Collateral Damage in America's War on Sex Crimes

The Limits of Righteous Rage

It’s said you shouldn’t grocery-shop when you’re hungry because you’ll end up smashing your food budget. One lesson of the new documentary “Untouchable”—the first about the many impacts of U.S. sex crime laws–may be that you shouldn’t pass laws when you’re feeling vengeful.

“Untouchable” premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival last week. If you watched it expecting clear answers, you may have been disappointed—it offers no policy prescriptions nor tells viewers what to think.

And the stars of the show are Ron and Lauren Book—he a bulldozer of a Florida lobbyist, she his daughter who now is running for state Senate.

More precisely, the show’s star is Ron Book’s white-hot, and understandable, fury. In 1996, Book and his wife hired a Honduran immigrant named Waldina Flores to be a nanny for then-11-year old Lauren. Flores had been background-checked and came highly recommended. Perhaps a year into her tenure, she began sexually abusing Lauren, though it would be more accurate to describe what she did as torture. The film doesn’t offer a complete picture, but at a minimum it included burning Lauren with cigarettes, defecating and urinating on her, inserting objects into her vagina, throwing her down the stairs. Lauren says the physical effects are such that she’s not sure she can ever have children.

Since then, Ron Book has declared war on those who commit sex crimes. He’s successfully lobbied for the most restrictive bans in the country on where those on sex registries can live and and the placement of a red “P” on the licenses of those convicted as “sexual predators” (a designation that captures a Florida man convicted for having sex with his girlfriend on a public beach).

Book makes no secret on camera about what’s driving him. “Hate, vengeance?” he says. “You bet. Do I want to keep that from ever happening to anyone ever again? … You bet. There are bad people out there.”

“I wake up every day thinking about it,” he says at another point of those convicted of sex crimes. “About how you’d just as soon like to line ‘em up and shoot ‘em.”

Later, we overhear him telling someone that when Waldina Flores gets out of prison in 2025 and is deported back to Honduras, he’ll be “on a plane right behind her. I know where her family lives. I’ve got people on my payroll who have been in Honduras for thirteen years.”

But public or private rage, no matter how justified, doesn’t often make for good law. Witness the foster-care panics that periodically erupt in states after the deaths of children at the hands of abusive parents being monitored by state child welfare agencies. The reaction is usually to give agencies more power to remove kids from their homes for placement in foster care. As the foster care system gets overwhelmed, kids start being placed in shelters, which child welfare experts agree has terrible impacts on their long-term emotional and social well-being. In many cases, the number of child abuse deaths actually rises.

The lesson? Creating smart public policy for the long term requires that legislators not be blinded by a public that’s howling for a quick fix.

But Ron Book evinces a determination to look the other way at what he’s created in Florida. He’s asked in the film about those residency restrictions. Numerous studies show they do nothing to cut sex crimes–in fact, they may do just the opposite. They’ve also produced homelessness rates among Florida registrants as high as 9 percent in some counties.

His response? “Much like I can’t necessarily produce statistics that say that our communities are safer as a result [of residency restrictions], I do have some level of common sense,” he says. “If you’re keeping them [registrants] away from kids, you’re reducing some of the risk. And this notion that we’ve rendered them homeless, that we’ve put them out on the street, that’s a bunch of bullshit. Their sexually deviant behavior is what put them there.”

Of course that’s only partly true. They’ve certainly served time because of their crimes. But Florida has a range of options for managing offenders once they’re released. Vermont, for example, runs a program called Circles of Support and Accountability that’s designed to reintegrate ex-offenders while monitoring their behavior. Vermont’s Circles program has cut recidivism rates among the small group of sex offenders judged to be at high risk to reoffend from 25 percent to 12 percent.

His daughter’s abuse also seems to blind Ron Book to something more important—that those guilty of sex crimes are individuals whose risk of re-offense differs by orders of magnitude, depending on their crimes and circumstances. After Thursday’s screening, the director invited Ron and Lauren Book on stage for a Q&A. (It’s a tribute to the film’s even-handedness that the Books attended). In one response, Ron Book asserted that even sex offender treatment providers acknowledge that sex offenders can’t be cured—their impulses can only be managed.

In fact the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers, which represents those providers, says precisely the opposite—that ex-offenders have to be viewed individually, not as a group. “The vast majority of sex offenders who are punished for one sex crime do not commit another,” ATSA noted in a recent amicus brief.

The road to future atrocities is paved with tragedies—and victims. Take South Africa, where thousands of Dutch and Huguenot Boer colonists were herded into the world’s first concentration camps by their English captors during the Second Boer War in the late 1800s–28,000 Boers died in those camps. When they came to power, the Boers carried a tremendous sense of grievance and vulnerability and used it to justify the imposition of apartheid. More recently, the Serbs used the mass slaughters they suffered at the hands of Croats during World War II to rationalize the slaying of 200 Croat prisoners at Vukovar in 1991.

Of the lessons of “Untouchable,” one of the most important is this—using tragedies as a basis for public policy only creates more victims.

