Acquaintance is a child sex offender. What now?
March 24, 2013 8:00 AM   Subscribe

I recently learned that an acquaintance is a convicted child sex offender. What now?

CSO's offence relates to downloading pornographic images and both the offence and the sentence pre-date by years my involvement with the hobby group where CSO and I met. 

I only found out at all because CSO's internet use is still monitored and the police came to talk to me after the two of us connected recently on social media. 

The police seemed reassured by everything I said about my interactions with CSO over the past few years and they were really keen to emphasise the importance of preventing vigilanteism and keeping what I'd learned confidential. I on the other hand was not reassured and now that the initial shock is wearing off, I don't feel that I am coping well.

My hobby is seasonal, so I won't have to see CSO for some time yet, but what happens when I do? I'm currently suffering from anxiety over this that I'm not allowed to discuss with anybody. 

All the resources I've found have been aimed at victims of abuse or advice on reporting abusers to the police. Neither is relevant to my situation, but I feel ill-equipped to deal with this alone.

I would welcome links to more helpful online resources, stories of how people in similar situations have coped or anything else that might help me process this discovery and get my head straight before the season begins and I have to decide what to do.
posted by anonymous to Society & Culture (22 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
...what's the problem here? Seems like you just have to decide whether or not you should continue to socialize with this person. Which seems like an obvious decision given your reaction. What is it that you need help coping with? I'm not trying to be mean, but I'm not sure what kind of information you are looking for. Simply finding out that a person broke the law in a way that is especially socially unacceptable is shocking, yes, but perhaps having a talk with a therapist is in order? They wouldn't be able to break your confidence on the subject so you are in the clear there.
posted by two lights above the sea at 8:18 AM on March 24, 2013 [3 favorites]

I'm currently suffering from anxiety over this that I'm not allowed to discuss with anybody.

Wait, it's not true that you're not allowed to discuss this with anyone. I'm not sure what the police told you, if they intentionally misled you somehow, but you can absolutely discuss this with whoever you want. It would be something of a kindness to the person you're talking about not to discuss it with your hobby group, but, you don't have any kind of obligation not to do that.
posted by cairdeas at 8:24 AM on March 24, 2013 [7 favorites]

This is the first time you've found out that someone you come in contact with is a registered sex offender. If you did a search of your state's registry for your neighborhood, you would likely likely be alarmed by what you learn.

I can't tell you how to deal with it; it's really your choice but:

The police seemed reassured by everything I said about my interactions with CSO over the past few years and they were really keen to emphasise the importance of preventing vigilanteism and keeping what I'd learned confidential.
posted by BibiRose at 8:25 AM on March 24, 2013 [4 favorites]

My interpretation of "keep this confidential" is that it's fine to talk about this with a trusted friend. And I think you should absolutely talk about this with someone you trust to help process your thoughts and feelings.

I think the police would prefer that you don't alert the media, tell people in your hobby group, etc - but talking to someone you trust not to spread it further is in an entirely different category.
posted by insectosaurus at 8:26 AM on March 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

What exactly are your concerns? He's presumably paid his debt to society and unless your hobby intersects with children, and it doesn't seem to, I don't see an issue. I can see why you might find it shocking but anxiety over it doesn't seem necessary. I realize anxiety isn't something that you control but maybe you need to articulate what's bothering you.
posted by shoesietart at 8:30 AM on March 24, 2013 [5 favorites]

I think it would be reasonable to be concerned and take some sort of action if, say, a third friend was like, "oh, did I mention that CSO is going to be babysitting my children this weekend?" Otherwise I don't think there's anything to really do-- it'd be perfectly within reason to either continue having a relationship with him or not, according to your level of comfort.

I have a strong hunch that, all other things being equal, pedophiles who have hobbies and relationships with other adults are less likely to get into trouble than those who have no friends and nothing going on in their lives.
posted by threeants at 8:38 AM on March 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

I don't know if this will help at all, but sex offenders actually have lower reoffending rates than most other categories of criminals. I realize that it's difficult that you have an acquaintance who has a disturbing past like that, but if you had to pick a sex offender to know, one who was convicted of contraband possession is far better than, say, someone who actually victimized someone firsthand.

