The following was written by an adult in custody and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of CURE.
The Scarlett Letter: Redux
There is an old joke: a psychiatrist is using the Rohrschak test to examine a patient. Each inkblot card the psychiatrist held up would
be followed by a description of sexual imagery by the patient. as the last card was laid on the desk, the psychiatrist picked up a pen
and wrote on the document. The psychiatrist then spoke to the patient…
“Mr. Bottomly,” he said, “each of your answers suggests that you are obsessed with sex.”
“Me!” said the patient. “You are the one showing me the dirty pictures.”
In September 2009, the Oregon Supreme Court handed down a ruling in the case of State vs. Rodriguez/Buck (SO55720). The ruling
by the court challenged Oregon’s Measure 11 Law and required that sentences be in proportion to the seriousness of the crime.
That the Supreme Court would rule thusly should not be surprising. That the court let the original convictions stand (with lesser
sentences) is what is disappointing. The two defendants, Veronica Rodriguez and Darryl Buck were convicted of felony charges of
child sex abuse. Ms. Rodriguez was convicted in 2005 of abusing a 13 year old boy at a Hillsboro Boys and Girls Club. Her crime was
bringing the back of the boys head in contact with her clothed chest, in a room of about 30 - 50 people for about one minute. At this
distance, one can only speculate on Ms. Rodriguez’s motivations, but in a gentler time, this would have been passed off as a matronly
hug to a child suffering stress or illness. That it should be considered by today’s Puritan descendants, a sex crime should be shocking
to the sensibilities of all thinking people. Who knows, she may have been a strong Hispanic woman offering empathy; something
fearful to conservatives who lack empathy. Perhaps we forfeited the ability to think for the promise of security. Ms. Rodriguez served 16
months in prison. She is a registered sex offender for life.
In the case of Darryl Buck, who was sentenced in Lin County in 2006, he was convicted of touching the clothed buttocks of a 13 year
old girl who was sitting next to him fishing. When the girl stood up, Buck brushed the dirt and grit off of the girl’s bottom with two swipes
of his hand. The prosecutor had asked for a 75 month sentence, but the judge awarded a 17 month sentence saying the larger
sentence was “grossly unfair”, given that the touching was outside the clothes and was not fondling; “it was not a situation where it
was forced”. If it was not “fondling” and not “forced”, where is the child sexual abuse? Speculating again, we may surmise that the
young girl was familiar with Mr. Buck, perhaps related, and that his brush of the hand over her clothed buttocks could have been an
innocent incident. It might be that some Puritanistic busy-body turned a non-sexual situation into a heinous sex crime, and the
prosecutor, eager to add an easy conviction to their resume, added another poor sap which no previous criminal history to the long
roll of sex offenders; about 18% of the inmate population in Oregon. Whether this speculation is valid or not, these cases have already
been decided; the damage is done.
Let us be clear. There are real sex offenders walking around in our communities, and they should be prosecuted and incarcerated.
To lump these two cases, and other like them into the same category cheapen the charge of sex offense. It is as if a person cited for
traveling 5 mph over the speed limit is charged with the same one size fits all charges as someone going 50 mph over the speed limit.
As an observer wight eh same perspective on this matter, it occurs to me that the same people who wrote these laws, and prosecuted
these laws, are the same people who find nothing disturbing about a spare-the-rod-spoil-the-child mentality. They are the same people
who belie the law should be used to prevent the possibility of wrong doing, rather than the actuality. That thinking led our nation to
invade Iraq because they may have had weapons of mass destruction. If we refer back to the joke about the psychiatrist and the
patient: the prosecutors are the patient, seeing something sexual in every inkblot. We must alway ask ourselves if justice is serving
the law or if the law must serve justice. We must add to this the perception, often justified, that there is one set of laws for the
defenseless and one set of laws for the powerful or well-connected.
As specified earlier, Rodriguez and Buck have served their prison time. But unlike other felons convicted for, say, embezzling, or
identity theft, a sex offender must wear the metaphorical “Scarlet Letter” when they return to their community. They must register as a
sex offender for life. They will be placed on a sex offender watch list and have restrictions on where they may live and the kind of jobs
they may hold.
In contrast, let us look at just one case; that of former State Representative Dan Doyle (R. Turner), who was convicted in 2005 to
threes years in prison for embezzling client funds. Once Mr. Doyle finished his prison term, and pot-prison supervision, he was allowed
to return to him community, his debt to society paid. He didm not need to register as an embezzler every year for life. nor be placed on
an embezzler watch list, or be restricted to certain kinds of employment.
In the Nathaniel Hawthorne novel, The Scarlett Letter, Hester Prynne made her debut emerging from the jail of a 17th century
Massachusetts community, to be asked to reveal the father of her new-born child. When she refuses, she is placed in the stocks and
pelted with rotten produce and humiliating epithets. Rev. Dimmsdale, the unrevealed father, and Roger Chillingsworth, the cuckolded
husband, stand by to witness the punishment.
Because of her talent with a needle, Hester Prynne is able to earn a living for her and her daughter, Pearl, despite her ostracism. In
fact, she proudly wears the scarlett letter “A”, for adultress, gilded with gold thread. She thrives as Rev. Dimmesdale is costumed with
guilt, and Roger Chillingsworth is consumed with the desire for vengeance.
Nature, in the story, destroys her tormentors and provides com for to Hester Prynne. I doubt that Ms. Rodriguez and Mr. Buck will find
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