Sex crimes have seen a rise in local news lately. Since the start of the new year, seven local sex offenders were reported on, their offenses ranging in count and degree — the most nauseating of which was Corvallis resident Edd Lahar, charged with 99 sex crimes against an infant. After learning of these crimes, The Advocate reported on Lahar in an online article on Feb. 1, and since then, the story has maintained top viewership on our website.
What is it that attracts us to such heinous acts — the parts of human nature that seem incomprehensible? Some research points to an evolutionary negativity bias, which lures us to negative news out of a fear reaction, alerting us to take protective measures as a means of survival. This theory makes sense, given the reactive nature of many comments made on local social media pages in response to stories such as the one about Lahar. Such awful acts are our ticket to shared rejection — creating a sort of kill-it culture within the community zeitgeist.
Many comments on our own Facebook page in response to Lahar were of a punitive or threatening nature, with mentions of a firing squad, Hell, and the death penalty. It perplexes me as much as anyone as to why a person would commit such hideous crimes against a defenseless infant. I am hesitant, however, to participate in a culture of reactivity and extermination. I find myself all the more disheartened by the rhetoric of ‘kill it’ over ‘why’ and ‘how can we prevent this from happening again?’
This sort of ‘Not In My Backyard’ mentality seems rather pervasive in local social media. On multiple occasions, I’ve witnessed posts get denied or comments get disabled when the conversation veered toward unpalatable, deviant acts or topics (Nazis, hate crimes, serial killers). This ability to silence that which disturbs us has had my gears turning lately. It seems unfair to me that because of my privilege, I can so easily cast violent realities into the periphery with just a push of a button, knowing they still exist beyond my bubble.
However, I do sympathize with the instinct of protecting one’s psyche from the spread of sickness. Too much bad news has the power to dim one’s world all the way down. Our weekly news columnist Ian MacRonald, who has had the job of reporting these sex crimes, mentioned a sort of depressive weight that intensified with each breaking story.
Likewise, when discussing Lahar’s crimes with one of my closest friends (who works with me in the mental health field), she vehemently declared that Lahar deserves death — that at a certain point a person becomes so morally detached that there’s no chance at rehabilitation, and that they have the potential to taint all that they touch. She referenced Charles Manson and his luring, destructive effect on others, which continued post-conviction. I wonder though if the ability to lure into deviance — whether directed by a person, pornography, or the many other circumstances that draw on our dark impulses -— doesn’t also speak to a general ineptitude in confronting or intervening with what society deems perverted.
While studying abroad in Amsterdam many moons ago, I had a very exuberant teacher who claimed he was hated by American sociologists for refusing to call any sexual impulse a perversion, be it bestiality, necrophilia, incest, or whatever else. He believed that by calling them perversions we were denying them the validity we attach to “normal” or healthy impulses. On the first day of Sex and Sexuality class, he had us go around and recall our first sexual experiences. Most were of the classic ‘you show me and I’ll show you’ variety, while others bravely spoke of being raped or molested. His goal was to get us talking about a subject we so often squeam at or dart from — to show us that the concept of virginity or innocence appears culturally curated when examining our early impulses which were often shunned or silenced.
A Road Back?
Is there a road back for someone like Lahar? I wouldn’t think so. Just as there is no road back for a survivor, who must move forward and learn to live with what happened to them while not letting it define them.
Could there be a road forward then? Can a person learn empathy and live through the horror of what they’ve done? Is there repentance for someone like Lahar? I’m almost sure that our institutions couldn’t do the job: imprisonment that prizes punishment over rehabilitation and groups offenders together, creating their only sense of home -— making re-assimilation back into our “normal” world near-impossible.
“They’re telling us something,” said my other friend, considering individuals like Lahar. It could be said that crimes like his beg us to examine what needs to change in order to prevent them from happening again. How do we accept these crimes as a reality that we must find answers to? How are we going to prevent our future neighbors, educators, parents, and youth from acting on their violent impulses?