What Do You Do With Sex Offenders?

Mickey, the wiry 46-year-old man pictured, is a recovering alcoholic and a sex offender. In 2000, he pushed a 16-year-old girl into the woods and tried to pull down her pants; today he is the patriarch of a boarding house of sex offenders in a seedy little Long Island neighborhood that this week's New York magazine pinpoints as the island's densest sex offender cluster, the kind of neighborhood dotted with "houses that look like typical suburban ranches but for the smell of crack drifting from the windows." (Ugh.) Mickey is one of those ex-cons who needs to have total control over his surroundings, so he rigorously monitors his house's comings and goings, keeps it drug and alcohol-free, cooks food and cleans up after his fellow boarders, found a therapist friendly and trusting enough to make house calls on them, cries when they fuck up and leave — essentially, it's the Harvarder of registered sex-offender residences, and the story is meant to show us how tough it is to be such a pariah, banned from making eye contact with children, mugshot on the Family Watchdog registry for all to see.

And well, we read it because we spend a lot of time writing about rapists on this site, but we never seem to get the perspective of the rapist. We'll call alleged rapists Pure Evil and the governors who offer them clemency The Worst Person In The World, and sometimes we'll even knock men who have been cleared of rape, sure they are guilty of some sort of terrible, misogynistic offense, and it's hard to blame us: high-profile case after low-profile case after anecdotal unreported case seems to suggest that a "culture of impunity" has rendered rape practically legal in this country.

But it's not. Rape is so very very illegal that once convicted, you're a Sex Offender, object of unbelievable fear, quarantined from the community, and anyway, while it's nothing you hadn't thought of before, it's still a question worth asking. What do you do with sex offenders? If normal straight dudes in prison go gay — and rapey — almost immediately upon entering prison, why do we foist isolation among all sex offenders without regard to the nature of their offense? Or more to the point, why don't we spend more time investigating the nature of sex offenses?

John doesn't take part in group, but he participated in a six-month sex-offender-treatment program in prison, then worked as a peer counselor for another eighteen months. Of all the men in the house, he is the most candid about his crime. His victim was the wife of a co-worker. "I assaulted her, tied her up, and forced her to perform oral sex on me," he says, repeating a sentence he'd said countless times before. The facts of his crime may be no more horrendous than those of his housemates, but discussing it so frankly with him — and realizing I was about the same age as his victim — made the conversation especially chilling. Yet the more we spoke, the more I realized his willingness to discuss his crime so openly seemed to suggest a different sort of future.
Well, yeah! And to the writer's credit, she's part of that process. But that's where it ends; we learn very little more about the actual crimes themselves, or the way the writer feels about them; whether she can imagine how they went down in her mind; whether she'd like to share that with us. The idea of someone being forced to "perform" oral sex — that language just doesn't cut it for me. Before society can understand the punishment, it has to come to grips with the specific set of emotions and mental processes that created the crime. But are we ready to hear that story?

The House Where They Live [New York Magazine]