Also, it's ok to talk to people about this, just use your discretion. There are a lot more convicted criminals out there than you'll ever realize (people make the most bizarre admissions to me about their past once I tell them I work as a criminal defense attorney.)
posted by Happydaz at 8:39 AM on March 24, 2013 [3 favorites]

By highlighting the confidentiality thing above, I didn't mean to imply that you shouldn't speak with a therapist or a trusted friend to process your feelings. But telling your group or otherwise spreading it around would be continuing to penalize someone for something he has presumably been punished for already.

And also, you don't know much about what he did. Looking it up wouldn't necessarily help you in this. One of our neighbors is a registered offender. Comparing the news report from his arrest with his classification on the state's website is really confusing. The former makes it sound like he was downloading porn; the latter makes it sound like there was actual physical contact. (And skimming through other entries on the website, every single one was worded to sound pretty heinous.) I have no idea how many people in the neighborhood know about this guy's record, but no one seems to have a problem with him.
posted by BibiRose at 8:40 AM on March 24, 2013

Also not seeing a problem here. If you need therapy, get it. If you want to talk to somebody else about it, do so.
Re the police: Your conversations with others are none of their business, and they have no authority to instruct you on them. You also have no obligation to 'reassure' the police, or even speak with them if you don't want to.
Also, are you sure know exactly what this guy did, beyond a cop's verbal account? Many cops love to shock and titillate women with tall tales of the 'jungle' they patrol.
And keep in mind that 'registered sex offender' covers many things. In some states, a 16-year-old couple who exchange racy photos are both 'sex offenders' -- a brutish violation of both their rights, IMO.
posted by LonnieK at 8:46 AM on March 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

I feel ill-equipped to deal with this alone.

I don't really understand this, but you feel what you feel, so it's probably a good idea to talk to someone. Please see a therapist, or if you'd rather talk to a friend, make it someone who doesn't live locally/ know the person concerned. And use a pseudonym for the sex offender, for good measure.

I would welcome links to more helpful online resources, stories of how people in similar situations have coped or anything else that might help me process this discovery and get my head straight before the season begins and I have to decide what to do.

A personal friend of mine is a child sex offender. I am not, by any means, an apologist for child sex offenders; what he did was abhorrent. That said, and without going into details, I would bet every cent I own that he currently poses zero risk to any child. He has served a prison sentence, and is slowly clawing his way back to a semi-normal life after losing his job, his wife and his three little children. No one needs to 'do' any more to him.

Please, unless your hobby involves children, let sleeping dogs lie. Or change hobbies.
posted by Salamander at 8:51 AM on March 24, 2013 [6 favorites]

It sounds like you're just uneasy about finding out an acquaintance has a creepy past. Give yourself a little while to get over it and if you like, distance yourself from him without explaining.

You don't know what actually happened. It is possible that CSO didn't actually do anything foul. Unreasonable convictions do happen. On the other hand, he could have done something really awful and cut some kind of deal or plea bargain. You just don't know, and you probably will never know.

I think it's OK to talk about this with a friend who is not in your hobby group. If you spread this around your hobby group you will ruin CSO and that doesn't sound warranted from what you have said so far. (If he is seeking out opportunities to be alone with kids, or your org is an obvious means to this end, that's another story. In this case you should tell people.)
posted by mattu at 9:02 AM on March 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

[comment removed - this is not a post where we argue about how bad a CSO might or might not be. Absolutely do not make it one. Thank you.]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:14 AM on March 24, 2013

You can also try your local sexual assault center's line if you want to get this off your chest and/or get more info. It's free and easy and you can call right now. They'll also have referrals to relevant therapists, if you want to go that route.

It sounds like your hobbyist friend is working to have a normal life and do the right things post-offense - having a hobby and friends and basically other stuff going on in his life will help him to not re-offend. You don't personally have to be his friend, but please don't out him.
posted by momus_window at 9:18 AM on March 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

I would just distance myself from him, not be his friend, and keep an ear out if anyone in your group says anything about bringing children around him. Not sure what else to do beyond that.
posted by AppleTurnover at 9:23 AM on March 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

I think you can "keep it confidential" and still talk about it.

