ImageAnother recent “Will Rogers” excerpt [1] from our local paper. This is the gist, but not an exact quote, from a well-known advice column:

‘My landlord is a nudist. When friends drop by at night, they sometimes see him outside in the nude. My boyfriend is grossed out and doesn’t like me living here. My landlord is a really nice man. What should I do?’

The columnist answered that the questioner should tell her friends to call ahead when they plan to visit; then approach the landlord and ask him not to be outside, a la buff, when she lets him know her friends will be stopping by.

Isn’t that nice. So tolerant, so modern, so completely hip – positively oozing with live-and-let-live bonhomie. Hey – different strokes for different folks. Nothing as crass and unfeeling as: “Holy cow, Honey! Blow the whistle! Call the cops! Listen to your boyfriend, and get the heck out of there. Can’t you see this guy is just testing the waters? One night you’ll wake up and find him next to your bed (or in it), wearing nothing but a smile. I don’t care how ‘nice’ he is. Parading around outside in suburbia, au natural, ain’t normal. It’s deviant.”

In most communities (perhaps excepting San Francisco), public nudity is still called “indecent exposure” and is a crime – perhaps not as serious as some crimes, but still a crime. You can’t run around in the nude where others might see you (unless it’s in one of those bizarre meat-markets called a “nudist camp”). But as a society we are so far gone that even people who are (highly) paid to write “advice” columns can’t see a problem when it’s right in front of their noses.

Maybe it’s my age, but I’m beginning to sound like grandpa, who tended to start most observations with, “In my day…” Sorry – but I am bound to note that “in my day”, people like this young woman’s landlord were arrested and put where they were not a danger to others. If and when they were released, they were told to keep their clothes on in public. If they just couldn’t help themselves, we put them away for a long time – often in mental institutions. Yes, it was a less tolerant time, but it was a whole lot safer.

Finally, though – and this is really encouraging – we are taking steps to get things back under control. Schools, especially, have gotten tough – adopting zero-tolerance regulations for crimes like sexual harassment. I read that in Waco, Texas, a 4-year-old boy was punished with an in-school suspension when a female aide accused him of sexual harassment. By her report, the boy put his face in her chest when he hugged her as he got on the bus (the swine!). School officials eventually removed the sexual references, but refused to expunge the “inappropriate physical contact” notation from the boy’s permanent record. (Thank god, a dangerous predator has been identified and branded for life.)

Data from Maryland show that twenty-eight kindergartners were suspended during the 2005-’06 school year for sex offenses. Fifteen of these were for sexual harassment. In December 2006, a kindergarten boy in Hagerstown was accused of harassment for pinching a classmate’s bottom. The charge will remain on his record until he enters middle school. The state standards are “clear”: the charge stands, whether or not a child is old enough to understand the implications of his (or her) actions. We can all sleep safer in our beds, I think, because schools are on top of this. (Certainly, I am impressed and relieved.) As grandpop used to say, “You don’t know whether to laugh or cry…” (Not funny enough to laugh at, but we’re too big to cry.)

On other fronts, however, the news is less encouraging – or perhaps more encouraging, depending upon one’s proclivities. Data from District of Columbia public schools indicate that no teaching licenses were suspended for sexual misconduct during the five years spanning 2001 through 2005. Unfortunately, this is not really good news, as some incidents deserving of sanction have certainly occurred in DCPS. [2] It simply means oversight is sorely lacking.

One was a case involving Brandon C. Jones, a former gym teacher at Backus Middle School accused of having a sexual relationship with a fourteen-year-old female student. Having arranged an encounter with the student at a Laurel (Maryland) hotel – beyond peradventure of doubt – Jones entered an “Alton Plea”, which acknowledges that prosecutors have enough evidence to convict, but does not admit guilt. Nevertheless, DC officials have not requested the revocation of Mr. Jones’s license. In fact, his certification was not even current when the violation occurred.

Consequently, Mr. Jones’s name has not been entered in the nationwide database of teachers whose certification has been revoked. (The problem of figuring out how to revoke a certification that was not actually in force was evidently beyond DCPS officials.) Investigations reveal that problems in the DC system are more widespread than the Jones-situation. Officials could show only four license-revocations over the last five years – none of them for sexual violations – despite knowledge that such incidents have certainly occurred. “We don’t do a whole lot of revoking here,” said Ken Bungert, director of the credential office. (No kidding?)

New crimes involving sexual molestation and even murder of children surface nearly every day across the country. Hardly a week passes without some new missing-child case or discovery of the pitiful remains of some young person. The cases are so commonplace that we cease to notice them. We yawn and click the channel away from video clips showing recovery of some child’s body from a shallow grave in a forest – or accounts of how dental records have identified a body as the child of grieving parents somewhere.

There seems to be a national epidemic of sexual predation and child-murder. When a teen-aged boy was rescued from a captor who had held him for several years, there was no mention of sexual molestation, although that almost certainly was the motive for the abduction. Such details are delicately left unreported, as though the mainstream news media think our sensibilities must be protected from the sexual aspects of such crimes.

What is the collective implication of all this? Clearly, that we have lost our bearings on what is and isn’t a crime. When I was a boy, one of my male classmates ran about the playground one day, kissing as many girls as he could catch. (One imagines that it was the last such time he managed this in his whole life.) The teacher scolded him in front of the whole class. Girls giggled, and he slunk back to his seat – red-faced, but with a certain fame. (Some of us secretly envied – but never emulated – his outrageous panache.) The police were not called, and no further action was taken or needed. He did not grow up to be a sexual predator, so far as I ever heard.

Today, that boy would be suspended from school and possibly arrested. We are fingering children as young as 4 as “harassers” and branding them as sexual criminals for their academic lives, before they can comprehend their crimes. Yet we cannot recognize latent sexual criminals right in our midst (the nudie landlord), or sanction teachers who molest students.

Even when we know who the latent criminals are, we can’t keep track of them. Ernie Allen (President of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children) said, “There are 400,000 registered sex offenders in the United States, and an estimated 80,000 to 100,000 of them are missing. They're supposed to be registered, but we don't know where they are and we don't know where they're living.” There are too many other statistics and facts to relate in this space.

As a society, we embrace change. It’s the American Way. But some things should not change. We were a lot better off when we locked sexual deviants up and kept them from repeating their predations on our children. The “old” ways were not all bad. Somehow, we need to get a grip.

*******

[1] Celebrated humorist Will Rogers famously claimed the needed no writers for new material. “I just read the papers,” he liked to say.

[2] Items regarding DC Public Schools excerpted from an article by Sarah Karush in the October 22, 2007, edition of the Washington Times (“Teachers accused of sex abuse keep licenses”).