Tuesday, August 30, 2005

E Pluribus Unum, or One Label For All

Once upon a time we called them "rapists" and "child molesters." And the two were thought of quite differently. Rapists tended to be thought of as those who struck from the shadows, viciously taking victims by chance. This was very different from child molesters who were often thought of as mentally defective (not to mention morally repugnant), but not violent.

But in the late 80s the oh-so-clinical term "sex offenders" began to appear in public parlance. What is interesting about this is that, with all different types of sex offenders lumped under one label, the worst attributes of each type were brought forward to front for the group as a whole. For example, the mentally defective child molester, who simply cannot be trusted whatsoever because he just lacks the necessary self-control, presents the model for "repeats over, and over, and over" that is applied undiscriminantly to all, even though studies show that that is not the case for all.

Similarly, the "strike from the shadows" opportunistic rapist presents the model of ravening danger applied to all, though such are a minority of sex offenders.

This plays well into the hands of those who seek some kind of advantage (political power, or recognition, or whatever) by playing up the reasonable fear of such a false model. Were they to have to fall back on the old discriminating and differentiating labels, there would be far less outcry for some of the expensive, draconian and/or too-often counterproductive measures that are constantly being proposed for sex offenders.

A prime example of taking advantage of the false label is Georgetown University's Amitai Etzioni, who published a book calling for nothing less than concentration camps. Concentration camps for child molesters? Most people would laugh. But concentration camps for sex offenders? "Say, you just might be on to something there."

And with such measures, bit by bit, led by demagogues, the public trades its rights for small nostrums of false security.


Blogger SOhopeful said...

Boy, am I glad to see this blog! Another voice of reason...

I encourage you and your readers to visit our website: http://www.sohopeful.org and also our Resource Library at http://www.sohopeful.org/forum

5:38 PM  

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