Guilty or Not, I Think We Should Show a Little Empathy Toward Lori Loughlin

It’s important that I start this article with a disclaimer. I do not in any way condone or excuse the alleged crime of Lori Loughlin or the other parents involved in the highly-publicized college tuition admissions scandal making headlines. I also do not condone, minimize, rationalize or excuse the crime that I committed toward the end of 2013. I own it fully.

This isn’t really about either of the crimes. It’s about the way people react to it.

I was well known in Central Maine at the time of my crime and early 2014 arrest. I was the publisher of a popular magazine, the founder of a regional film festival and had just finished a term on the local City Council. I received awards along the way for all of my endeavors and to the people on the outside of my small inner circle, I was a pillar of the community.

Lori Loughlin rose to fame playing wholesome Aunt Becky on 80s/90s TV show Full House. While she kept her career alive after that with the occasional Lifetime woman-in-peril movie-of-the-week, she was never an actress who took roles where she swore, was violent or displayed skin/sexuality. When the wholesomest-of-wholesome networks, The Hallmark Channel, began pumping out carbon copy feel-good shows, she was a natural choice to become a regular on the channel. Most recently, she rejoined the Full House reboot on Netflix, reprising the role that started it all. She wasn’t just DJ and Stephanie Tanner’s Aunt Becky. She was Aunt Becky for anybody under 45 years old.

I was bailed out of jail roughly 40 minutes after I got there. In those 40 minutes, the State Police issued a press release (with incorrect information), the local newspaper had been to my office looking for me and TV news vans were parked in front of my house. I was the top story on TV news for the next several days and my arrest was played on the front page of the newspaper. Every time I made a court appearance, a newspaper reporter, photographer and at least two TV cameras were there.

From the moment Lori Loughlin’s name became part of this tuition scandal case, a day hasn’t gone by where there isn’t a load of articles online about what’s going on, even when she hasn’t made a public statement, has made one brief court appearance to hear her charges and then plead not guilty. The media can’t get enough of her and something as simple as standing in her driveway with her husband becomes public fodder. But let’s not just blame the media. The media is not a public utility. It is private business that makes its money giving consumers what they want.

 

Being singled out

There are over 200 people living within 5 miles of me who, like me, are on the state sexual offender registry. Not a single one got 20% of the media coverage I received, and many of them are there for graphic hands-on offenses that resulted in much harsher sentences than I received. I’m not saying I didn’t deserve what I got for behaving inappropriately in a chat room with a teenager, but those who committed far more heinous crimes received far less attention.

There were nearly 50 parents indicted in the college admissions scandal, but aside from Felicity Huffman, can you name one other involved beyond Lori Loughlin and her husband?

I don’t think it’s that difficult to attribute why Loughlin’s case – and mine on a much more regional level – garnered so much attention. People get a morbid enjoyment out of finding out a public figure is not as perfect as they portrayed, and get a cheap thrill out of seeing that person dealt with harshly.

As I personally learned, facts don’t need to get in the way of a good public flogging, especially on social media. It was surreal reading the venom spewed my way by so many people who neither knew me, nor the actual facts of the case. They served as judge, jury and executioner in the very opening days of what was a years-long legal ordeal.

I’ll admit I was as shocked as anybody else when the Lori Loughlin story broke. It was just something you never expect to read. But now, six weeks later, I’m really getting tired of people passing judgment on the merits of the case. We know very little of what has actually happened and we won’t know for a very long time, regardless of what “a source close to the family” told a magazine. The evidence appears damning, but how do I really know what’s been reported is accurate? There were key pieces of my case incorrectly reported for months. When you’re in the thick of a legal situation, you don’t call the media to split hairs about their reporting.

My career was over the day I was arrested. The board of directors of the magazine fired me and the annual film festival – only two weeks away – had to be canceled. My son was young enough that his classmates has no idea what happened, but my daughter was so bullied, she left her school, finishing that year at home and transferred to another school the following fall. My wife started to be treated like dirt at work – and even though she put up with daily sideways glances – was eventually fired for “underperforming.” I know it had to do with me. All of this happened before I ever entered a plea.

The Hallmark Channel fired Loughlin the day after the story broke and the Full House reboot said she wouldn’t be returning. Her daughters, who had a healthy social media presence, immediately stopped posting and in the case of her youngest daughter Olivia Jade, lost sponsorships. Neither of her daughters returned to school for fear of being bullied. Depending on which news source you read, the family is either leaning on each other for support, or they’re at each other’s throats pointing fingers. All of this happened before she ever entered a plea.

 

Put yourself in their shoes

The counterpoint to all of this is that when you court attention for doing good things and put yourself in the public eye, you’re going to receive a greater amount of attention when you do something bad. The solution is not to do something bad, but people sometimes have horrible lapses in judgment. I think most people would say that both Loughlin and I had everything that was coming to us, and from a legal point of view, I agree.