13 thoughts on “The Limits of Righteous Rage

  1. David

    It’s too bad this person’s hatred has made him so blind. He claims to have ‘common sense’ by saying offenders become homeless only because of ‘their sexually defiant behavior’ I call bullshit on his ‘bullshit’. Yes, they started it, if that’s how you want to look at. But having some sort of professional help with stability through family members, housing, etc. would be more beneficial. Mental health, mental help & prevention are things that should be looked at further. And an 18 year old with his 17 year old girlfriend is not ‘sexually defiant behavior’ in my book and does not deserve to be homeless. If this is about ‘saving one child’ then why are the children being put on the registry? The above mentioned person being on the registry would not have made any difference in this case either. Most likely, she just wouldn’t pass a background check therefore never getting the job. If anyone cares to reply, I ask it to be intelligent. I have no need for stupid 10 year old responses like ‘Spoken like a true predator/pedophile’

    1. Ric Moore

      I guess we will have to wait and see if he goes on the Talk Show circuit to raise funds for “his fight”.

  2. Pam

    If Ron Book so cares about children, one might ask what he AND his wife were doing while this was going on in THEIR OWN HOME for years. Aside from the sexual abuse, how does a child get thrown down stairs and burned with cigarettes and a parent not notice? Over years? What kind of priorities are those?

    If they were the worst parents of the century tending to their careers and making money, maybe ruining other people’s lives is the only way they can live with themselves.

    Something just does not add up.

    1. embedmettled

      It’s important to remember that sexual abuse is one of the most underreported of all crimes. Lauren Book was just an 11-year-old kid when it all started. She was terrified. She told no one, which the statistics on reporting show is appallingly typical among victims. (That’s also why Lauren Book goes around Florida now trying to train kids to speak up when abuse starts.) And the nanny was careful to choose forms of abuse that would leave few signs of what she was doing. The abuse was not the fault of Ron Book and his wife. -Steven

    2. Mom4Justice

      Its the same thing with Adam Walsh, his mom was shopping in a huge store and told him to go play while she shopped. He was a young boy. My kids never left my side while shopping until they were much older. So she shopped and he was kidnapped, but hey blame someone else for your stupid mistake leaving your child alone in a busy store.

  3. anonymous

    the abuse of this child was not only sexual but abuse in all forms by a mentally ill person. So why focus only on the sexual aspect of the abuse and not the total picture of torture?

    1. embedmettled

      It might be more accurate to describe it as sexual torture–it appears that nearly everything that the nanny did to Lauren Book had a sexual component (throwing her down the stairs being the exception). -Steven

  4. Derek W Logue of

    Steven, I don’t care if Lauren Book was shot into space and molested by Chuck Norris. It does not excuse Lauren for using her sob story as a weapon to force thousands of people to suffer. They don’t care who they hurt. Ronnie is riddled with guilt because he was too busy getting arrested for illegal campaign contributions and pleading no contest to insurance fraud to pay attention to his daughter. Now he is worshiping her as a goddess and expects us to do the same. I refuse to see her as anything less than what she is– a sock puppet for her father’s shady political activities. They are buying a senate seat!

    1. Ric Moore

      There ya go …follow the money.

      I think it would be a good idea to identify all forms of abuse: physical, intellectual, sexual, emotional and spiritual, and to keep them separate, so one of the other forms of abuse doesn’t automatically become sexual abuse. It hurts our cause to be misidentified as scapegoats for all abuse.

    2. embedmettled

      Derek, I hear you about the chaos and suffering these laws have caused. To me the genius of this documentary lies in the range of lens it trains on the issue—the stories of parents of abuse survivors who support these laws (Ron Book, Judy Cornett), parents who don’t support them (Patty Wetterling), researchers, and registrants and their families. Viewers are going to take a bunch of different lessons from the film depending on where they sit—the one I take is that basing legislation on the most recent tragedy almost inevitably leads to more tragedy (a point explained much better in Roger Lancaster’s book “Sex Panic and the Punitive State”).

    3. Mom4Justice

      I believe Book is full of guilt as you stated. So because of guilt he ruins others lives. This is the wrong way to deal with your guilt. He needs to seek mental health. And it is also all about money. She is a puppet for her father and her father is using her to make money.
      How the hell can a parent miss cigarette burns on their child. Were they ever home to spend time with their daughter? There are too many questions and no answers with the truth.

  5. G in Alaoppressionbama

    There are too many ridiculous things about this kook’s whole kiddie abuse story.

    Glaring is this > insanely horrendous abuse starts one year after the nanny hiring on. What? One year goes by and nothing? Not a hint? A clue? A suspicion? Nothing?

    There is no way someone allegedly this ‘deranged’ and ‘cruel’ would be able to contain themselves for a whole year. No possible way.

    I’m calling BS on this whole Kook and his daughter as one whole big sham scam.

    This is fake news along the lines of fake chillin’ at ‘sandy kook illementary skool shuutin’ …Likely isn’t even a real person Flores … just another actor in the play….

    His talk of going to Honduras for personal vengeance is utterly juvenile. This kook is an adult? that has influence of real laws passed that oppress real people with real lives? for real?

    Hmm. Kinda makes one want to verify the truth of these other alleged child crime victims that somehow get their private personal names attached to oppressive laws. And the ‘new’ career of their ‘bereft’ parent is all of a sudden lobbyist for more oppression? Hmm. Who is paying who to do what?


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