community has turned their anguish into outrage as they seek justice and answers.

Some say the murders of Chelsea King and Amber Dubois could have been prevented had the state had tougher sanctions on sexual predators. But others question whether stricter laws make a difference.

California voters approved a crackdown on sexual predators in 2006. Jessica's Law severely restricts where a registered sex offender can live. It also mandates lifetime electronic monitoring of felony sex offenders.

Cynthia Calkins Mercado is an assistant professor of psychology at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. She says measures like Jessica's Law may placate the public, but their effectiveness is limited.

"The studies that have been done," Mercado says, "seem to show that if anything, they're creating a lot of problems or collateral consequences that could even have the paradoxical effect of increasing, rather than decreasing, risk of future offenses."

For example, Jessica's law did not provide any money. As a result, only about ten percent of sex offenders in California are being monitored. Restrictions on where predators can live have driven some into homelessness.

In light of the Chelsea King murder, a new measure has been proposed. Under Chelsea's Law, prosecutors could seek life in prison without parole for forcible sex crimes against a minor.

Rehabilitation is another option. Some say treatment can help change predators' behavior.

Dr. Saul Levine is a professor of clinical psychiatry at UCSD.

"The long-term follow-ups of a lot of the studies, that have been done for various kinds of psychological interventions, all have equivocal results," said Dr. Levine. "Meaning that there's no prediction than once you've gone through this, that that particular perpetrator that has been labeled already, is not gonna do it again."

There are some medical treatments designed to reduce sexual urges. Levine says studies indicate the treatments can be effective, as long as a person stays on the medication. But it's like managing other chronic conditions -- once you stop the treatment, the patient lapses.

"There have been some terrible cases of that where there's expectation that this individual has learned his or her lesson, has controlled their impulses, has gotten over their obsessions, goes off the medication and reverts, and something terrible happens," Levine points out.

Nonetheless, treatment professionals say even some violent sex offenders who go through extensive therapy can be rehabilitated.

Pedophiles are a different story.

David Peters is a therapist in private practice in San Diego.

"Pedophiles will pretty much always have a sexual arousal toward pre-pubescent children," Peters says. "And while they may be controlled, they won't be cured, and they have to be monitored, really, for the rest of their lives."

Forensic psychologist Dawn Griffin is a program director at Alliant University. She agrees if you lock up a sexual predator for life, you've solved that individual problem. But…

"What have we learned from him?" Griffin ponders. "Why did he begin offending? The more we can understand that dynamic, the better I think we can apply it into treatment standards, into assessments, the better, more holistic understanding we will have as to why individuals offend."

Griffin believes the key to that understanding is treatment.

Here's one thing to keep in mind, however: Up to 90 percent of sex offenders are related to or know their victims. That means that strangers who abduct and murder young girls are rare.

So why do we concentrate on these infrequent crimes?

"Because it's a little safer, quite honestly, dealing with a stranger rape, and abduction and killing, rather than taking a look at a family dynamic and saying, a father did this to his child, or a mother did this her child," Griffin responds. "That's really tough for all of us to wrap our head around."

In fact, Griffin says even if we locked up all convicted sexual predators for life, we wouldn't put an end to the vast majority of sexual offenses.

Comments

Avatar for user 'michel'

michel | May 14, 2010 at 9 a.m. ― 4 years, 4 months ago

Simple solution: castration. Problem solved - no long term counseling soaking up taxes payers donations.

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Avatar for user 'Lizettadf'

Lizettadf | May 14, 2010 at 10:20 a.m. ― 4 years, 4 months ago

Unfortunately, that wouldn't solve the problem. Sex crimes are often about more than just sex, power and domination are a part of it as well. Sexual assaults can happen with other body parts.

The problem with this issue is that there are a lot of solutions that make us feel good, but they don't actually do any good. We need to tone down our sense for "justice" as we define it, and start looking at how to prevent these crimes from happening.

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Avatar for user 'realreform'

realreform | May 14, 2010 at 12:42 p.m. ― 4 years, 4 months ago

What we need to do is stop labeling so many people "sexual offenders". Most sexual offenders are prostitutes, or those who solicit them, public urinators, streakers in college, peeping toms with binoculars from a mile away, teens sexting eachother, strippers who expose too much and get a public indecency or indecent exposure charge, or an 18 year old with an 17 year girl who gets charged with statutory rape, or a 19 or 20 something year old chatting online with someone pretending to be a minor, or someone who accidentally downloads a child pornography picture on kazaa or limewire while downloading music, or a mother who thought she was innocently taking a naked picture of her child in the bathtub and finds herself charged with production of child pornography. The people ALL of these laws should be targeting are VIOLENT sexual offenders, the ones who had an actual, real victim that they harmed physically. If someone is in a consensual relationship with a 17 year old they are not hurting that person. Rapists are hurting people because they used force. How can an MS-13 gang member commit a driveby shooting and kill someone, get only like 12 years in prison, get out and he is perfectly free to walk in any park or school or library but someone who got caught urinating in public 30 years ago cannot? That is absolutely ridiculous. We need to purge the sexual offenders registry of all nonviolent offenders so that we can focus on the violent ones because they are slipping through the cracks with the current laws.

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Avatar for user 'yellowroselady'

yellowroselady | May 14, 2010 at 7:28 p.m. ― 4 years, 4 months ago

How your son could end up on the sex offender list
Let's say your son turns 18. He gets a job at the local carnival, running the ride where the kids lie face down and spin around till they shriek with delight (or puke). Before each ride he has to buckle the kids in so they don't fly out. But then tragedy strikes. Oh, don't worry. Nobody goes flying. They're buckled just fine. But one girl does tell her mother, "He touched my bottom!"

The mom alerts the police.

The police come over and ask, "Is that true?" Your son replies, "Maybe. I have to lock the bar around their waists and between their legs. They squirm. It could have happened."
The next day the police take him in for questioning. They ask him the same thing, this time with the videotape running. He gives them the same answer.

It is considered his confession. He is convicted of "Indecent Assault and Battery on a Child." He goes to jail for nine months. He is put on the Sex Offender Registry -- for life.

Meantime, a few years later, your younger son is now 18. He's at the urinal in the school bathroom during a weekend service project. A girl too young to read bursts in and he yells, "Out out out! Get out!" She starts crying and leaves. Her mom is concerned. The police are called. Was he in the men's room with a girl? Well, yes. Since everyone agrees the girl was not touched, he is convicted of "Visual Sexual Aggression Against a Child" -- the crime of having a child see his genitals. He does six months in jail. He's placed on the Sex Offender Registry for the next 10 years.

Let us remember this when we look up our local sex offender maps and see two convicts: One who ostensibly exposes himself to children and one who ostensibly assaults them.

We consult those maps because we are hardwired to worry about our children. We worry about them getting hurt by strangers. But few of us worry about them getting hurt by strange laws that can put a young man behind bars for touching a child, even accidentally, on the bottom, in public, with everyone's clothes on. Or for having a child, even accidentally, glimpse his private parts.

The mom of these two young men put it pretty succinctly: "We're all just one accusation away from the sex offender registry."

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Avatar for user 'jam2009'

jam2009 | May 15, 2010 at 8:52 a.m. ― 4 years, 4 months ago

Authorities need to listen to the victims and perform a REAL investigation. Afterward, they need to be held ACCOUNTABLE for their decisions. No one believed me or my child and as a result many other children were hurt. No one is held accountable for their mistakes. Granted, there are false allegations. The majority, however, are real and the victim should be respected enough to have an investigation done. We don't need a witch hunt. We do need proper investigations and accountability.

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