There is a strange creature loose on the streets of Singapore. Some say it travels faster than rancid laksa down your digestive tract. Others say it has a strange affinity for the Forum Page. All we know is, it’s called the Knee Jerk Reaction.
For those who actually have a life and can’t be bothered to keep up with the news, some scholar got caught with his hands down a 15 year old’s panties and now the public is clamouring for a registry of sex offenders. The airwaves were particularly heavy today, laden as they were with drivel from callers eager to prove they weren’t perverts themselves. I particularly like these examples on Newsradio 938:
1) We NEED a sex offender registry because these people should be deterred. Then, the next time a sex offence occurs, they will know that it could be them who get arrested (i.e. if a sex offence is committed, all perverts within a 10km radius get automatically clapped in irons)
2) We MUST have a sex offender registry because the public NEEDS to know (Excuse me sir, are you a registered sex offender? No? Ok, why don’t I get drunk and walk down this dark alley with you then?)
3) Sex offenders should be given vasectomies (Why? So they won’t breed sex offender- children?!!!!)
Of course, at first glance, having a sex offender registry is attractive. Forewarned is forearmed right? That is precisely what the people in Minority Report were thinking. Well, here’s why it wouldn’t work:
A Sex Offender Registry Completely Disregards Human Dignity and Potential For Reform
The obvious attraction for having a sex offenders registry is that people would like to know if there is someone in the neighbourhood who is predisposed to committing sex crimes, and can thus take precautions. This presumes that offenders will continue to commit repeat sex offences. Unfortunately, this essentially means that no sex offender would ever get a fighting chance at reform.
At present, criminal records are kept under lock and key by the Singapore Police. These records are only available to the authorities, as well as to government organisations who are doing background checks on potential employees. There is good reason for this. Keeping criminal records confidential is essential to helping ex convicts re- integrate into society. Successful re-integration is one of the most effective means of ensuring that people don’t re- offend.
Not Every Sex Offender is a Rabid Pervert
People who haven’t met a sex offender assume that all sex offenders walk around with boners and look for young children to hump every waking moment. In many cases, this is simply not true. Modern society puts extreme stresses on people and, while the majority of people deal with stress constructively, some people look for an outlet like shoplifting, drugs or committing sexual offences.
Case in point, a former client of mine, let’s call him Z, was 18 at the material time. His father had passed away when he was very young and his mother was bedridden with terminal cancer. He would return from his National Service duties every day to tend to his mother at her bedside. Z supported both his mother and himself on his meagre corporal’s allowance for a year. During this period of intense stress, he snapped and molested 5 women over a period of about a week.
I’m not justifying Z’s conduct. There are a million ways Z could have better channelled his stress and anxiety. Will he offend again? Very unlikely. He is no longer 18, his mother has passed on, and he is now a productive member of society.
Not All Sex Offences Are Created Equal
What qualifies for entry into the sex offender hall of fame? Something minor, like a female friend crying molest after a night out drinking? Or something abhorrent like buggering an entire water-polo team while riding on a donkey? Everyone has their own ideas as to what type of offence is the most deserving of punishment and recording for all perpetuity. What about the guys who slept with an underage prostitute? Should they be treated no differently from a guy who jumps out of bushes and attacks women?
Which leads me to the next point:
The Slippery Slope
If, for a moment, you accept that a sex offenders registry is useful, because it gives the public fair warning that a pervert is around and about, why then, should we not give equal protection against, say, robbers? How about a robber registry? What about shoplifters, or people who don’t flush public toilets? Or people who can’t park, or fiddle their taxes or fart in public? Once we declare open season on records and open the floodgates, there is no rational way to decide how far this goes.
And, the clincher:
What, Exactly, Would You Do?
Say we had a sex offender’s registry and you found out your upstairs neighbour was a registered sex- offender. What exactly would you do with this valuable knowledge? Confront him with it?(Eh, siao eh, you better keep it in your pants ah, or else I take chopper and make lup cheong ah) Or tell your children they must never, on any account, step onto the floor above yours? Or make your children carry around flashcards with sex offender mug shots on them all the time so they can revise and prepare?
The reality is this: People who have never met a sex offender can never imagine what it must be like to have committed a grave mistake and to crave re- integration and anonymity. It’s like asking men whether women having great big giant boobs is a good idea. Sure, since us men will never have to deal with the downside.
All that needs to be done is what our parents did, and what their parents before them did. Be smart, don’t take unnecessary risks and teach our children to be safe.
But just to be sure, I’m going to google the upstairs neighbour. Something about the way he looks freaks me out.