The kids are not alright. Why not?

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What makes a child happy?

Heretic TOC readers, thoughtful and Kind in all senses, as I believe you generally are, will see this as an important question. So it should trouble us that a recent Children’s Society report found a decline in children’s happiness in the UK over the last decade as judged by a range of factors affecting their sense of wellbeing, such as whether they are being bullied at school, or neglected at home, or even whether, in food bank Britain, they are going hungry.

Not a care in the world… for now

Anxiety about their job prospects, the state of the environment and their own future mental health were also raised as issues in the survey of children aged 10-17, published as The Good Childhood Report 2019. Over the last 14 years around 67,000 young people have been involved in the society’s research programme, which comprises quantitative surveys alongside classroom consultations, focus groups and interviews.

It may be recalled that H-TOC took its own in-depth look at children’s mental health in a three-part blog under the “driving kids crazy” heading three years ago. See here, here and here. Key themes from that trilogy will be touched on below but first let’s take a look at this latest survey. For a broad overview of the statistics there is perfectly adequate coverage in the Guardian. Rather than reviewing the whole survey, though, I think it will be more illuminating to focus on a single aspect for what it says about the approach taken, which I will argue is sophisticated and has produced important results to which political attention should certainly be paid, but…

There are important matters on which the report is utterly silent.

Let’s start, though, by giving credit where it’s due. For instance, the survey has an in-depth analysis of children’s worries about the future, part of which is detailed in Figure 9 of the summary report. The anxieties listed in this chart, notably worrying about the future state of the environment, will probably strike us as entirely rational. Far from showing there is anything wrong with the kids, the extensive concern over this topic (over three quarters being at least a little worried) shows they are intelligently alert to the real dangers of climate change, plastic pollution and so on – an alertness increasingly witnessed in mass demonstrations such as we saw just a couple of days ago.

If there is any misplaced anxiety it appears to be not the children’s but the Children’s Society’s. The report says “it is the extent of children’s worry that is of most concern” and “It is important that we acknowledge these worries, monitor them and respond to them in order to reduce the amount of worry children are experiencing and promote positive well-being.” What we should all be worried about, surely, is tackling and solving the problems in question, not worrying about whether kids worry about them.

A separate chart (Figure 8: see below) sets out the children’s anxieties about their own futures, including their school grades, university admission, jobs, having enough money and somewhere to live, mental health and physical well being. What the survey very usefully did in this regard was to look beyond the overall figures. There was an additional focus on the minority of children (1 in 9 of them) whose other survey responses indicated they had low life satisfaction. These were significantly more worried about all seven aspects of their future than other children.

This sub-analysis revealed that the largest gap in worries was for future mental health. Children who currently had low life satisfaction were almost three times as likely to be quite or very worried about their future mental health as other children. Now that really is a worry, especially in relation to other studies – previously discussed, as I say, in Heretic TOC – that disclose real reasons to be concerned over children’s actual rather than just future mental health, as shown in findings of extensive self-harming, depression and suicidality.

Again to their credit, the Children’s Society does go on to address the implications of its findings for society at large, pointing out, for instance:

Record investment in NHS mental health services for children is accompanied by massive cuts to children’s social care. More children go to outstanding schools than ever before at the same time as unprecedented food bank use by families struggling to put meals on the table. We are not seeing children and young people in the round.

Also, the Children’s Society has focused this time solely on children’s own views and feelings rather than letting parents or others speak for them. They say:

…young people need to be heard, but without them being able to vote how do we ensure that their views are taken seriously and acted upon? There are lots of approaches in policy-making that could be used to achieve this – from more passive options like advisory boards and impact assessments, to more active ones like participatory budgeting, citizen assemblies, and co-production in service design.

All good stuff. Sensible, imaginative suggestions, although a reduction in the voting age should be considered as well.

