When did contemporary culture become more interested in the person conveying information than the information actually being conveyed? In a world that seems to (on the surface) crave intellect, this indisputable phenomenon is the most nonintellectual approach to obtaining information imaginable. In the same way that we used to idolize men like Walter Cronkite and Dan Rather, we now seem to take a sick pleasure in watching the downfall of people like Keith Olberman and Brian Williams. And now, incontrovertible facts are called into question, merely due to the individual relaying the fact. And I suppose I never really grasped this concept until I experienced it first-hand.
When I wrote the Halloween editorial a few years ago which was published by SOSEN, it was based on statistical and proven facts — even supported by academic research and government studies. Subsequently, one would think that studies in the realm of academia and statistical research would provide a solid foundation for a point being made because there is no “opinion” involved, but rather, statements of fact. I made one specific statement, supported by research and statistics, stating that there has never been a reported instance of a registered sex offender assaulting a trick-or-treating child on Halloween. Fact. Actually, it’s quite a simple fact to grasp. However, the fact wasn’t the issue; the individual relaying this fact was the issue — Me.
So here’s my question: Why have we as a society decided to make the concept of “facts” variable, simply because of the individual who stated those facts? Since when is spoken information entirely relative to the person speaking rather than the information being spoken?
I am a convicted sex offender. I accept this punishment because I deserve the label (as I said on television and in my book, After 3PM). So why does my “label” make any facts I present suddenly become fiction? As a sex offender, am I suddenly not allowed to make a factual statement about sex offenders? Because logic would indicate that the precise inverse is true.
I mean, seriously, me being a sex offender doesn’t change the fact that sexual crimes have a 4.3% recidivism rate; it doesn’t change the fact that 95% of sexually-motivated crimes are committed by people who are not registered sex offenders. These are facts, published by the United States Bureau of Justice Statistics. So, not only are sex offenders among the lowest convicted criminals to recommit the same crime, but the facts suggest that sex offenders are among the most compliant post-prison felons in America.
Check this little factoid out: The #1 reason sex offenders are sent back to prison is due to the violation of their parole and/or their registration requirements. And do you know why this is? Residency. Offenders must keep their residency updated at all times. However, for many sex offenders who do not have a supportive family structure (like I do), finding a job and a sustainable residence is a massive undertaking, leading to the near-inevitability of homelessness. Therefore, when a sex offender becomes homeless and has no permanent address, he is — by definition — in default of his parole and the Offender Registration Act. So, he is sent back to prison.
Therefore, this begs the question: How many sex offenders are sent back to prison for committing another sex crime? The answer: Less than 2%. Compare that to drug crimes, violent crimes, or property crimes, which range between 30% and 40% of offenders who are sent back to prison for committing the same crime.
And that leads right back to the original problem: Since the person stating these statistical facts is me, an offender myself, somehow there can be no credibility attached, even though the facts are incontrovertible.
This overall concept is also something I am battling with my activism within the educational community. Obviously, I am a teacher who had an unlawful relationship with a student. Therefore, I have a deep and unique insight into the causes and solutions to this ongoing epidemic which has plagued the educational system for decades. However, since I am someone who committed the crime (rather than someone who merely “studied” it), some people argue that I should not be allowed to speak publicly regarding the issue, even if my insights could redefine the way the issue is approached, saving countless students from abuse.
I’m not trying to be the good guy, I’m simply trying to do the right thing. I don’t have any less credibility as a person or a public speaker simply as a result of the choices of my past. And, in fact, considering the amount of research, reflection, and writing I’ve done regarding my own crime, I have a more unique and beneficial perspective than nearly anyone in the nation. Not to sound grandiose, but regarding the causes of unlawful teacher/student relationships, I am one of the nation’s leading experts.
When the Wichita Eagle did a front page feature about me last year, one of the reader comments online said, “Why are we giving offenders a platform?” I think this was meant to be belittling, but I would be completely willing to dignify this question with an honest answer: Offenders should have a platform because the person who committed the crime knows why they did it, how they did it, and how the could have been caught. So, just like Leonardo DiCaprio’s character in Catch Me If You Can, I know how the criminal thinks and operates because I used to be one.
My credibility regarding these issues is nearly unparalleled. But too many people are not willing to take the time or make the effort to understand my message, goals, and activism on an intellectual and practical level. It’s simply easier to write-off someone because of hate and discount anything he says than it is to embrace the possibility that the bad guy is trying to do something good.
I’m not trying to be the “good guy,” I am simply trying to do the next right thing.