Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Once Again, Sex Crimes Against Kids Are No Big Deal

In Gray v. Bourne, 2005 Va App LEXIS 237, the Virginia Court of Appeals recently allowed a convicted sex offender of children to adopt a child over the express objections of the child's natural parents. The court held that the fact that the adoptive father pled guilty in 1997 to sexually battering an 11 year old girl and then failed to register on Virginia's sex offender website was not significant enough to make the biological parents' objection that the adoption would be against their child's best interests plausible. Rather, the court affirmed the trial court's ludicrous ruling that the biological parents were acting against their child's best interest when they sought to prevent the child sex offender from adopting their son.

There are so many bases for outrage that it is difficult to decide where to start.

First, the court took pains to minimize the 1997 child sexual battery guilty plea by laying out the facts as the molester presented them, (as if a child molester would not provide self-serving testimony of his crime.) According to the molester, he lay down in bed with his girlfriend's eleven year old daughter, fell asleep, and awoke to find that he had an erection and had placed the little girl's hand on his penis. Just while he was sleeping, so basically the whole thing was just a sonambulatory accident. The court says nothing about the little girl's side of the story, but that doesn't matter because children can't be trusted to accurately report abuse. So the sexual battery of a child thing is just no big deal. (The police and prosecutors, however, had originally charged him with aggravated sexual battery against a minor and lowered the charge pursuant to a plea agreement. You've got to wonder what facts the police and prosecutors had to indict on aggravated sexual battery in the first place.)

Second, in a move with which we are all now well-familiar, the court relied on social science to further bolster its attempt to minimize the molestation charge. One psychologist interviewed the molster and reported that "his sexual interests were within normal limits." Since the results of these "tests" for sexual deviancy are based on what the molester reports about his sex acts and attractions, how reliable can they possibly be? (Doctor: Do you want to have sex with young children? Molester: No. Doctor: He's cured! None of our hokus pokus treatment is necessary!) The court went on to agree with the brilliant psychologist that the molester "gets some bonus points for having a clean record since 1998." Give a star to this molester! He is well within average range of non-reporting of child abuse in this country!

A third point of outrage incidental to the whole thing is the apparent lack of punishment for the 1997 offense. (Of course, this is not surprising. You need only go to any sex offender registry to see the outrageously short time frame between convictions, demonstrating not only high recidivism, but the fact that these predators are already out of jail in time to offend, get caught, and be convicted. Or, if they only have one charge, the fact that the charge was recent and the current address is not a prison.)

I do not know how long Bourne went to jail, or if he went to jail at all, but I do know that he was not in jail in 2000 when his new girlfriend's ex-husband raised concerns about the molester's sex offender status in the couple's custody hearing. The praise for not having offended since 1998 leads me to assume that he was out by then, meaning he was in jail for a few months to a year.

What kind of message are we sending to sexual predators when we punish sexual battery of a child with less than 3 years in jail? What does that say about the value we place on women and children in our society when sexually abusing them carries a penalty lower than many property crimes or non-violent crimes?

Finally, the court purported to be carrying out the wishes of the state legislature, holding that because the statute that requires convicted sex offenders to register with the state for ten years is silent on the subject of those sex offenders' eligibility to adopt children, it must mean that the legislature felt that offenders should be able to do so. The court would not defy the legislature on such a matter by finding otherwise!

The stupidity of that logic is so vast that, again, it is hard to know where to start--or stop. So I will just point out one of the many criticisms that could be made, (besides the fact that adoption is fairly irrelevant to registering on a website, and thus it is not silent consent to such adoption for the legislature to have failed to include a provision about the collateral issue.) The statute establishing the offender registry states that it was enacted "to protect . . . communities and families from repeat sex offenders and to protect children from becoming victims of criminal offenders by helping to prevent such individuals from being allowed to work directly with children." Va. Code 9.1-900. Clearly, accoring to the court, adopting a child is not included in "work[ing] directly with children." The legislature has spoken, indeed.

In sum, the Virginia courts have essentially held that parents whose parental rights are apparently being terminated because of drug convictions (and I am not saying here that that is necessarily the wrong move) are acting against the best interests of their son in objecting to his being adopted by a convicted child molester. Better a molester than a drug user to raise a child, of course. Thus, being a convicted child sex abuser is not sufficient grounds for a biological parent to object to your adopting their child. This is the age of tolerance, after all.

Tom addzz: Bienvenido, Alexandra, I was wondering when you'd finally post. I was hoping that you'd list 5 or more points of outrage because that would officially beat your record of the 4 times that you were officially outraged (offended) at the Battle of the Sexes game that we all played that night at Monroe's. But seriously though, good post. I'll admit, your professional, legal articulation puts my freestylin' azz to shame.

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