So much for the good news. But now we need to put our radical, critical, hat on and start thinking in earnest. The sense I get from the report is that it has successfully located a problem – children’s increasing unhappiness – but that the questions it is posing are too limited, with the result that the data the survey has come up with tell us more about symptoms than causes.

For instance, the “cyber” factor (see Figure 9, summary report) focused on children’s worries about personal information being shared online. This is unquestionably a serious issue, especially for teenagers in connection with cyber-bullying, which can have devastating consequences, not least when intimate photos intended for just one recipient are put on general view by that person, whether to show off or as an act of revenge following rejection in a relationship.

So the problem is well known. It did not take a survey for us to hear about it. The problems to which the online world has given rise tend to be the focus of intense scrutiny and (often justified) anxiety simply because the technology is so new and constantly changing. The temptation in these circumstances in to blame the tech and overlook the deeper reasons why kids might be behaving viciously towards each other. Same with the fear of crime that features so strongly in these figures, being right up there with environmental worries as a major concern. While many British children live in reasonably safe circumstances, others do not, especially those suffering multiple disadvantages in areas of squalid, run-down housing, low incomes, and a drugs and gang culture increasingly associated with a spectacular increase in knife attacks.

Now the observation that children – or anyone – stuck in a bad environment will behave badly is hardly a great revelation either. There is actually a long tradition, going back well over a hundred years, of social surveys linking deprivation to depravity in one form or another, with Henry Mayhew and Charles Booth as early pioneers focusing on the poor of London in Victorian times.

Interestingly, the Children’s Society has always been a part of that tradition, having been founded by Sunday School teacher Edward Rudolf as the Church of England Central Home for Waifs and Strays, in 1881, after he had seen for himself “the brutal effects of poverty on the lives of children”. Over the years, the society appears to have made commendable efforts to keep up with the times in identifying and meeting the needs of disadvantaged children, starting with children’s homes, then going on to become a major adoption agency and now offering a wide range of support services.

But then, in the society’s online history, we find a hint that heretics here might not see entirely eye to eye with them:

The charity’s direct practice now focuses on vulnerable children and young people aged 10 to 18 – including children who have been sexually exploited, children in care and young refugees.

It is, of course, the focus on “sexual exploitation” that will raise our suspicions. Yes, some children are sexually exploited and, yes, their needs should be addressed. But what we have reason to suspect is that this churchy outfit has a long history of attitudes shared with the prudish, sexually restrictive social purity movement that succeeded in pushing for an increased age of consent in the same decade as the Children’s Society had its beginnings.

Accordingly, we need not be surprised when we find – as we do – that asking the children about their feelings and opinions, and ensuring that “their views are taken seriously and acted upon” does not extend to putting any questions in the survey about how happy or unhappy they are over their sexual desires and frustrations.

Nor are the children asked any questions that might seem to encourage them to aspire to real freedom and choice in their lives in ways that might imperil the timid, over-protective, health and safety culture of our times – even though, as I believe, along with such thoughtful commentators as sociologist Frank Furedi and Free Range Kids founder Lenore Skenazy, the most profound underlying reason for children’s unhappiness as they grow beyond dependent infancy is the restrictions unreasonably placed on them these days.

Indulgence: not the same as happiness. With thanks to a Guardian Weekend magazine cover for a feature titled “A greedy person’s guide to summer”

Not that children are necessarily aware of what they are missing. They are not like ardent Brexiteers who feel they have lost out and demand to Take Back Control. Parents, teachers and other adults have always been firmly in charge of these young lives. So 10-year-olds, or even most teenagers, will be unaware of earlier eras when kids could venture far and wide on their own, or with their mates. They won’t realise that being held prisoners in their own bedrooms with only a virtual reality world for comfort denies their birthright to grow and mature through interaction with real reality – a reality that includes nature in all its wonder and also teeming, exciting urban life, with its people of all ages, all genders (more than two these days!), and all sorts of characters, a few of whom will be downright dangerous to mix or mess with, but most will prove friendly, interesting, helpful and educative.

