Collateral Damage in America's War on Sex Crimes

Monica Lewinsky: “Public Shaming as a Blood Sport Has to Stop”

Last week, alert reader Ric sent a link to Monica Lewinsky’s now-viral TED talk. She denounces the nexus between a growing culture of shaming and the rise of the Internet that have led to a mushrooming and profitable traffic in the sale of public humiliation.

It’s no accident that national and state-level politicians launched Internet-based sex offender registries just as that market was taking off in the mid- to late-nineties—they could use it to political advantage.

Only now are we feeling the side effects of those hasty decisions. Though registries originally were sold as a public safety tool, research increasingly shows that they have no impact on the incidence of sexual abuse and assault and may actually increase the risks of both.

That leaves one argument for them–to serve as public spectacle.

But unlike much of online shaming, web-based sex offender registries lead not just to online harassment but real-life taunts, exclusion, hardship, and violence, as the stories of those profiled so far on this blog show.

Here are some notable quotes from Lewinsky’s address. Many of these are relevant to people with family members on the registry and to our policy decisions about sex crimes generally.

“Can I see a show of hands of someone who didn’t make a mistake by age 22?”

“Not a day goes by that I’m not reminded of my mistake. And I regret that mistake.”

“Overnight I went from being a completely private figure to a publicly humiliated one.”

“It was easy to forget that ‘that woman’ was dimensional, and had a soul that was unbroken.”

“There is a very personal price to public humiliation, and the Internet has jacked up that price. We have been sowing the seeds of public humiliation in our cultural soil.”

“The more we saturate our culture with public shaming, the more we will see cyberhacking and cyberbullying and harassment.”

“Public shaming as a blood sport has to stop. We need to return to the long-held value of compassion. We have a compassion deficit empathy crisis.”

“Anyone suffering from shame and public humiliation needs to know one thing: you can survive it. Have compassion for yourself. We all deserve compassion.”

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