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I'm a Sociology Professor at the University of Toronto. I write about gun violence, health disparities, and Hip Hop culture. When I'm not doing research, I like pop-locking, swimming, and learning Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. This is my first blog. I hope you like it.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

A Serial Killer on the Dating Game: Some Sociological Reflections

I recently watched Louis Theroux's BBC documentary, "A Place for Paedophiles."  The documentary takes place at Coalinga State Hospital, a hospital for pedophiles who have completed their prison terms but haven't been able to transition back into society.  While many maintain that they are "cured," the vast majority are stuck in an institutional limbo because they cannot find housing. As convicted pedophiles, most are subject to complicated laws that prohibit them from moving into areas that are close to schools; some face hostile neighborhood associations that do not want a pedophile in their midst; and others are still aware of their urges and do not trust themselves.  This means that most will spend the rest of their lives incarcerated, even though they are all technically "free men" under the law.  

The documentary is quite disturbing and provocative, simply because it challenges one's ideas about how the criminal justice system works and the rights of convicted offenders.  As a good journalist, Theroux doesn't really take a side in this story.  At some points, he challenges inmates who claim to be cured, but still show behavior that says otherwise.  At other points, he describes the sad reality for most men in Coalinga; they will in all likelihood live out the rest of their days in this hospital because nobody wants them as a neighbor or tenant.

Rodney Alcala aka the "Dating Game Killer"
Today, while taking a break from writing, I perused Youtube and stumbled upon a very creepy story that also plays off the aforementioned documentary.

Rodney Alcala, aka the "Dating Game Killer," appeared on the Dating Game in the midst of a serial killing spree in California.  When he was invited on the show as a bachelor, Alcala was already a convicted rapist and sex offender.  He would eventually win a date with bachelorette, Cheryl Bradshaw (below in video), who later refused a date with him because he seemed "creepy."  Here is a short video of his appearance on the show.  It's pretty eery.

Alcala was eventually arrested and convicted for the murder of Robin Samsoe--a 12 year old girl that he abducted, raped, and murdered.  Police found her decomposing body in the LA foothills several days after her disappearance.  His death penalty was overturned because jurors were improperly informed of his sex offending history.  He was found guilty in a retrial, but had this case overturned because of discredited witnesses.

He was eventually arrested and convicted on 5 counts of murder and received the death penalty.  This happened, however after a long career in serial killing.  Although there is no official body count, homicide investigators estimate that Alcala killed between 50-130 women.  Police would later seize a collection of photos that Alcala had shot himself.  Many of the photos are sexually suggestive in nature and feature young women and children.  There is a gallery of these (that are PG or PG-13) online.

I guess these two stories highlight core issues at stake when we debate the rights of pedophiles and sex offenders.  On one hand, Theroux's documentary reveals a grossly unfair "institutional limbo" that awaits pedophiles who can't find housing in the "outside world."  Their situation challenges our larger beliefs in the efficacy of the criminal justice system; if someone does their time, they should have the right to move on with their lives.

At the same time, stories from Theroux's documentary and certainly Rodney Alcala's case highlight the fear that many have against ever allowing pedophiles and sex offenders back into the general public.  These stories seem to provide a rationale about the need for increasing surveillance and restricting the rights of registered pedophiles and sex offenders (who by most clinical accounts are all serial offenders).

In the end, I don't really know how to feel.  I feel conflicted on this.  How do you all feel?  Should our society increase the surveillance of pedophiles and sex offenders?  Do the repeated crimes of some, warrant the upsurge in surveillance of a group deemed highly likely to reoffend?  What does all of this say about our criminal justice system?