Accordingly, because youngsters largely don’t know what they are missing, and how much fuller life could be, they are unlikely to notice that the Children’s Society, and others such as the Children’s Commissioner, make great play of the need to listen to the views of the young but tend to avoid asking kids anything that might tempt them to make an escape bid from their virtual prisons.

Steering clear of such questions might seem the responsible thing to do. After all, as the conventional wisdom has it, kids need to be protected from their own naivety and from falling into bad company. But how well is that going right now? Cocooned in their sedentary domestic cells, youngsters are getting fat and unfit, which brings its own serious risks of diabetes, heart disease and other life-threatening ills. Meanwhile, drug lords run rings around the “protective” system anyway, recruiting the most vulnerable teenagers and even younger kids to do their dirty work for them as “county lines” dealers.

There is a case to be made that the best protection policy would be two-fold: (1) focus on reducing the child poverty and other forms of deprivation that make some children very open to exploitation; this should be very do-able in our fundamentally wealthy but very unequal society; (2) allow kids to become streetwise – or, rather, to become shrewd judges of character and life’s pitfalls –  through gradual exposure to the world beyond their home in such places as youth clubs. There used to be far more of them in the UK, before all the “austerity” of recent years. And they did a good job.

None of these observations of mine will come as a surprise to heretics here, so let me end with something a bit more intellectually challenging, that could take us all out of our comfort zone.

Do children need to be happy? Or, rather, do they need to think about their own happiness? The pursuit of happiness is famously written into the US Declaration of Independence as an inalienable right. But whether we become happy by pursuing happiness is a very doubtful proposition. Arguably, many adults in our consumer society are encouraged to worship a false god, hoping to make themselves happy through buying ever more “stuff” – material goods we do not really need. So to encourage children to fuss over their own happiness, by asking them to rate it, might just be gratuitously making them self-centred and potentially greedy. Even kids’ excessive agonising over their own appearance, leading to such problems as anorexia and other manifestations of “body dysmorphia”, might be part of a related problem.

I came across a fascinating article the other day by Peter Stearns, a specialist in the history of emotions. “Happy Children: A Modern Emotional Commitment”, reveals, as the title suggests, that focusing on children’s happiness is really a very recent concern, and is still not a feature of all cultures. Children’s birthday parties, for instance, were a mid-19th-century innovation. As for birthday gifts, when they first started the birthday boy or girl was expected to give the presents, not receive them! In his opening paragraph the author says, “Explaining the intensification of the happiness commitment also reveals some of the downsides of this aspect of popular emotional culture, for example in measurably complicating reactions to childish unhappiness.”

While I make no recommendation that we should return to an era of indifference towards children’s happiness, it may be that we should be more concerned with their wider well being, including such factors as whether they are developing worthwhile goals in life. What do you think?

 

BURSTING WITH AMBITION

A lighter note to end on now. A young research psychologist had occasion to mention an amusing encounter in his childhood online recently. I’ll leave him to tell the story in his own words:

My grandmother used to take me to Pride every year. We’d sit on two little blue-green chairs together, enjoying the spectacle. One of my favourite things was picking up the condoms that would be tossed by some of the floats, and then filling them with water, and then dropping them from the third floor of my grandmother’s building. You’d be surprised how much water a condom can contain before it BURSTS.

As I was gathering up as many condoms as my little hands could carry, I have a memory of a well muscled shirtless man handing me a few more condoms and warmly saying, “Well aren’t you ambitious!”

 

 

Acceptable danger: the sky is the limit?

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Scariest school run

Paranoid parenting and the “protective” coddling of cotton wool kids are rightly being challenged these days even from such a professionally risk-averse source as Britain’s Health and Safety Executive. Over-protection has made children prisoners in their own homes and led to an epidemic of obesity. It renders them timid and fragile as well: even mild criticism is enough for the snowflake generation to fall to pieces, and the intolerance of robust debate among students of this mindset has become so debilitating as to present a grave threat to free speech.

