Pink Triangles and Swastikas
© 2008 R. L. Gregory
“Those who would sacrifice liberty in the name of safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
Benjamin Franklin 1759
When Adolph Hitler came to power in 1933, one of his earliest acts was to see amended and enforced certain existing provisions of the German penal code. Between 1933 and 1936, the Nazi regime mandated that Paragraphs 173 through 188 be expanded, modified, or added, criminalizing homosexuality as well as all other “unnatural” and “sexually deviant” behaviors.
When read today, those paragraphs bear an eerie similarity to “Megan’s Law”, the initial mandate establishing Sexual Offender Registries. The law implemented by the Third Reich instituted the first sexual offender registry. It mandated that convicted offenders wear pink triangles to alert their communities, and established severe penalties for conviction which included disenfranchisement, lengthy prison sentences, confinement in concentration camps, or execution. From a contemporary perspective, perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the German code was the reasoning behind it: to protect children and the community. “The state must declare the child to be the most precious treasure of the people,” Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf. “As long as the government is perceived as working for the benefit of the children, the people will happily endure almost any curtailment of liberty and almost any deprivation.” [i]
The sexual offender registries of the computer era are enormously more effective and global than those of the Third Reich. A few mouse clicks, and an individual in Sydney, Australia can determine the name, home address and workplace of every sexual offender in Indianapolis, without (most terrifyingly) ever revealing his or her own identity or even the reason for seeking such information. It was just this ease of access and global availability of the offender registries that two years ago permitted a young Canadian citizen to randomly download the information on 34 offenders in
Primarily responsible for this 21st century witch hunt are politicians and the media. Recycling outdated statistics and inciting public hysteria about sex offenders galvanizes voters and attracts viewers and readers. Unfortunately, just as the rare serial killer focuses public attention toward murderers in general, the rare violent pedophile skews public perception of the actual behaviors, chances of recidivism, and treatment potential of sexual offenders. U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics found that all sex offender rearrrest rates for new sex crimes against a child were only 2.2%.[ii] Treatment of non-violent sexual offenders demonstrates a 90 to 93% overall success rate.[iii] Ninety-six percent of all child sexual offenses are perpetrated not by strangers, but by a member of the victim’s own family.[iv] And in the 12 years since the initiation of the first Megan’s Law, no empirical data has been demonstrated showing a slowing in the rate of sexual offenses nationwide.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) devotes 45 pages to psycho-sexual behaviors.[v] Many of these behaviors carry criminal liability. Yet for no other classification of psychosis is the patient’s right to medical privacy abrogated by publication on a global registry. Citizens who would sue for HIPAA violations if an employer questioned their medical appointments do not scruple to Web-cast the bitter details of mental illness to which a offender’s behavior may be ascribed. The saddest part of this debacle is that many of these psycho-sexual disorders are attributable to the offender having been him or herself victimized during childhood. Because society failed in protecting them, they become as they are. Before sinning, they were first sinned against.
But rational response is lost in the socially-acceptable demonizing of an entire segment of the human population. At least one locality is already considering a “sexual offenders only” zone, a restricted area which would be the only residential option for released offenders. Sadly, it will not be difficult to find a name for such a zone; the names already exist, branded by shame into the pages of history: The
Louder voices have begun calling for the establishment of other registries for every type of crime, violent or otherwise. No longer need the public be burdened by the notion that those who have paid their debt to society by imprisonment and fines, or begun to recover sanity through therapy and medication, dare walk among us again as though human, or entitled to the same governmental protections as other citizens. Marked by the pink triangle of the registries, they will be separated from society in residency requirements, job opportunities and civil rights: separate, and in all ways unequal.
It is doubtful that Hitler could have persuaded the German people to conspire in the wholesale extermination of Jews, gypsies, and the mentally ill had he not first paved the way by disenfranchising and demonizing an entire class of human beings. Just as constant exposure to violence desensitizes an individual to brutality, vilifying a complete segment of humanity in the name of safety promises that the public will not long protest harsher measures directed to ever-increasing groups.
By following Hitler’s example, state, federal and local governments and the media have set their feet firmly onto the path ground to dust beneath the heels of Nazi boots. Or, to paraphrase
[i] Houghton Miflin,
[iii]“Sex Offender Treatment Works”
[iv] Child Sexual Abuse I: An Overview http://www.advocates for youth.org/PUBLICATIONS/
[v] American Psychiatric Association: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition,