21st Century Public Shaming
On February 8th, Pres. Obama signed the “International Megan’s Law to Prevent Demand for Child Sex Trafficking” (H.R. 515), but made no formal public statement to go along with the signing.
The White House issued a press release accompanying the signing of the new law arguing that it accomplishes two goals. First, it empowers the Department of Homeland Security’s “Angel Watch Center” and the Department of Justice’s “National Sex Offender Targeting Center” to monitor the international travel of registered sex offenders. Second, it requires the Department of State to include a unique identifier – the 21st century scarlet “A” — on passports issued to registered sex offenders.
Some are calling it “the international Scarlet Letter law,” recalling Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 1850 classic tale. In the novel, the Massachusetts Puritans of the 1640s force a local woman, Hester Prynne, to wear a scarlet “A” on her dress, thus publicly displaying her shame for having engaged in adultery (with the local pastor) and having an out-of-wedlock child.
The International Megan’s Law is the first law in U.S. history in which a special symbol will be placed on a citizen’s form of personal identification, a passport, to denote that the individual was convicted of a sex crime. Nearly four centuries after the witch trials, in which women were hung for having sex with the devil, those in authority continue to publicly shame people convicted of engaging in unacceptable sexual practices.
[contents left out for copyright reasons. Please read the full story here: http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/02/19/21st-century-public-shaming/}
The U.S. has come a long way from the Puritan world depicted by Hawthorne in The Scarlet Letter. Four centuries ago, violation of the social order was conceived of as a “sin,” a moral failing; today, a violation is considered a “crime,” a civil offense. Violations include rape, pedophilia, child porn, sex trafficking, infecting with an STD/AIDS and lust murder. Today’s moral order is based on a belief in the equality of each participant, no matter which gender, but whether they are rational (i.e., capable of saying No!) and age-appropriate.
Today, those who violate mutual consent are considered immoral, pathological or criminal. And the worst — the most socially stigmatized segment of those who violate sexual consent — is the man (or, far less often, woman) who perpetrates a child sex crime. These crimes include harming the young person through sexual abuse, prostitution, pornography and lust murder.
The International Megan’s Law, like the original Megan’s Law, is not an act of legal punishment. While the Eighth Amendment bans cruel and unusual punishment, public shaming has deep roots in the American legal system and, according to a 2015 report in Prison Legal News, seems to on the increase. Public shaming is form of dehumanization, of stigmatizing the offender with a scarlet “A” or “yellow star” or passport symbol. The ostensible goal is to prevent the offender from committing another sex crime. However, it’s unclear how effective such shaming is in terms of 21st century law enforcement and moral values.
21st Century Public Shaming
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