Column: Pokemon predator panic in full bloom
New York has become the first state in the country to ban sex offenders from playing Pokemon Go, thus solving a problem that did not exist: Predators preying on kids via Pokemon.
In the wake of two state senators proposing that level 2 and 3 sex offenders be banned from playing the popular new phone game, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo jumped on the Poke-wagon to announce an even tougher law: From now on, even a tier 1 sex offender found playing Pokemon while on parole could end up in prison.
That means that if you happened to be an 18-year-old who got a sext from your 16-year-old girlfriend, and this got you labeled a low-level sex offender (which is already crazy), you could simply play a game on your phone and end up behind bars.
It should be noted here that Pokemon is more like solitaire than poker. As you walk along, cartoon creatures suddenly appear on your phone. You “catch” them by swiping the screen.
Now, I realize that anytime a politician mentions new and harsher sex offender restrictions, many voters cheer. That’s why politicians keep proposing them.
But these laws will not make our children safer, because they are based on the incorrect idea that registered sex offenders pose a big threat to kids.
They do – on “Law & Order.” But in real life, the truth is as mundane as it is horrifying: The vast majority of sex abuse occurs at the hands of someone in the child’s life — a relative, family friend or other trusted adult.
“Stranger danger” sounds like a huge threat, but the FBI stats on children abducted for nefarious purposes show exactly what percent were snatched by registered sex offenders?
In 2009: Zero.
And in 2010, it was less than 1 percent. Even the group that put the missing kids’ pictures on the milk cartons, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, has labeled stranger danger a “myth we have been trying to debunk.”
That’s because even though we have all heard that people on the registry are insatiable child molesters, the surprising truth is that they have a very low level of recidivism. It’s about 5 percent. That’s lower than any other criminals other than murderers.
So the sex offender registry itself is a failed idea. Add to this the out-of-thin-air belief that registrants are going to use Pokemon as predator helper and you have created a fantastical scenario that would be a great plot point for a Liam Neeson movie – or maybe “The Simpsons.”
But making legislation based on that fantasy is worse than mere grandstanding. Far from reassuring parents, it scares them even more by making it sound as if our kids are in constant danger the second they step outside.
These laws ignore the wonderful fact that, in fact, it’s the opposite: Kids today are safer today than they’ve been in 50 years. (And it’s not just because they’re “helicoptered.” Adults are safer today, too, and we don’t helicopter them.) Crime is back to the level it was in 1963. The real danger kids face is in NOT going outside. Obesity and diabetes are on the rise, not child rape.
Making it seem as if registered sex offenders are constantly on the prowl for tots and only harsh new laws can save them is a lie. The new legislation is pointless. Gov. Cuomo is guilty of a new political crime: Poke-fearmongering.