My rule of thumb for getting things off my chest when it involves information that could be damaging to someone else is to talk to someone who doesn't know and isn't ever likely to meet the person in question, and not name names. OR, fudge unimportant details just enough that they couldn't know who it was even if they did meet.

So ... you could call an out-of-state friend. Or get a drink with a friend who has no interest in your hobby and would never join that group.

You can also talk to someone who is bound by confidentiality, such as a minister or a therapist.
posted by bunderful at 10:17 AM on March 24, 2013

I have a CSO friend who I believe is innocent but plead guilty on the advice of his lawyer to avoid a trial and the accompanying publicity. (This was before the age of google--he now says he'd risk the trial since he gets the publicity anyway). My point is that this is an area in which society creates a lot of hysteria and you have no idea of the actual situation. Maybe he actually downloaded images or maybe he clicked on something that did it for him and maybe he plead guilty to keep his computer from being impounded as evidence. I'm not suggesting you hire him as a babysitter, but I don't see anything to be concerned about here.
posted by Obscure Reference at 10:25 AM on March 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

From my own personal experience of working with CSOs in their post-conviction life I would suggest that if possible continue the same level of engagement in the relationship. Helping them have a normal life is a good thing - presuming all appropriate debts to society are paid and the individual in question wants to live a normal life. The problem for these people is that they come to be defined by their past and that creates a barrier for moving on into a better future. If you can help then your effort and friendship will be very valuable...

However, this may not be possible for you. We each have our own limits of what we can cope with when it comes to knowing stuff about other people's pasts and dealing with those things in the present. Our knowledge can cloud every interaction - whether we want it to or not. Some people can compartmentalise stuff and shove something like this out of the way mentally, others can't - no value judgement implied or intended. If you decide to put some distance in the relationship as others have suggested, don't feel guilty for doing so. Feeling anxious is, I think, normal in this kind of situation when you're faced with something that is quite outside of your everyday experience - don't beat yourself up.

And as others have said, talking to a good friend who is unrelated to the hobby group, away from the situation, moderately wise and who can be trusted to be discrete would be a good idea if only so that you don't feel alone. Whether they have good advice to offer maybe doesn't matter so much.
posted by IncognitoErgoSum at 10:55 AM on March 24, 2013 [10 favorites]

Sometime ago I hired a CSO who had been convicted of trying make face to face contact which someone underage he'd met on the internets who turned out to be cop. He shared it with me and my initial reaction was eeoooww. Fast forward to the fact that in the present, he is a stalwart human being who made a mistake and in some ways has finer personality traits than I ever will. I would agree with those who say the problem is probably not the CSO but our own judgementalism.

On the other hand, as far as the police go, I think they might have been conducting their own investigation of whether his social media contacts might be SP's themselves. I'd be sort of POed about that. I will never live in fear of guilt by association. You owe the police no confidentiality whatsoever.
posted by Xurando at 11:27 AM on March 24, 2013

I also think calling a sexual assault center's hotline is a great idea. They are not just for direct victims of abuse, the counselors also are quite happy to help out other people harmed by these crimes. Also, if you think it would be beneficial, I don't see any reason why you can't discuss this with a friend, but I think speaking to a professional (or volunteer) experienced in these matters would provide a greater benefit to you. I presume you are in the USA - perhaps one of the MeFite lawyers can weigh in, but I don't think it's the case that you're legally "not allowed" to talk about this. It just sounds like the police would prefer you didn't since that can cause more harm than good for everyone involved (and likely more work for the police in terms of answering more inquiries).

It sounds like this visit from the police has deeply unsettled you. I am sorry for that, but don't feel bad for having the feelings you do. You're not obliged to be anyone's friend to help them have a normal life. We are all entitled to have our own boundaries of friendship. For example, I wouldn't happily maintain a friendship with someone who committed fraud.

For what it's worth, I would also find this unsettling and would re-examine my relationship with the person.

One thing that comes to mind is that maybe some reading about how people cope with bad or evil things in the world may help you - I am thinking of something like Elie Wiesel's Night. It's often not enough to shrug and say, "yup, there are some dastardly people in the world." Even if the crime didn't directly affect you outside of this police visit, it's ok that you need to think about it and "process" your feelings.

