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Check out how easy it is to become a sex offender!

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Are we all sex offenders?

That’s the question posed to the audience of mostly college students by Galen Baughman, a Soros Justice Fellow and the final speaker at the City University of New York TEDx talks at the Borough of Manhattan Community College last week.

TEDx talks are known for introducing new speakers with new ideas on everything from tech, to teaching, to society. But Baughman was the first TEDx presenter to address the issue of sex offenders from an unusual viewpoint:

He is one. And he must register as a sex offender forever.

His crime?

He had consensual sex with a teen when he was a teen. He was 19, his boyfriend, 14. They had sex once. It was consensual. The younger teen did not want to prosecute, but his parents did.

Had Baughman and his boyfriend slept together in another country — Canada, for instance — it would not have been considered a criminal act. But here, Baughman informed his audience, his crime resulted in a prison sentence.

He served nine years.

Four and half of those were in solitary.

Just when he was about to be set free, well, that’s what Baughman came to talk about.

“Three and a half years ago,” the 32-year-old told the audience, “I was sitting alone in a cell in Arlington, VA, waiting for a trial that would determine whether I would spend the rest of my life in prison.”

See, Baughman had originally been handed a six-and-a-half year sentence. But when it was over and he was about to be released, the authorities informed him that they considered him a violent sexual predator too dangerous to let go. As it turns out, the state can lock up “violent predators” indefinitely. The legal term for this is “civil commitment.” The person is kept behind bars to get “treatment” — except that treatment looks exactly like prison. Because it is.

How does the state get away with keeping some people for years — sometimes decades — after their release dates?

It plays on the public’s fear of sex offenders, Baughman explained. Politicians score points by keeping sex offenders locked up. It sounds so good. It is for the sake of our children!

The problem is that once a person gets the label “sex offender,” the public ceases to consider that person a human. In most people’s minds, a sex offender is a monster out to rape little kids. The fact that Department of Justice reports that sex offenders actually have the lowest recidivism rate of any criminals other than murderers is not well known.

What’s worse, “The label ‘sex offender’ is a made-up category,” Baughman continued. You can get labeled a sex offender for raping a toddler — or for sleeping with your freshman girlfriend when you’re a senior. There are people on the sex offender registry for urinating in public. For visiting a prostitute. For streaking. Teens even get on it for sexting.

“We brand all these people the same. And once they get that label we treat them all as if we know what they’re going to do next,” he said.

We treat them as if they’re going to hide in the bushes and pounce on a kid walking home from school. Even if they never did anything remotely like that.

That’s what the state decided about Baughman: Since he was officially a sex offender, he was automatically a menace to society. At his civil commitment trial, the state argued that he suffered from a horrible mental illness, which caused him to be attracted to sexually mature teens.

At that, the audience of mostly college students burst out laughing — they probably suffered from the exact same thing.

Luckily for Baughman, his jury concluded that this made-up disease (it isn’t in the psychiatric diagnostic manual) was ridiculous.

Because our laws are so overly broad, and because so few people commit a new crime after release, Baughman told the crowd, a child is “more likely to be labeled a sex offender, than to be abused by a sex offender.”

Baughman added that he is the only person in Virginia to have successfully fought indefinite detention via a jury trial, and won. Another 5,000 people nationwide are languishing past their release dates, most because they carry the label “sex offender.”

But if all it takes to get that label is to be attracted to sexually mature teens, or to sext, or streak, maybe, indeed, we’re all sex offenders — who just haven’t been caught.

Read Lenore Skenazy's column every Sunday morning on BrooklynPaper.com.
Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

Nailed Down from Over There says:
My 23 year old neighbor used to share nude text photos with her boy friend all the time while growing up. For some dumb reason she kept all those photos on her phone's memory card. When she recently bought a new phone they transferred everything for her, found the photos and called the police. She was arrested for possession of child porn. They contacted her now 23 year old victim who is also her fiancée and asked if he wanted to press charges. An ambulance chaser also contacted him about suing.

The system seems bent on destruction rather than actually protecting anyone. The wedding is scheduled for June but, she may be in prison by then. Facing ten years. Do you think I should get a new babysitter . . . . ?
Nov. 29, 2015, 7:53 am
Get The Facts Correct from Greenpoint says:
He was originally caught for distributing Child Porn to another child.

That was what caused him to be arrested for the crime you mention in the article.

He plead guilty to the crime he was imprisoned for.
Nov. 29, 2015, 9:06 pm
Powder from Brooklyn Heights says:
Excuse me "Get The Facts", but where is the crime? Look but don't touch!
I can see by your poor command of the English language that you are probably an immigrant (or just uneducated?). In this country we have laws. Not secret police with random agendas, as I'm sure was the case in communist Poland where you grew up. Learn English, and stop imposing your cold, eastern, Catholic craziness on the rest of us.
Nov. 30, 2015, 2:36 am
Me from Bay Ridge says:
Would you think it was OK if it was a 19 year-old student teacher and a 14 year-old pupil?
Nov. 30, 2015, 10 am
ty from pps says:
Powder -- I don't really care about the substance of "Get the Facts" comment one way or the other, but where did he exhibit anything resembling a 'poor command of the English language'?! All three of his sentences are clearly written, grammatically correct... with one tiny exception that could almost be considered a typo. I'd be interested to know if you could even identify what I'm talking about.

Why couldn't you have said what you wanted to say without this nutjob rambling about the English language, irrational hatred for Eastern Europeans and, I guess, something about Catholics?
Nov. 30, 2015, 10:55 am
Judy Shapiro from The Village says:
It's funny how the AMW Fear-Monger John Walsh met his future wife in a bar when she was 16 and he was 24-It's also funny how a public urinator is considered the equivalent to a rapist.
Dec. 3, 2015, 10:50 pm
Judy Shap from Village says:
Okay, maybe I can admit Tolstoy was probably a little smelly after he had spent the day fighting in Sebastopol but… non intelligent… really?

Romeo and Juliet (15 yrs person with 17 yrs person)crimes(WTF!) pee pee in public, streaking at the football game-Are all considered registrable sex offenses-That's Nucking Futs! That's Non Intelligent!
Dec. 4, 2015, 8:12 pm
Joe Walsh from Stupidsville says:
Now that Megan's Law H.R. 515 will be law, New Jersey Congressman Chris Smith will demand that Mark Foley registers as a sex offender. In addition to Mark Foley having to register as a sex offender, Foley will have SEX OFFENDER stamped on his passport.

The same goes for David Vitter. Congressman Smith will demand that David Vitter registers as a sex offender-and Vitter's passport will be stamped SEX OFFENDER!
Feb. 2, 2016, 9:44 pm

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