The rape and murder of nine-year-old Jessisa Lunsford in 2005 was a terrible thing. The fact that her attacker was a violent sexual predator with a past reinforces our fear that the world is filled with dangerous sexual predators. But the fact remains that most people accused of sex offenses are harmless, and do not deserve to be treated like quarantined beasts. Jessica Lunsford's father knows this. He knows it because he might just be a sex offender himself; his son certainly is, at least by standards of current law.
Question? Why were lawmakers so quick to pass Jessica's law, demonizing people without distinction on the urging of a man who had deleted images of child pornography in his own computer the day his daughter went missing in Homasse, Florida in 2005? Why wasn't John Lunsford charged? Why wasn't his 18-year-old son required to register as a sex offender several years later when he pleaded guilty to sexual contact with a minor? Why, finally, the double standards?
Don't get me wrong: I don't think that possession of pornographic images on a computer makes a person a sex offender or a danger to society. If Mark Lunsford had such images in his possession the day his daughter was kidnapped, raped and murdered that should not make Lunsford a criminal.
But the prisons are filled with men who did no more than Jessica's father did. Why are those men in prison? Why are they required to register as sex offenders on release and to be forced into substandard housing, labelled a public health menace and then prosecuted for technical violations of the law?
One reason that sex offender laws have become undiscriminating and driven by hysteria is our tendency to make rock stars of rage out of the surviving members of the family of a violent crime. When Jessica became one of those rare children who are abducted by a stranger, all of our hearts went out to the family. But rather than sequester Mr. Lunsford away and offer him the counseling he needed to cope with shattering grief, we opened the airwaves and legislative chambers to him. We permitted him to make a poster child of Jessica, and politicians piled on to ramp up laws that are already far too draconian.
Why aren't lawmakers extending similar attention to other men who had child pornography in their computers? They are victimized too?
I blame Oprah, frankly. Panic and sympathy sell. We gave Mr. Lunsford a pass because of what he has lost. It is no wonder that victims of the current sex offender hysteria are outraged at the hypocrisy. Mark Lunsford is permitted to stir the demons lurking in other people's homes without being held accountable for the demons in his own computer. See: child porn on the computer the day she went missing?
It gets worse, of course. Joshua Lunsford, Mark's son and Jessica's brother, was eighteen when he was charged with felony sex assault of a minor. He was permitted to plea to a misdemeanor. He spent 10 days in jail and was not required to register as a sex offender. Our prisons are filled with men serving prison sentences measured in far longer terms for the same offense. Why did Joshua catch a pass?
Once again, don't mistake me. I don't think Joshua should have gone to jail at all or been required to register as a sex offender. My understanding his contact with a 14 year old was consensual. For many years in the United States the ages of consent for sexual contact was far lower than fourteen. Romeo wasn't a felon when he wooed Juliet.
But the Lunsford's ought not to be given a libidinal past because of Jessica's murder. When Joshua turned up at his own sentencing wearing a T-shirt with Jessica's picture on it, where was his father to insist that son not engage in such tasteless theatrics? And why did Clark County Ohio Judge Tomas Trempe give this boy a slap on the wrist while presumably hammering others?
Jessica Lunsford has been used by politicians pandering to frightened voters to increase monitoring of those on sex offender lists and to increase mandatory minimum sentences. But it turns out that Jessica's family knows more truths than one. Losing a child to a stranger is horrible, but not every person possessing child pornography, and not every Romeo in pursuit of a Juliet, are sex offenders. If the Lunsford's believed that, father and son would be registered now, and their neighbors warned that predators are in their midst.
Why Fox News called upon Mr. Lunsford to serve as a spokesman for ramped up sex offender news suggests that the network is using Jessica too. To what end?, I ask. Perhaps it's high time to stop sanctifying the rage of crime victims. We say that no one can be a judge in their own case. But let a child get murdered, and grieved parents get a free pass: they get to sublimate their rage into national fame. Just ask John Walsh, who, decades after his son went missing, still hosts a national television show.
There is something sick about a society that tolerates such rank hypocrisy and hysteria. The illness isn't caused by so-called sex offenders.