Here is an interesting, but quick analysis of an article that i read for a course this past semester. We had to read the article and then discuss it in response to some questions posted. The article is by Michael Petrunik and entitled “The Hare and the Tortoise: Dangerous and Sex Offender Policy in the United
Petrunik’s article uses the story and the analogy of the hare and tortoise to describe the differences in the approaches to dangerous sex offenders in both Canada and the US. He uses several high profile cases within the states: sexual assault and mutilation of 11 year old boy 1989 by Earl Shriner in Washington state, abduction of Jacob Wetterling in Minnesota in 1990, and sexual assault and murder of Megan Kanka in New Jersey in 1994. Meanwhile uses only one high profile in Canada case within his article: sexual assault and murder of Christopher Stephenson in ON by Joseph Fredericks in 1988.
He describes the US approach to sex offender regulation “swift and aggressive” but Canada’s approach like a tortoise, slow and steady.
He conceptualizes several key aspects to the case of sex offender which include the victim, offender, and what it means to be dangerous. The more pure, sacred, or innocent the victim, the more profane or unclean the offender. Those offenders who commit acts of crime of a sexual nature are considered to be the most dangerous (regardless if it is their first time committing the act or not). Dangerous refers to state of being of perpetrators which include other concepts like abnormal, possibility to commit future actions, controls in place to incapacitate offender, and the context of dangerous situations. To put these concepts in perspective different types of sex crimes and offenders can be compared/contrasted. For example, crimes against children and crimes against prostitutes. A sex offender who commits an act against a child is deemed to be more dangerous and dealt with more harshly as opposed to a sex offender who commits repeated acts against women who are prostitutes, like the case with Robert Pickton (who preyed on prostitutes in Downtown Vancouver’s East Side).
Petrunik also discussed the various models paying close attention to the community protection model. He contrasted the US community protection model with the Canadian community protection model. He also described the difference in micro level and macro level approaches where a micro level approach is based on the community protection model and the macro level is based on partnership between and with other institutions.
The Canadian approach to sex offenders takes a macro level approach to community protection. Petrunik provides several examples and the main one being the fact that the Criminal Code of Canada is maintained a federal level and also that the Canadian government during these times has been mindful of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Petrunik also highlights that Canada has been careful of including false positives and false negatives. This means they are careful about including those who are guilty but not charged or those who are not guilty but charged when it comes to sex offenders. If an individual who has been wrongfully convicted of a sex offense, then it might be very detrimental for the rest of that individual’s life. For example, if he is wrongfully convicted and public are notified, then his image is forever tainted. On the other hand, the US takes a more micro level approach focusing on communities and victims specifically. For example, the US approach to sex offenders has utilized Victims advocate groups at a much higher instance than Canada has. However, Petrunik points out that these advocacy groups has been formed by religious and ideological groups (Christian groups and political representatives).
The role that the public plays is evident in the use of language that the media uses as Petrunik points out. Canadian media is most likely to use sex offender as opposed to the US media and their use of the word predator. Media influences public minds and the ideas that they have about many topics or situations. Sex offenders is just one of these many topics. With my example provided earlier as comparing offenses committed against children and those against prostitutes, the public might think that the person who committed a crime against a prostitute might be doing a service to humanity if the prostitute is described as a drug addict or homeless. Crimes against persons no matter their age, background, etc. are wrong. The ideological messages that are being sent out to the public have huge implications. Such implications include as who “deserves” to have crimes committed against them and those who deserved to be saved and protected. As I stated earlier, crimes against all persons is wrong.
There are both pros and cons to both systems. For instance, dealing with sex offenders in a swift, aggressive manner like in the US might provide the victim or families of the victim with a sense of closure sooner than the Canadian approach might. The cons is that the swift, aggressive approach might leave the offender impacted by the charges if he is wrongfully convicted. For instance, Petrunik describes the process of chemical castration of high risk offenders which is quite disturbing to me. This is disturbing especially if someone may have been wrongfully convicted and is forced to undergo such punishment.
The cons of the Canadian approach is that victims may be forgotten in trying to protect the rights of the offender. However, as Petrunik mentioned, Canadians are careful of including false positives and false negatives.
Another example where the dominant ideology is being exercised in our society is the increase in anti-human trafficking laws. With Justice Himel’s decision in September 2010, there has been a rise in anti-human trafficking laws. John Lowman of Simon Fraser Institute says, “A lot of what is going on is political posturing in the name of a particular prohibitionist, abolitionist agenda…the people who are leading it cannot produce credible information for their claims.” (Read article here.). If prostitution laws are struck down, these anti-human trafficking laws may be an attempt to further prevent sex workers from earning an income. Sex workers are a diverse group and not all are trafficked. These anti-human trafficking laws tell society that it is wrong to hold someone captive against their will and force them work under inhumane conditions. However, we ALREADY have laws that tell society that it is wrong to hold someone captive (like in the criminal code of Canada) or force someone to work under inhuman conditions (like labour and employment laws). Thus, these initiatives make suggest the question of what type of ideological message is being sent to society. As Petrunik describes at the end of his article, there is no clear victory as to who will win the race in sex offender legislation. The same can be said about anti-human trafficking laws and prostitution laws.