In the face of these alarming trends there is increasingly a consensus that a bit of adventure in childhood is healthy, and is needed in order to grow towards real maturity. But where are the limits to be set? And on what basis?

A glance at the above photo of what has been dubbed the world’s scariest school run, in China, is enough to remind us that too much is sometimes demanded of children, rather than too little. In this case children as young as six from Atuler village in Sichuan province have to scale a sheer rockface over 2000-feet high to get home from school, using rickety ladders. But this isn’t even  the most dangerous part, which is an exposed path on the cliff without a vine ladder. A number of kids have slipped. And, yes, fallen to their deaths. But this is a poor part of the country; without an education and job prospects the future of every pupil would be bleak: just as the cliff punishes error without mercy, there is even now in this modern “Communist” country no universal welfare safety net to break their fall into hunger and malnutrition, which afflicts up to 15% of the population. Life may have been more secure for many in the days of “cradle to grave” workplace support in state enterprises, before the reforms of the late 1970s.

So, horrific as this climbing ordeal is, the risk-taking is rational in the circumstances. It is simply a harsh necessity for the villagers, not unlike the fierce training and initiation rites of young warriors in tribal societies constantly at war with each other. In those societies, where the warriors depend for their lives on the strength, skill, endurance and courage of their comrades, the apprenticeship often seems more gruelling than the warfare itself, featuring rituals than can involve being beaten, slashed and scarred, circumcised, sub-incised (don’t ask: it’s hideous), brutally raped, and made to leap over pits full of sharpened stakes. So, not only must children face danger bravely but these ordeals also have the effect of weeding out the weak. It is an education system in which failing your exams means death – and in many places, such as ancient Sparta, the weeding out started at birth, when puny-looking babies were simply left on a mountainside to die.

But if exposing children to danger is inevitable in societies with fewer viable options than our own, what are we to make of embracing serious risk when it is not necessary? Spain, for instance, is a wealthy modern country. There is high unemployment right now but people are materially quite secure and well-fed. Their last war was generations ago, in the 1930s; they do not need to train children for physical courage. Yet they have some very lively traditions that do make such demands, including the “castells” of Catalonia, these being human towers up to more than 30ft high, typically topped by a child, who may be only five years old, or even four. This crowning glory of the castell, or castle, is called the enxaneta. The origin of the name is lost in obscurity but one suggestion is that it comes from a regional word meaning  “little arrow”, or the tip of an arrow.

Castell

What is far more certain is that the child enxaneta who daringly climbs so high and so precariously invariably shoots an arrow of pride into the heart of his – or her – community.  It is pride that belongs to them all, for it takes a takes a whole village or town to provide the manpower, organisation, cooperation, skill, community spirit, determination and sheer courage out of which these towers are built. Both the pride and the courage are supremely symbolised in the enxaneta’s triumphant final act at the summit, which is to raise one hand aloft with all fingers spread, a gesture evoking the stripes of the Catalan flag.

Make no mistake, these towers are dangerous. The Catalonia Department of Culture has sponsored a FAQ claiming serious injuries are rare, based on an estimated collapse rate of the towers of only 3%; but you don’t need to know much about gravity to understand that bodies tumbling down on top of each other from a great height will do so with fearsome force. The words promoting a documentary film on the towers gives a more realistic impression:

Human towers are medicine for the soul. You risk your life for a moment of sublime camaraderie and community. Trust is paramount. All it takes is one shaky foot and the entire tower falls, sending you and hundreds of others tumbling into the air, onto each other and then onto the pavement.

You risk your life. The life of a child enxaneta is at risk. This is no exaggeration. A child died in 1983. More recently, Mariona Galindo, aged twelve, died of head injuries after falling from a nine-storey human tower at her home town of Mataró, north-east Spain in 2006. As for broken bones, they must surely be a more common occurrence.

