As a registry reform advocate and fiancée to a registrant whose crime was committed as a minor, I was pleasantly surprised to read that The Times Argus had hired a former sex offender, Eric Blaisdell, as their cops and courts reporter. Despite nationwide coverage questioning the “ethics” of such a move, the newspaper’s publisher has stood by his decision — and Mr. Blaisdell has remained on the job, even as his name, photograph and conviction are splashed all across the country.
As a general rule, the media focuses disproportionately on the smallest minority of sex offenders — those who violate the terms of their supervision or re-offend sexually. Journalists and reporters willfully ignore empirical research and evidence in favor of myths and half-truths that paint all sex offenders with the same broad brush. The media’s sensationalist response to tragic, high-profile but extremely rare crimes involving serial pedophiles and violent child predators are the basis for the ineffective sex offender legislation we have today. Is it any wonder they want to discredit a paper that doesn’t use such tactics?
When I first read about Mr. Blaisdell, it was in The Times Argus’ own coverage of his hiring. Within hours, the Associated Press had picked up the story; in the last three days, I’ve seen the story in a dozen different papers, as far away as San Francisco. Word travels fast when there’s fear or hatred of sex offenders to be propagated.
When it’s anything else, though, there are only crickets. The formation of a nonprofit organization representing the families of former sex offenders and promoting media accountability? Not one bite. A study released by the U.S. Department of Justice on Dec. 1, indicating the risk assessment tools used to assign tier levels don’t accurately predict recidivism? Certainly not. A note to a journalist, correcting their claim of high sex offender recidivism and an offer to help write a more truthful follow-up story? No response. Where are the ethics in these scenarios?
Research and common sense dictates that the more stability a former sex offender has in their life, the less likely they are to re-offend. Employment is one of the most pertinent factors in attaining stability. Mr. Blaisdell is doing exactly what he is supposed to do — get a job, support himself and become a contributing member of society. He was honest and upfront about his conviction with his employers. Yet the media — besides The Times Argus, that is — only wants to tear him down.
If even the most successful former sex offender cannot move on with their life without being singled out, picked apart and forever defined by the worst mistake of their lives, where is the incentive for others to do the same? If anyone should be examining their ethics, it’s those who make their living by destroying others and perpetuating lies.
A focus on sex crime is not a bad thing. It’s a topic that impacts millions of American families, and one that desperately needs awareness and attention. But refusal to examine the entire truth and failure to heed facts only ensures there will always be more victims and families suffering the repercussions. As a society, we need to realize that while it may feel good to marginalize and ostracize former sex offenders, it does not solve the problem. Allowing them to re-integrate healthily is the best scenario for us all.
I applaud R. John Mitchell for doing what so many others in the media persistently choose not to do, and I wish Mr. Blaisdell success in his position. They are representative of the change that is so desperately needed in our world. Perhaps this is the beginning of a media dedicated to the truth instead of popularity, from which we will all benefit.
Shana Rowan is executive director of USA FAIR, Families Advocating an Intelligent Registry, a nonprofit group that represents the family members and children of former sex offenders, and that encourages effective, research-based legislation and media accountability. Their website is www.usafair.org.
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