When New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer was caught using a prostitution service, the irony was that he was a tough-on-prostitution politician. He took pride in locking up the same kind of people he is said to have done $80,000 worth of business with. He supported "tougher laws" to imprison customers like him.
In his statement to the news media, Spitzer called the scandal a "private matter." Good point. Adults' paying for sex ought to be a private matter, but when Spitzer was attorney general, he didn't consider paid sex private. He's one of many politicians who were eager to punish others for doing what he did.
What's going on here? Maybe these men want to punish others for acting on the same forbidden impulses they know they can't control themselves?
Rep. Mark Foley of Florida was a big advocate of punishing any adult who had sex with minors. "They're sick people; they need mental health counseling," he shouted.
But then ABC News caught Foley sending sexual instant messages to minors.
Politicians should cut back on their grandstanding, says Arizona public defender Chris Phillis, because while it's bad enough to call what consenting adults do "sex crimes," it's even worse to criminalize kids who do what kids have always done.
Phillis, who defends teens accused of sex crimes, says common sexual experimentation is now prosecuted. "If a 15-year-old touches a 13-year-old, touches their breasts, they are now guilty of a felony crime. And I would love to tell you that 13-year-olds aren't engaging in this conduct. I have a 13-year-old. But telling you that isn't going to change the fact."
The Centers for Disease Control reports that 25 percent of America's 15-year-olds say they've have had sex. Nearly 40 percent of 16-year-olds and almost half the 17-year-olds say they have. All are under Arizona's age of consent, which prompted Senate committee chairwoman Karen Johnson to try to change Arizona's sex-offender laws. She wanted to give kids a break.
But the political winds are not on her side. Few politicians want to spend political capital weakening sex-crime laws -- even when such laws have horrendous unintended consequences.
Arizona's Speaker of the House Jim Weiers defends Arizona's tough laws, saying that if you are a sex offender, "Arizona is becoming very quickly known as a state you don't want to stay in." But Weiers acknowledges that Arizona's sex-offender registry has 15,000 names on it.
I asked him how putting young people who engaged in noncoercive sex play on Arizona's registry protects the public. "I don't know if it does. ... You can't take each and every individual ... "