Sure there have always been child predators out there, preying on the innocent, destroying lives, but does anyone doubt that there are more of them today than in the past? And do we ever ask ourselves why that might be? What is it about our modern society that makes grown men want to seek sexual gratification from children? And why do we make it so easy for them to do so?
These questions swirled through my mind as I read the latest sordid tale of a child predator ring exposed. In Surprise, Ariz., last week, a 29-year-old sex offender, Neil H. Rodreick II, was arrested after posing as a seventh grader and attending school there for four months. He enrolled in a local charter school with the help of another sex offender who posed as his uncle.
The two men, along with two others, lived in a rented, three-bedroom house, where neighbors thought they were just another unconventional family -- a boy, his uncle, grandfather, and male cousin sharing a home. In our ever-so-tolerant fashion, we'd never think of questioning such an odd "family." What, no mom, no aunt, no grandmother in the house? Think nothing of it. Or if you do, keep your thoughts to yourself lest you expose your bigotry.
Thus our phony "tolerance" allows predators to live openly among us.
And while child predators are living next door, make sure we give them free rein to pursue their twisted desires. Let's be careful what controls we place on the Internet that might endanger their ready access to child pornography or make it harder for them to troll for young boys. After all, the First Amendment was written to protect even the child molesters among us -- or so the courts seem to be telling us.
In fact, not only should adults be able to download pornographic images on their home computers, we should guarantee their right to do so in public libraries. It's as if the courts have stipulated: "You have the right to pornography. If you cannot afford to purchase pornography, it will be provided for you at your local library at public expense."
Taxpayers may not object that their taxes subsidize such activity. Nor may parents protest that such policies put their children at risk of exposure to disgusting images -- or worse. The only compromise most public libraries will make to such finicky morality is to provide "privacy screens" on computers that make it difficult to see what is on view at neighboring terminals.
Even this concession is provided mostly for the benefit of those who wish to view pornography. The screens are there to protect the viewer's privacy, not the rights of those who might be offended or harmed by the images. And if the pornographic images don't sate the predator's appetite and he decides to snatch a real child, well, who's to blame? Surely not the courts or any of the other enablers.
Three of the four men arrested in Arizona last week were convicted sex offenders. The fourth, although never convicted of a sex crime, "met" the 29-year-old Rodreick, who was posing as an adolescent at the time, through the Internet. The four men concocted the ruse to enroll Rodreick in school so that they might meet other boys. Rodreick is under investigation in three states for similar schemes.
It is not yet known how successful they were, though reportedly at least one videotaped encounter of a local boy engaging in sex acts with Rodreick was discovered at the house occupied by the men. No doubt these predators thought they would have easy pickings among young boys they would meet at school and church.
Lt. Van Gillock of the El Reno, Okla., police department, another venue where Rodreick allegedly posed as a 12-year-old, explained to The New York Times the dilemma law enforcement faces in uncovering these crimes, "With boys it's a really tough deal. If they did it voluntarily, they have the stigma of homosexuality, and if it's forced, well, boys are supposed to be tough. "
What Lt. Gillock doesn't say is that we've failed in our duty to protect these children. Instead, we've made them vulnerable to the predators next door.