Sex Offenders: Animals or Human Beings?
Scott Greenfield, in Sex Offenders Must Have an Option, calls sex offenders “animals.”
Gideon, in Sex Offender Homelessness is not an Excuse, says (with, I suspect, more than a hint of irony) that some sex offenders are human. We are all animals, of course. But when people call sex offenders (or any other group of people) “animals,” they don’t mean that they are animals like the rest of us. They mean to differentiate that group from the rest of us; they mean to dehumanize that group, to justify maltreatment. Europeans called Africans “animals,” whites called native Americans “animals,” and Nazis called Jews “animals.” (Here is an interesting post by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau on a blog called Food for Thought about what belittling humans by calling them animals says about our attitudes toward animals.)
Sex offenders — even the worst of them — are no more “animals” and no less human than you or I. They are, however, often deeply hurt human beings; they suffer from abusive histories and mental illness. Some are injured beyond what we as a society can repair. Many of them need to be protected from themselves; society needs to be protected from many of them. Most of the justifications for punishment — specific deterrence, general deterrence, incapacitation, rehabilitation — apply to sex offenders as well as anyone. If a sex offender is so damaged that he cannot be rehabilitated or deterred, he must be incapacitated (imprisoned).
But calling people animals encourages us to treat them like animals — worse than we treat humans. If a sex offender is an animal, who really cares whether his punishment is greater than necessary to deter others and prevent him from reoffending?
Defending people requires compassion and nonjudgmentalness. If a defender can’t, in a particular sort of case, suspend judgment and act out of compassion to prevent his client’s suffering, then he should decline to handle that sort of case.
There is no dishonor in a lawyer’s declining such cases. Every man needs a code to live by. Not declining such cases when he should, however, is reprehensible. As Cicero wrote, “It might be pardonable to refuse to defend some men, but to defend them negligently is nothing short of criminal.”
A lawyer who asserts that he will only handle a case involving an allegation of a sex offense against a child if he is convinced that the client is (factually) innocent is, however, begging to be lied to by his clients.
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