How to End the Witchhunt
Lyndhurst, New Jersey (from the New Jersey Lawyer, the weekly newspaper of the New Jersey State Bar Association):
Lyndhurst is gathering feedback on a proposal to require background and fingerprint checks of all ice-cream truck and other food-on-wheels vendors as a way to protect children. ‘Most of the people who come to an ice-cream truck are kids,’ says Mayor Richard DiLascio. ‘A parent might not always be around.’ Volunteer coaches and teachers must already submit to such checks.
Lyndhurst is perpetuating the “stranger danger” myth. The truth is that only 7% of reported sexual assaults against juveniles are committed by strangers (see the Bureau of Justice Statistics 2000 report on Sexual Assault of Young Children as Reported to Law Enforcement: Victim, Incident, and Offender Characteristics at 10). The myth carries the danger that our children, expecting “stranger danger,” will be more likely to fall prey to malevolent acquaintances. By the same token, legislating as though the myth is true takes government resources away from other more viable ways of reducing sex crimes against children.
Having observed that most allegations (true and false) of sexual misconduct against juveniles involve female complainants, and that most allegations of sexual misconduct against juvenile girls involve an alleged offender in a position similar to a stepparent (usually stepdad or mommy’s boyfriend), I thought of a better way for the government to reduce child sexual assault, while at the same time reducing false allegations of sexual assault:
Make it a crime for the mother of a girl under 17 to allow an adult male who is not the child’s father to live in the house with the girl, and make it a crime for an adult male to live in the house with a girl under 17 who is not his daughter. They don’t have to be serious crimes — fine-only class “C” misdemeanors, maybe with a maximum $200 fine, are probably adequate.
This will have at least three salutary effects.
First, the stigma of committing a crime might keep men from getting involved with women with daughters who might resent their presence (my apologies to those women — you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs). This itself will severely curtail false allegations of sexual abuse, since such allegations are frequently made by young ladies or girls trying to get the new man out of the house and out of mommy’s life.
Second, it will also curtail sexual abuse, since those men who might be sexually attracted to youth will be less likely to be placed in positions in which the temptation is overwhelming.
Third, when men and women fall in love and live together in defiance of the legislation, it will give the same young ladies a way to punish mommy and stepdad without sending him to the pen. If the daughter is going to get mad enough to call the cops, it’s much better that she have a fine-only offense to report than that she invent a sexual assault. If stepdad pays his fine and comes back, and she’s still mad, she can report him again and again and make him pay $200 after $200. If he still doesn’t get the idea, she might escalate to a false allegation of sexual abuse, but at least the guy will have had a warning shot first.
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