But this level of risk is apparently fine by the Spanish authorities. And the United Nations, committed to upholding children’s rights (Article 6, right to “survive and develop healthily”;  Article 19, right to be protected “from being hurt and mistreated”; Article 36, right to be protected from any activity that “could harm their welfare”) has explicitly said the human towers are A-OK: the UN cultural agency UNESCO has declared the castells to be part of the “intangible cultural heritage of humanity”, no less.

Quite right too, in my view, although I am sure I would be struggling with the idea as a parent. I would die of anxiety if a kid of mine were taking part, in fact I am pretty sure I would be too scared to let it happen. The first  word that came into my mind when I saw that word enxaneta was anxiety: surely it had to mean “the anxious one”, or else the one whose parents were worried sick, praying on the sidelines, unable to watch.

Tough one, isn’t it? But a quick calculation based on the festival schedules shows that if you make allowance for practice runs there must be thousands of castells built each year, and my estimate from this is that in terms of the death rate, at least, they are only slightly more dangerous, if at all, than children’s exposure to road traffic accidents. Every death on the roads is tragic, of course, but going back to a society with no motor traffic would inevitably entail leaving behind many benefits of the modern world as well as its perils.

We could do without castells more easily, but just look at their positive side. Just think what it must be like for the successful enxaneta, basking in the glow of parental and communal pride! Just imagine the excitement, the sense of having really lived that day, and the confidence they would take from such a magnificent achievement. They will take away a belief that “I can do it”, a mindset of huge benefit when brought to all sorts of new challenges, be it learning how to cook, or swim, or even playing a musical instrument and mastering tough maths. Such self-belief is priceless, and it may last a lifetime. That is surely a prize worth having.

Is there a message for (or about) Kind people in this?  I think there is, because children’s abilities and confidence on their journey towards maturity will be enhanced or held back depending on the degree to which they are allowed to explore and discover things for themselves, both in their geographical environment – breaking out of the domestic prison into their town and country surroundings – and their social environment, meeting and engaging with new people, including Kind ones.

As Lenore Skenaze, founder of Free-Range Kids, has pointed out, parents who allow this are not irresponsibly taking risks. The risks in reality are vanishingly low, while the attempt by helicopter parents to eliminate all hazards from their kids’ lives can actually leave them more vulnerable to harm because such parenting leaves children helpless as babies. Even the most vigilant  “helicopter” cannot be airborne constantly, so where’s the protection in the downtime?

Skenaze was dubbed The World’s Worst Parent after allowing her nine-year-old  son to ride the New York subway on his own in 2009. But then she wrote a book Free-Range Kids: How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children (Without Going Nuts with Worry) explaining why allowing kids some independence makes sense. And now there is a burgeoning Free-Range Parenting movement.

“A lot of parents today,” Skenazy says on her website, “see no difference between letting their kids walk to school and letting them walk through a firing range. Any risk is seen as too much risk. But if you try to prevent every possible danger or difficulty in your child’s everyday life, that child never gets a chance to grow up. We parents have to realize that the greatest risk of all just might be trying to raise a child who never encounters choice or independence.”

She has a lot of sensible things to say about how Stranger Danger has been over-hyped, and she has even had the courage to point out that very few strangers, even when they are registered as sex offenders, are dangerous types of the kind who might kidnap and rape a child. Also, as she says in her website FAQ, the confident, independent youngster who is used to talking to strangers, will be much better equipped to smell a rat if some guy is trying to lure them into the back of a van. For one thing, they won’t be afraid to yell out and appeal for help to another stranger, knowing full well that most people are OK and would be keen to stop an abduction – and that goes for Kind people too.

*****

Enxaneta: This documentary produced by Televisió de Catalunya is not in English but the spectacular tower-building action speaks for itself, and the emphasis is on the highest climbers: the kids who reach the top.

