Simon Says

Simon SaysSimon Says

NPR's Scott Simon Shares His Take On Events Large And Small

The People Vs. Child Molesters

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This is one of those weeks when reporters can and should talk about the economy, health care and topics, from Afghanistan to Zanzibar, that shouldn't have to break into crisis to make the news.

But most people are talking about Jaycee Dugard — understandably.

Dugard was reunited with her family last week, 18 years after she was kidnapped at a school bus stop. She was 11 years old. For almost two decades, she had been essentially enslaved and molested, allegedly by a convicted child predator, Phillip Garrido, who fathered two children by her.

I cringe to use the word "father." But there is simply not a satisfactory verb in English for creating a child through sexual assault.

Many people consider molesting a child the worst crime a human being can commit. You might be able to imagine how someone could be driven to murder. In fact, I've heard from quite a few people this week who say they are against capital punishment — but would gladly kill Garrido with their own hands if they had the chance. For most of us, the peculiar cruelty of raping a child is incomprehensible and unforgivable.

There is a catalog of outrages in this story. How did a man who wore a global positioning bracelet and was supposed to be supervised by a parole officer keep a girl he had kidnapped and two children living in tents behind his home for so many years?

In fact, twice sheriff's deputies had questioned Garrido after a neighbor called to say that he was a psychotic who had two children in his backyard. Deputies reportedly talked to him at his door — to warn him that occupied tents were against zoning laws.

There are more than a half-million names on sex offenders' registries in the United States. Not all cases are the same; few can be as ugly as Garrido's. But his raises an excruciating question: Sex offenders may serve their time in prison, but are they ever truly rehabilitated?

To put it in the most personal terms, which is what this story demands: Would you trust a paroled sex offender to live next-door to you — and your children?

In 1976, when Garrido kidnapped a woman, Katherine Hall, and raped her in a warehouse, a court psychiatrist said drugs might have triggered his behavior. Garrido was sent to prison for 50 years, which sounded as if he wouldn't get out until he was old and frail. But the law provides time off a sentence to encourage good behavior; Garrido was apparently a good prisoner. He served 11 years and came out when he was 37.

Just three years later, he kidnapped and molested Jaycee Dugard. The law — courts, police and parole officials — did better by Garrido than by the women and children he savaged.



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Simon Says

Simon SaysSimon Says

NPR's Scott Simon Shares His Take On Events Large And Small