I confess to feeling uncomfortable with the tone of some of the comments beneath my post yesterday about welcoming the sex offender into the community. Several male commenters who normally disagree with almost everything I write were strongly supportive of my anti-vigilantism stance.
Now, I don’t automatically worry if my critics suddenly start agreeing with me. As they say, even a broken clock is likely to be right twice a day, and perhaps yesterday was such a day for my men’s rights advocate friends. But what does worry me a bit is the sense I get from some of the comments (and this is more implicit than explicit) that their support for my position is rooted in a sense that sex crimes are frequently exaggerated, and that those who are forced to register as offenders may often be those whose crimes were petty, or who were falsely accused.
One of the staples of the anti-feminist men’s movement is an insistence that rape statistics (at least those statistics that indicate that large numbers of women and girls are sexually assaulted by men) are exaggerated. There’s a widespread conviction, too, that false accusations of rape and molestation are common, and are a regular tactic in divorce and custody cases. There’s a lot of argument from anecdote, and relatively little solid evidence, but it’s something that I see my MRA friends return to again and again. And I’m wondering if they are piggy-backing on my sympathy for a man who is being hounded by his community to make a very different point altogether.
I think it’s possible to welcome a sex offender into the community and embrace him as a neighbor while simultaneously acknowledging the severity of his transgression. My support for Michael Miletti was not rooted in the sense that he was falsely accused, or that what he did to his daughter wasn’t terrible indeed. My support for him is rooted in the conviction that he is my fellow human being, a man who has (in the eyes of the state) paid for his crime. To use the well-known phrase, I’m arguing for the “love the sinner, hate the sin” approach to sex crimes; it would seem that some of my commenters are arguing the “love the sinner, and the sin of which they are accused is frequently not serious, or false” position. That troubles me.
In a volunteer capacity, and as part of men’s group work, I’ve spent time with men who had committed rape, molestation, and other forms of sexualized violence. When I was in a Twelve Step program, one of my first sponsors was a man who had gone to jail for molesting a niece (years and years earlier). He was deeply aware of the wrong he had done, and made no excuses or attempts to explain his prior actions. He had made amends, done his time, and spent years and years on his “inner work” to make certain that he was absolutely, positively, safe. I could love him with all my heart, and still think what he did was wrong, and still be glad he went to jail for it. I rejoiced that he had been changed for the better by his prison experience, which doesn’t always happen. But I wasn’t sorry he went. Neither was he.
I want to be clear that I am not accusing all men’s rights advocates of being unconcerned with the victims of sexual predators. Yet I want to make it absolutely clear that I am combining a personal horror at the crime, a strong belief in justice, and a commitment to creating a world where both the survivors of sexual abuse and those who have paid the penalty for perpetrating that abuse can live peaceably. As someone who works with young people in a professional and para-professional capacity, I am deeply interested in their physical and emotional safety. And that can concern can happily coexist with a willingness to reach out to those who have offended, to bond with them and befriend them and welcome them into the neighborhood.