Nov 2007

Making a mockery of the sex-offender register

Is it possible that a crucial piece of information has been omitted from this BBC news report? Because taken at face value, the report appears to be stating that a man has been handed a 3 year suspended prison sentence and placed on the sex-offenders register for… well, for masturbating in his own room. I can only assume that he did something else as well. Because if the facts are as reported, then Sheriff Colin Miller (who passed judgement in the case) needs to retire immediately as he’s clearly not in possession of the required sense of proportion demanded by his job. I also suggest that a team of detectives is hired to dig into Sheriff Miller’s past and unearth evidence that the good Sheriff has “had a swift one off the wrist” in his own home at some point in his life (because, and here I speak with utter certainty, he has done) and then get him slapped onto the sex-offenders register along with the poor sod he’s decided to persecute.

Hell, why not put everyone who ever got themselves off in the privacy of their own home on the damn register? To save some time, just grab the electoral register and rename the thing. Let’s ensure it’s entirely useless, why don’t we?

There’s a comical slant to this story of course, and because the comical aspect is what caught the Beeb’s eye, that’s what has been emphasised. But beneath the odd imagery and the prurient sniggering there’s a very serious story here that’s being completely ignored… a man has been placed on the sex-offenders register for masturbating in private. How is that even possible!?

The bicycle is clearly the problem

According to the BBC report, the victim of this outrageous perversion of justice, a Mr. RS, returned to his own room in the homeless hostel in which he was living. So while I know nothing about RS, from the outset it sounds to me like he’s already having a bit of a crappy time of it just now. He was a bit drunk, but not completely out of it. He certainly had wits enough about him to lock the door to his room. So this was no deliberate, or even oblivious, act of exhibitionism. RS was in his own space behind a locked door. He was only discovered when a member of the hostel staff entered the room using a master key.

The next bit is what propelled the tale into the media; rather than indulging in a… to put it bluntly, “a traditional wank”, RS had found some feature on his bicycle which, when rubbed against, apparently did the job for him. Now, the problem with that is the human imagination is liable to run riot with that image. This can’t be helped, it’s intrinsically bizarre. To me though, it’s very much on the comical side of bizarre. Sheriff Miller somehow places it on the threatening and morally dangerous side.

But ultimately, the fact that it’s a bicycle is utterly irrelevant. It’s an inanimate object, and given that sex-toys are legal in Scotland and assuming there’s no legal regulations regarding their shape (I don’t know this for a fact, but it’s hardly a major assumption), then pleasuring oneself with an inanimate object is not against the law. Had RS been using a blow-up sex doll, would he have been placed on the sex-offenders register? If RS had been female and had been using a vibrator, would she find herself with a three-year suspended sentence? Indeed, does Sheriff Miller’s judgement set a precedent effectively outlawing dildos in Scotland?

And that’s not a rhetorical question. This is a man who has been placed on the sex-offenders register. It’s as far from a laughing matter as it’s possible to get, despite the whole bicycle-as-sex-toy incongruous imagery. Seriously, try and imagine having to go through life with that on your CV. It’s got to be tough to know the right time in a new relationship to announce that particular bit of news… “Oh by the way, I won’t be able to take part in any Parent-Teacher Association stuff…”

Most of us assume that the sex-offenders register is used to keep track of rapists and child-molesters. And in my view there is merit in doing that. I believe that some forms of criminal behaviour reveal pathologies that are unlikely to have been addressed by a prison sentence. So if a person is found guilty of sexually assaulting a child, then that fact should be taken into account if that person applies for a job at a school later in life, even if they’ve technically “paid their debt to society” with a prison sentence.

However the sex-offenders register becomes worse than useless if people like RS (“guilty” of using a sex toy in his own locked room) are side-by-side on the list with the child abusers and serial rapists. It ceases to be a reliable list used to identify potentially dangerous individuals, and becomes nothing more than a stick used by the judiciary to beat whomsoever they please. A new way for Sheriff Miller to heap yet more misery into our already heavily-laden world.

UPDATE (16:23): Great minds… and all that.

Posted in: Opinion