Forces of Nature Taster This brief trailer related to the BBC’s Forces of Nature programmes features seven-year-old enxaneta Carla. The cinematography is superb, as might be expected from a prestigious BBC science documentary series.

Forces of Nature with Brian Cox – 1. The Universe in a Snowflake This is the full one-hour programme in which renowned physicist Dr Brian Cox uncovers how the diversity of shapes in the natural world reflect the rules that govern the universe. In Spain he shows how an attempt by hundreds of people to build the highest human tower reveals the force of gravity and how human bodies can be organised to counteract it, briefly but in fine style. The entire programme is well worth watching but the human towers sequence starts around five minutes in and lasts about seven minutes.

 

 

International Megan’s Law faces challenge

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David Kennerly today updates the theme of his June 2014 guest blog Techno-tethering globalises oppression. The news is not good. International Megan’s Law, a nightmare piece of legislation, was signed last month by U.S. president Barack Obama. But, as David reports, a grassroots fightback is already  underway, and a legal challenge has been launched that could go all the way to the Supreme Court.

 

A battle is lost but resistance is mobilized

We lost the battle, brewing for some eight years in Congress, which will effectively stop those of us, U.S. “registered sex offenders”, from venturing outside our own countries. The enactment of International Megan’s Law is not the end of the war, however, as we are fighting back against this injustice in the courts and, to the extent that we wield any influence, in the media.

The bill was signed into law by President Obama February 8th of this year and will stoke the fire under the simmering cauldron which “child sex offenders” inhabit and further diminish our already depleted portfolio of rights.

To capsulize the highlights of the law (and which I see as the nadir of a once free society):

  • It will criminalize the act of traveling outside the U.S. without prior notice and permission from the government. Ten year terms in federal prison await those of us who fail to do so.
  • It will obligate the Department of Homeland Security to notify foreign governments of the anticipated travel of U.S. “child sex offenders” and encourage those governments to do what they will with that information, whether that be to slam the door in our faces or something even worse.
  • It will obligate the Department of State to revoke the passports of U.S. “sex offenders” and require them to reapply for new ones with a designation affixed to each indicating that its bearer is a “sex offender”. [Note: this provision is not limited to “child sex offenders” but includes all “sex offenders”]

There are a number of other details, none of which ameliorate the law to our advantage, which provide a structure for carrying out this mission or which specify the information which the “sex offender” must provide before travel, such as detailed itineraries, purpose for travel, places one intends to stay, etc.

So much for spontaneity in travel! Of course, that assumes that there are countries which will let us in the door in the first place.

Here’s the funny thing: perhaps the most important aspect of this law, notification of foreign governments of the intended travel by U.S. “sex offenders”, has already been the practice of the U.S. Government for some three years. The U.S. has been issuing these foreign notifications, in the absence of any clear authority to do so, and Registrant travelers have already been turned away in droves by many countries, some of which have, coincidentally, explicitly (and very recently) announced laws forbidding “sex offenders” from entering their countries.

So, the peculiar thing about this new law is that we already have a very good sense of how it will play out and the results, so far, aren’t pretty, with many Registrants facing humiliating refusals at foreign ports of entry and being made to get on the first returning flights to the U.S.

Exceptions to those countries routinely turning away all Registrants, however, appear to be some Western European countries such as The Netherlands and France (but not the U.K., of course). Many other countries, particularly Asian and Latin American countries, as well as Russia, have joined with the U.K. in refusing entry to U.S. “sex offenders”.

The eerily-named governmental consortium called “The Five Eyes”, which consists of the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia and New Zealand, had already been turning away each others’ “sex offenders” for many years now, a fact which provides some strong clues as to the origin of this more recent global expansion of the policy of internal exile for “sex offenders”.

The critical component which is facilitating this world-wide travel ban is the international police agency, INTERPOL, which has openly lobbied for such bans. This is an agency which deserves far more scrutiny than it once did when it was mostly a sleepy backwater in danger of complete irrelevance. It has been completely made-over by the most powerful governments who comprise its membership and the new Interpol is very muscular and frightening, indeed. If ever there were an entity deserving of a full-on paranoid conspiracy theory, Interpol would be it.