Someone I used to be close to was prosecuted for sexual assault. The crimes (yes, crimes) were committed during the time we were close. I was not one of the victims, and the person's family asked me to be a character witness during sentencing. I couldn't do it - I wouldn't do it. It didn't matter to me that the person had been nice to me - in fact I think I had somehow sidestepped being Victim # 15 or whatever. The family and other friends were pretty mad at me for not "helping" this person, but ... you know, I was more concerned for the victims. I had a lot of complicated feelings about the whole thing for years and never really talked about it until recently.
posted by stowaway at 11:35 AM on March 24, 2013 [7 favorites]

What is unsettling about this is not only that you found this out about your acquaintance, but the way you found out. I mean, most people would be pretty upset at getting a visit from the police to find out if they were a CSO. That's upsetting.

I don't know if you can predict how dangerous this person is, or suchlike. I will point out that if the police are interviewing his friends they probably are doing so because they think he might reoffend. I can't imagine the police have tons of spare resources to follow up on everybody who's on the sex offender registry. In fact I'm pretty sure they don't. Nobody's monitoring the registries after all, people on the sex offender registry move all the time without letting the registry know about a change of address. I would be thinking about this even without contemplating becoming a vigilante or inhibiting someone's normal life.

I don't know what you would do differently, but it's a consideration. I guess that in your place I would continue to interact with him but view every interaction in the light of this information. If he started getting close to anyone else in the group I would start investigating whether that other person had children or was close to children in some indirect way.
posted by tel3path at 11:54 AM on March 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

In the course of my work (which isn't specifically related to crimes/sex offenders, but is a service industry) I've had interactions with two CSOs, one still in prison and the other one on a kind of supervised release - comes into my workplace with a "minder". The one who was still in prison was more disturbing because the interaction had to do with the crime he'd been convicted of committing. I also made the mistake of reading a book that had been written about his particular crime, which had attracted a lot of media attention, so I knew far too much for comfort. The second one makes requests that have nothing to do with the crime and which I find interesting in their own right.

With both I behave(d) professionally. The first, who is still in prison, doesn't make requests anymore, or if he does they don't come to me. The second still does. I am aware that because I find him distasteful on a personal level, I overcompensate to a degree by being a bit extra helpful, but OTOH I would also do that for anyone whose requests I found interesting. I also go and wash my hands after I've had to deal with him; I know it doesn't change anything but as a cleansing ritual it seems to help.

In both cases, it helped to talk to colleagues in a non-gossipy way, and I agree with those who have suggested you do need to talk to someone close and trusted - whether a professional or a friend. I would suggest not trying to find out more about what your CSO acquaintance did, as more knowledge is sometimes not a good thing and it keeps it more at the forefront of your mind in any interactions. If you continue to feel uncomfortable and you can minimise interaction, that's probably a good way to go.

I agree with IncognitoErgoSum's comment that everyone reacts differently. As long as you behave in a way that leaves you nothing to reproach yourself for, I don't think there's anything wrong with you if you can't ever quite forget or stop feeling uncomfortable around this person.
posted by Athanassiel at 4:35 PM on March 24, 2013

I work with CSOs every day. Some of the advice above is um-inaccurate at best. Some of it is great, I think.

CSOs reoffense rates are high. If you have children or this hobby includes children, they can't be around him. Period. To put it bluntly, orgasm is a very strong re-enforcer of behavior, and compulsive sexual behavior is very, very difficult to successfully treat.

On the other hand, any pro-social activities for criminal folks is a good thing. It helps people reintegrate and makes it much less likely they'll just say "fuck it" and go back to their bad old ways.

In short-don't believe anything he tells you about his crime. The odds are 10:1 he will completely minimize (every single CSO I meet tells the same bullshit story about how they thought the girl was 18, even though she was 12, and they pled guilty just because their attorney sucked/they were trying to save her from testifying); allow no access to children; never let him use your computer or smartphone for "just a second"; and be a cordial, supportive person in his life when appropriate.
posted by purenitrous at 7:38 PM on March 24, 2013 [5 favorites]

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