News is a money making industry and it’s fair to say that the media don’t always report facts accurately. Many individuals now believe their neighbourhoods are unsafe and overestimate their odds of becoming the victim of a crime. Ethan considers how the role of the media impacts on an individuals ability to be considered rehabilitated.
No, it’s not a question, it’s a fact!
Alcoholics become sober, drug users become clean, car thieves stop stealing cars, murderers stop killing and many turn their lives around and become excellent role models. However, commit a sexual offence and suddenly you aren’t capable, and the scared, irrational and paranoid will bring out an impressive line-up of this or that expert to attest to the fact.
For me its rubbish, they don’t know what’s in your head, some probably don’t even care. If so many can change (and there’s proof they can), then why is it that we stick to this way of thinking for sexual offences?
Almost 20 years ago I was convicted of three sexual offences, one of which I was guilty and the others of which I wasn’t. The details are irrelevant apart from saying that because I chose to maintain my innocence on those two, yet did every course asked of me, I was denied my early release because I refused to capitulate to what the system wanted.
Upon release I knew I had changed; I knew I wasn’t going to commit any more offences. Why? Because I had made the conscious decision not to make the same mistake again. I was going to be on the register for life, but at the time it meant one visit a year and notifying the police of my living arrangements; I had no issues with that. Let me say that since the outset, every officer whose job it was to monitor me has been courteous, understanding and supportive (at least to my face which is the main thing).
As the years passed and the paranoia of the public and politicians grew, the details of registration changed time and time again. They became more and more intrusive, credit card details were required, where you were going on holiday, details of your sex life and partners, the list goes on and on. My visits grew to twice a year and sometimes lasted more than an hour as they grilled me on every aspect of my life since the last visit.
The police rely on the fact that sex offenders will comply without complaint because they won’t want to put their head above the parapet and challenge the system for fear of their name ending up in the press and their lives being ruined for a second time. That’s certainly how I felt every time I was informed of even more significant restrictions on my life.
Just for the record that doesn’t help with your choice to change your life. Far from it; it gets in the way. People will tell you that it’s just about monitoring you to make sure you don’t re-offend. What people don’t seem to understand is that isolation, alienation and feeling like you are always being watched to such a degree that you question every choice you make, it does nothing to lower the risk. In fact, I would argue that it increases the chance of re-offending for those who become depressed, because lets face it, if your life isn’t worth that much some will think they are better off in prison.
Now, before you start screaming “that’s where you belong”, I don’t diminish in any way the severity of my offence or other sexual offences but society does seem to have got itself into a state of righteous indignation about anything sexual. In fact, since the Jimmy Saville scandal, the country has gone mad with something akin to the Salem Witch Hunts.
What has gone wrong with our criminal justice system? It was meant to be innocent until proven guilty, but not so much now, especially if it’s a sexual offence. We used to believe in rehabilitation as opposed to permanent incarceration, but not so much now.
Our system doesn’t work. We have one of the highest re-offending rates in the modern world with ever increasing prison populations. Other countries are doing far better than us, look at the Scandinavian countries; the only thing they do differently is believe in rehabilitation and take it seriously.
I don’t blame society, rather the media for sensationalising and politicians who won’t change anything for fear of losing their job or money.
It may sound as though I’m angry and to be fair to a degree I am because deep down in my heart I know I have changed but I’ll never be allowed to put it behind me and build a new life.
By Ethan (name changed to protect identity)