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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Sex offenders subject to double standard of forgiveness

    In the United States of America, perhaps more than in any other country, there exist many discrepancies that we’ve come to call double standards: a seemingly benign term that hints at the complexities and senselessness of human reason. Most of the time these double standards apply to easily discernible traits: sex, race, creed, sexual orientation, party affiliation and so on.

    In some weird way, too, these discrepancies make sense to us, or at least we try to make sense of them. However, in some cases, the double standard lacks any semblance of rationale and thus reveals some aspect of the absurdity that characterizes our species. Nowhere is this more noticeable than in the recent death of a Michigan man.

    His name was Thomas Pauli, age 52. He was homeless, but his defining characteristic was his label as a registered sex offender. He died last week in the unrelenting Michigan cold after he was denied a spot at a local shelter. Social workers say his status as a sex offender made it impossible to accommodate him since a state law prohibits sex offenders from staying within 1,000 feet of schools.

    Now, just to be clear, I think sex crimes are among the worst of crimes in our society, and in no way am I defending or condoning the actions of Thomas Pauli or any other sex offender. However, I would like to explore an inexplicable double standard that pervades our society.

    As strange as it may seem on the first read, we place our sex offenders on one of two lists: on the first, those we condemn to hell for their crimes, and on the second, those we place upon a pedestal for their contributions to society. We hate most and vow never to forgive them, and yet we forgive some and come to respect them. There’s very little rationale behind this phenomenon that we unconsciously accept, for the crimes of sex offenders are indisputably heinous.

    Take, for instance, the case of world-renowned director, writer, actor and producer Roman Polanski, and a clear double standard emerges. In 1978, he pleaded guilty to unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor. At that time, Polanski was in his mid-40s. The minor was a 13-year-old girl whom he plied with alcohol and Quaaludes. He engaged in oral, vaginal and anal sex with the girl. He ignored her pleas to stop throughout. It sounds pretty atrocious, right?

    But the saga doesn’t stop there. Polanski then fled to France, where he held citizenship, and thus could avoid the risk of extradition to the U.S. Since then, he has yet to return to American soil, although he continues to work and continues to garner critical acclaim.

    There are some of us who rejoice in the death of Thomas Pauli, claiming he got what he deserved – namely, a ruined life and an untimely death. There are many more of us who celebrate Roman Polanski. In 2002, for instance, Polanski won the Academy Award for Best Director for “”The Pianist.”” At the ceremony, which he did not attend, he received a standing ovation from those in attendance. Polanski, a sex offender who has served no prison time for his crime, had enriched our culture, and for that he was forgiven – celebrated even. He has yet to be shunned by society in the same way that Thomas Pauli was, and I wager that when this eminent director dies, his death will net more notice than that of Thomas Pauli.

    While Thomas Pauli and Roman Polanski best epitomize the two extremes of this double standard, it’s important to realize that there are many more men and women who fall somewhere on the continuum we’ve concocted. Most of these sex offenders fall on our first list, the one with hell as their final destination. But some – perhaps more than we care to admit – have wound up on our second list for no apparent reason at all.

    My logic tells me that this method by which we forgive the crimes of sex offenders is bizarre and unfair. What kind of society are we if we can forgive, ignore or even forget the crimes of one but not another? We can’t be bothered to shelter one. Instead, we call him the scum of the earth. But to another we give a golden statuette and praise his ingenuity. If the crimes of these two men are equally appalling, then why do we make this distinction?

    The answers to these questions reveal something wholly unexpected about our psychology, for the answers are simple. Why? Because we cherish our celebrities, prize their work, celebrate their status and envy their money. In our eyes, they can do no wrong.

    Why?

    Because one sex offender is immortal, and the other simply human.

    – Justin Huggins is a senior majoring in ecology and evolutionary biology. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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