The only way that we know anything about the fallout from our government’s extant policy of notifying foreign governments of U.S. Registrants’ travel (which predates the recent law, not yet in effect) is from the message boards at California RSOL where a number of us started discussing this looming issue some three or four years ago.

The only way we knew which countries were barring us was by simply attempting to travel to those countries and then reporting back to the CARSOL discussion forum. The U.S. government neither informed us ahead of time that it had begun notifying foreign governments of our “sex offender” status nor did it provide any reports of which countries had been refusing us entry.

We are preparing a country-by-country matrix based upon those attempted travel experiences which will be available shortly. Nevertheless, the information in that report will exist only because individual Registrants reported their experiences to the CARSOL message board and that information will almost certainly not be complete.

If this is sounding a bit like a grassroots effort to fight back against an ugly, unfolding (and uncommunicative) juggernaut aimed precisely at us, then you are right.

From what I can tell, our group, alone, has been gathering the appalling details of this secretive regimen and exposing it to the light of day although we now have the satisfaction in knowing that they are beginning to be known more widely, thanks to a handful of media reports.

I am encouraged by the individuals or publications which have begun to respond critically to IML such as Lenore Skenazy (Free Range Kids), David Post (of the Volokh Conspiracy, now part of the Washington Post), Reason, the Los Angeles Times, Slate, Counterpunch, and the Washington Times. No, they’re not overwhelming in their number, but striking in their willingness to break both the complicitous silence and the flip-side hysteria which has gripped the press for so long when the subject is “sex offenders”.

This development, i.e. the enactment of International Megan’s Law, perhaps more than any previous outrage against Registrants, appears to have helped many to find their voices and to raise them in protest against the continued degradation of “sex offenders”, including those who are not themselves Registrants.

So, while IML has not quite merited a full “news cycle”, it has aroused something which I find intriguing, even promising: the emergence of individuals and groups willing to speak out against the shrieking unreason which has dominated the “sex offender” public discourse for decades.

We are not taking this terrible law laying down, either. We are challenging International Megan’s Law in the U.S. Federal District Court of San Francisco having fired our responding salvo immediately after the cowardly, former constitutional law scholar, President Obama, signed the bill into law early last month.

The California Reform of Sex Offender Laws and its Director, attorney Janice Bellucci, representing four unnamed plaintiffs, filed the civil rights lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of IML on a variety of grounds, including as an abridgment of First and Fifth Amendment rights and the clause against ex post facto laws. Those plaintiffs represent something of an overview of “sex offenders” whose circumstances raise different or distinct constitutional issues, such as the right to travel in employment or the right to live with or visit family members.

Since the appalling, and completely un-protested, Protect Act of 2003, which made it a U.S. crime for an American citizen to travel overseas and to have “illicit sex” with someone under the U.S. age-of-consent of eighteen and which also forbids Registrants from sponsoring foreign-born spouses for U.S. citizenship, there have been a number of American Registrants living overseas in their spouse’s country, their spouses having been kicked-out of America by that law.

Now, with IML, those Registrants find that they are being deported by their spouse’s country back to the U.S. and are prevented from living with, or even seeing, their own spouses and children, who cannot join him in the U.S. due to the Protect Act.

One of the plaintiffs in the challenge to IML is from that category of persons caught in the double-bind of two terrible laws. Another has lost his livelihood after being permanently barred from business travel.

A temporary injunction, barring the U.S. from further notification of foreign governments of the status of U.S. Registrants as well as halting the issuance of “sex offender” passports, has also been filed in the Federal District Court in San Francisco but has not yet been granted.

We now await word from the court granting us that injunction and for our lawsuit challenging IML to wend its way through the courts, a journey which we suspect will take us to the U.S. Supreme Court.

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