Tuesday, September 7, 2010

End the Persecution of Tony Washington

I found ESPN’s coverage of the sad tale of Tony Washington, which I was tipped off to by another piece I examined. Allison Glock should be commended for this article, which highlights the injustice of prosecuting teenagers for consensual youthful experimentation, and labeling such behavior with a word that conjures up images of a father brutalizing a child.

The whole thing is worth a read, but I will try to boil it down. Washington is an impressive physical specimen who could be playing in the NFL if it weren’t for the ridiculous prosecution of his experimentation with his sister, and the branding of him with a “sex offender” tag.

He had a lot of chaos in his life as a child. Someone sexualized him (molested, really) when he was nine years old. His father left the family when he was twelve. There were several moves, and rough neighborhoods. His sister, Caylen, was a constant in his life, younger by only a year, and he looked after her.

On May 9, 2003, Washington pleaded guilty to having consensual sex with his biological sister, Caylen. He was 16, she was 15.

"Incest," he says, looking straight ahead.

He says he didn't plan to do it. He was a teenager. Unstrung. Unsupervised. His world was at war. He was scared. Isolated. Except she was there, the two of them best friends, close as book pages. They loved each other, trusted each other. And one day that tipped into something more. Something neither one felt was wrong in the moment. "We were just sitting there, and it was like, 'Do you want to?'" he says. There was no discussion. "We did it. And it was like, 'OK, what's next?' We never talked about it after that."

Both say it happened only once more. The two never kissed. Never shared true intimacy. Just spontaneous, ill-conceived connections. Needs met when few others were.

So how does innocent sibling experimentation lead to the guilty criminal plea? Overzealous law enforcement using poorly written laws.

A few months after they first had sex, Washington's sister went out one night to meet somebody. Her boyfriend, she says. Johns, the police suspected. Soon after, Washington's phone rang. His sister had been picked up by the cops. He needed to come get her, and he needed to come right away. "All I knew was my sister was in trouble," he says. "So when I showed up, and they asked me about the two of us, I said yes. I didn't know it was illegal."

It shouldn’t be.

Caylen denied she was a prostitute. So they asked her if there were issues at home. Was that why she ran off? Had anyone in her family touched her, abused her? For more than three hours, she stuck to her story: She left home to meet her boyfriend. She adored her brother. He was a good kid who took care of her. Their family wasn't like that.

More officers came into the interrogation room. Caylen was alone. She had no lawyer, just her and a passel of cops and detectives, and it got later and later into the night, and she was hungry and tired. It was then, four hours in, she says, that they started talking about jail.

Caylen did not want to go to jail. She wanted to leave. She says the cops promised her that if she confessed, everyone could go home, that she and her family would get free counseling and all this ugliness would end, and everyone could sleep in their own beds. They said it was her choice. Did she want to end up in prison? Her brother too?

Caylen folded. She said things that she insists now were "half-true" or "complete lies." She nodded her head yes to every question and said whatever she thought they wanted to hear.

"And then, like that, I was in jail," Tony says.

Caylen was let go as promised. Her brother, a juvenile, was processed as an adult and put in jail with grown men. He was released after a month, only to find out he would have to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.

This is not justice.

It was an exile to another world. Washington soon found himself in mandatory therapy groups with men who had collected violent child pornography, men who had raped preschoolers. "I never thought I belonged in that club -- not by a long shot," he says. "My offense was over with when I did it. It wasn't a struggle I had or have still."

As a registered sex offender and on five-year probation, Washington could not live within 1,000 feet of a day-care center or school. He had to avoid playgrounds and churches. He could not move or travel without permission, granted at the discretion of a local officer. More immediately, he had to inform his neighbors of his crime: "I was required to put out fliers to a five-mile radius around my house. It was my name, my picture, what I was charged with. Incest."

It can be painful to read this.

Washington's family stood by him. His mom, who blamed herself for the incident -- "I wasn't around," she says -- resolved to soldier on for the kids, "to act like a normal family." His dad, who had moved to New Orleans that same year but had remained largely absent from Tony's and Caylen's lives, was more confused than angry. "I would never have conceived it," Wells says. "My son and my daughter?"

Wells' friends advised him to let his son rot in jail. "But I didn't want to lose him," says the father. "If he had tried to hurt my daughter, I'd feel different. But he didn't."

Wells says his daughter told him that "she was as much to blame as Tony," that they "were experimenting."

The behavior is not rare. Sibling experimentation happens in many families, from an early age through the teens and beyond. It isn’t something for which we should condemn someone when they are close in age and it is consensual. It is wrong to portray Washington as a pervert. So many people who do would think it just fine if these siblings had done the same thing with classmates who couldn’t care less about them. They were exploring their sexuality with someone they cared about and trusted: each other.

"I feel for my brother," Caylen says calmly. "I was so happy when he got out of jail. He had no reason to be in there."

She wants this to be known, to be clear: "My brother never, ever raped me. He never tried to hold me down. Or threaten me. Or abuse me. Or frighten me. Or anything like that. What some of these people are speculating, none of that ever happened."

The haters need to shut down the bandwagon. Get people like Washington off of the sex offender registry. Concentrate on abusers and rapists, not innocent sibling experimentation. And let consenting adults share love, sex, and marriage.
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1 comment:

  1. It just goes to show that human societies are just as quick to punish the unpopular as they are the guilty.


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