Jerry Sandusky’s trial has been much-covered in the news; no reason to repeat any of it here. But a few days before the verdict, I heard something on the TV news that disturbed me as much as Sandusky’s now-confirmed actions.
One talking head suggested that if Sandusky was truly innocent, he should volunteer to take a pedophile test to prove that he’s not attracted to young boys. This TV personality didn’t mention that such tests have been used in the past to help wrongly convict defendants, or that convictions depending on such tests have been overturned after alleged victims recanted and after other holes were found in the evidence.
Even more important I think, is that such tests — even if someday improved to 100% accuracy — can only measure specific reactions to photos and videos, intended to show emotional response and subconscious thought. Should someone be convicted and sent to prison for life because of their thoughts? No.
Yes, it’s easy to shudder at the the thought of people walking around free in society who are attracted to children. But the difference between a free man and an imprisoned man should be what they have done, not what they’re thinking about. The difference between those two people is that one of them gave in to those thoughts and feelings, surrendered his will to desires, and committed actions that are clearly illegal and harmful to victims, while the other maintained self-discipline — perhaps with great effort — and did not commit those actions.
In fact, I propose that this same TV personality take the very test he mentioned and make the results public. I can guarantee that if it showed he was attracted to young boys, his first defense would be: “But I didn’t ACT on those feelings.” And it would be a correct defense.
It’s a slippery slope to start saying people should be convicted based on feelings they can’t control or on the subconscious thoughts rolling around in our heads. And almost as bad to convict someone based on thoughts they can control.
“Thoughts lead to actions”, you might say. “People do act based on their feelings.”
But thoughts don’t invariably lead to actions. And people certainly don’t invariably act on their feelings. If they did, it would be a much more violent world. You don’t punch or shoot someone every time you become angry, even though you might really want to. And if you do, then you should be imprisoned — for your actions, not your thoughts or feelings.