Thursday, July 7, 2016

Meet a ‘Violent Sexual Predator’ and Marvel at Our Broken System for Dealing With Sex Offenders By Lenore Skenazy

Meet a ‘Violent Sexual Predator’ and Marvel at Our Broken System for Dealing With Sex Offenders, July 6, 2016
By Lenore Skenazy

The note in my inbox was straightforward, and suicidal: “I don’t have much time left and that brings me some comfort. I can’t even imagine a life of freedom and happiness anymore. I hope my story will at least help people understand the grey areas of this stigma.” 

It was signed “Mikey,” short for Michael Pascal, age 33, a warehouse worker in Pennsylvania. The stigma he’s referring to is the fact he is a registered sex offender. 

In 2013, Mikey tried to use a cell phone to take a picture of a woman’s butt in the bathroom of his home, during a party. He was old enough to know better. It was a stupid thing to do. He is paying dearly for his stupidity. 

While the woman did not press charges, another guest who happened to be in law enforcement did. Mikey confessed to her and asked for mercy. 

If he had done this deed early in the 2000s, he would have gotten it. Mikey was found guilty of invasion of privacy. That was considered a simple misdemeanor, because there was no physical contact, and no minors were involved. As such, it was punishable by a fine and up to two years in jail, period. 

But Mikey attempted the picture after his state had adopted the Adam Walsh Act. The Act widened the number of crimes defined as sex offenses, and dramatically increased the penalties, public notification, and registration requirements for people convicted of them. Pennsylvania was not required to adopt the act, but it did. Any state that didn’t was at risk of losing a chunk of federal funding. 

And so, Mikey stood accused of a crime that could brand him a sex offender. An independent psychological assessor met with Mikey, tested him, and testified that he had no mental abnormalities. Jennifer Hahn, a member of the Pennsylvania Sexual Offender Assessment Board who did not meet with Mikey and relied upon the charging allegations exclusively, testified the opposite. 

The judge accepted the state assessor’s opinion and designated him a sexually violent predator. Now Mikey is on the sex offender registry, in the most dangerous category, for life. 

What does that mean? I spoke with Mikey on the phone for a long time and made a list of some of the consequences.
  1. He lost his job (building code enforcement for his township), his pension, his home, and his car.
  2. Wherever he lives, the police are required to send a flyer about him, including his photo, to his 25 closest neighbors. So even though Mikey’s sister was willing to take him in, she has young kids, making his stay untenable.
  3. Registered sex offenders can’t live anywhere near a school, day care center, playground — any place kids might congregate. So for a while, Mikey ended up sleeping in a field.
  4. Every six months for the rest of his life, he has to take a polygraph test, which he pays for out of pocket ($300). The polygrapher usually asks Mikey if he was abused as a child, and if he was involved in other sex crimes he has not admitted to.
  5. Once a week for the rest of his life, Mikey must go to group therapy. The therapy is all about sex. “Every single time I go there we have to fill out a piece of paper about when was the last time we had sex, and what it was, and details pertaining to our sexual thoughts, our sexual lives. They want to know how many times you masturbate in a week and what your thoughts were during that.” The therapy is on Wednesdays and costs $25/week. It takes a little over two hours each way for Mikey to get there, and he has to have a job that doesn’t require him to work straight Monday-Friday.
Through this all, Mikey’s fiance has stuck by him. But now, as he wrote in a note to the Reform Sex Offender Laws (RSOL) website: “I have about one month left until I lose my house and car…. I can’t find better work even though I am educated and have a good resume. I can’t live every day like this, and ending it all would make my fiancée’s life go back to normal and happy again down the road, and my family won’t have to worry about me anymore… Even terminal cancer leaves a shred of hope; this does not.” 

Actually, there is one shred. The Pennsylvania Post-Conviction Relief Act allows people who believe that their confession was obtained illegally or their sentence was unlawful or to pursue relief. But Mikey has heard that cases like this usually cost about $40,000 in legal fees, making it an impossible dream. 

No one wants to see young people endangered by sexual violence. But I can’t see how Mikey’s living as a registered sex offender is making any children safer. If anything, it’s making me fear for my own children — young men — if they ever do anything stupid that could haunt them the rest of their lives.