It was a terrible thing to shout from the back of the middle-school auditorium to the beleaguered spokeswoman trying to calm a frightened and angry crowd, assembled in response to the notification that “sexually violent predator” Christopher Lawyer has been released back into Boulder. But the question touched on an emotional reality missing from the various official efforts to reassure us that his current residence at the Boulder Shelter for the Homeless is the least bad option available. Under the fear, dancing like electricity down the crowded aisles, breathed something heavier: some members of the audience themselves survived sexual assault.
I’m one of them. One summer afternoon in 1966, I was raped by a man who worked for my family. Hurt, scared, and ashamed, I never told my parents. The man quickly disappeared and was never confronted or caught. I can only assume he assaulted other kids. I was five.
That day privately but profoundly configured parts of my life, as the experience of rape at any age will do.
Thus, the label “sexually violent predator” gets my attention. But the work I’ve done to reconstruct my own history and heal my own trauma makes me especially aware that Mr. Lawyer is not simply a “predator”. He is a human being. Certainly complex — probably damaged, probably ill, hopefully struggling with remorse for a crime beyond cruelty. Assuming the best of him, he is no longer a rapist-in-waiting, but a man wanting a chance to begin anew. Assuming the worst, he will always be, as his label declares, a violent predator. The State of Colorado has put him through a process indicating the former. The community fears the latter. Like many, I do not understand his release.
Where do we go from here? The hard choice is the right one: we should accept him. By accept, I do not mean to forgive, or condone, or consider him “OK”. I do mean that we should realize, or remember, a few things.
First, beyond the danger he may individually pose, Mr. Lawyer’s presence among us symbolizes a more diffuse monstrosity that no public meeting can expel. The urge to rape blights the souls of men in many stations of society. It may stem from their own victimization, from mental illness, or from something else we helplessly call “evil’. Some rapists are sociopaths and perpetrate without qualm or remorse. Others battle against their secret selves with outward achievement and selflessness. Some rapists are homeless. Others are Ralphie-handlers, choirboys, star athletes, teachers or priests, whose cases we find “inexplicable.” Almost none announce in advance that they are “predators.” We can try to cast Mr. Lawyer and his label from our midst. But the rapists among us – and the sicknesses they carry — remain.
Second, the presenters at the community meeting were right: it is better to have Mr. Lawyer in a known location, with his ankle-monitor charged and his check-in bed established, than it is to have him calling in every night from a payphone at an intersection, only to vanish. That’s what one of Boulder’s two other sexually violent predators currently does. Yes, we do have two others, and one of them is homeless, location unknown. I find that scarier than Mr. Lawyer’s situation, and yet there’s no uproar about it at all.
Third, he is a human being, and he has a legal right to exist. Each of us has the right to decide, based on our own history, how we feel about him today. But personal feelings should not dictate whom we include within our legal community. Christopher Lawyer is from here, and the law decrees that upon his release from custody he be returned here. A person whom the state has granted liberty has the right to exercise it, and a community that respects human rights should respect the rights of all. All means all.
I consider how I will feel, having published this, if Mr. Lawyer rapes again. The thought sickens me. I think of people who work in law enforcement and criminal justice, who face such prospects every day. In Mr. Lawyer’s mugshot, he is smiling. Perhaps it’s the vacant grin of a sociopath. Perhaps he’s hoping that a smile will persuade us that he’s committed to no longer being the person his label proclaims. Either way, he’s embarked on a journey back into the world. For all our sakes, I wish him success.
— John, Boulder Daily Camera guest editorial, May 17, 2017