From a personal point of view, I can’t agree. I probably would have laughed at Loughlin’s situation 10 years ago, making jokes about it and believing it was only happening to her in a vacuum, but I’ve been through this kind of thing now. When you are well known and you make such a massive mistake, not only do you get what’s coming to you, but so many other people get what they don’t deserve. I think it’s important to not only remember them, but also to recognize that Loughlin is being publicly dragged through a personal hell that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. Her life is going to be radically changed no matter the legal outcome.

While you’re watching Loughlin’s case unfold remember that the alleged crime affects far more people than just the defendant and they need to be kept in our thoughts as part of a bigger picture. While I wouldn’t have been capable of it 10 years ago, I urge and practice empathy now.

Hopefully you’ll never understand what’s it’s personally like to go through a public shaming and protracted legal ordeal, nor any of your close loved ones or friends will either. When that happens, it’s easy to develop empathy and to then apply it to similar situations. I ask you to practice that empathy now instead of having the “look at the car crash on the side of the road” reaction most Americans and those in the media are having.

Practice empathy. It feels better.

 

 

We Need to Re-Examine the Sexual Offender Registry

Tomorrow is passport picture day. For most people, that’s only once every 10 years, but for me, it’s twice a year. As a registered sex offender, every time I have my quarterly check-in with the police, I have to bring a passport photo that is sent to the state capital to be posted online with my crime. Thankfully, CVS provides two passport photos, so there is only need to visit twice a year.

I’m not suggesting by this entry that I did not deserve to get punished for what I did. On the contrary, I took my sentencing like a man and do not get into the argument of if I received too much or too little time. The government decreed that six months and six days in county jail was appropriate for the crime of engaging a teenage girl in a sexual manager in an online chatroom, and I did the time.

I have no problem with the probation I was given, three years, despite the fact that both my lawyer and the state suggested I only have two years. I think the judge gave me a lighter jail sentence and longer probation as a trade-off. Whatever, that’s fine. I’ve got about eight months left and aside from signing a piece of paper and having a 30-second conversation once a month, it’s not that bad. I can certainly understand why it’s useful for drug criminals who need to submit to a urine test.

At the end of probation, though, those drug criminals aren’t tested anymore. They have served their time and they are free to live their life. Hopefully, they stay away from the substances that got them there, but as far as the criminal justice system is concerned, they’re free to move along.

Sex crimes are not treated the same. I’m not a law scholar by any means and I know the validity of the sexual offender registry has been tested in several states and always upheld, but I have a problem with serving my sentence, doing my probation time, yet still being on the hook for the rest of my life.

For me, there are two arguments against this.

First, is the fact that I’m not treated like any other criminal. I literally could have been convicted for manslaughter, done my time, and nobody follows me after probation. I could have been nailed selling drugs to teenage girls, but I’m not put on a list for the rest of my life of people who need to be watched. I could beat my wife and kids, do my time, and the law isn’t going to follow me once probation is over.

Something seems askew to me when people can commit crimes with tangible results that are just as bad, or worse, than mine, yet there is no criminal registry for what they have done. Once they are finished with probation, they are left alone.

Second, is the fact that I’m on the same list with violent sexual predators. I’m not suggesting my crime wasn’t heinous and severe. It absolutely was. I took advantage of a young person and who knows if my behavior scarred her for life. What I did was disgusting and wrong.

That said, I never put my hands on a child. I never forced a child to commit a sexual act on me, nor did I commit one on them. No violence, nor threat of violence came with my offense. There were also no threats made against her family, property or anything like that.

I have taken four risk assessment tests and questionnaires designed to determine if I am at a risk of reoffending. On three I ranked the lowest score possible. On the other, I didn’t even rank on the scale. I have taken two polygraphs about my sexual history and have passed both with flying colors.

Yet there I am, on a list next to a guy who repeatedly raped a four-year-old boy. On the other side of me in the list is a guy who raped a 9-year-old girl, did his time, got out of jail and promptly returned to the girl, now 14 and raped her again. I think I have the right to say that compared to me, on a spectrum of sexual offenses, these are violent and depraved criminals who committed acts that are nothing like mine if you’re looking for an even playing field.

In my opinion, I think my being on the same list as these violent predators is like being someone who once bought a bag of pot being next to an international drug smuggler on the same list or someone who stole a lady’s purse being put next to an armed bank robber. Yes, the offenses may officially fall under the same umbrella, but there is a world of difference between the two.

I know there are people out there who probably couldn’t get beyond the third paragraph of this and who think that I should have been put in jail for life. Sexual offenses illicit a strong response in people and its one area where both Democrat and Republican law makers are more than happy to add new laws to the books, even if they make no scientific or historical sense. It feels good to castigate sex offenders.

I’m not looking for pity, I’m looking for equal and appropriate treatment. I’m hoping that you can take whatever opinions you have of sexual offenders and somehow parse them, not putting all of us into the same box. Unfortunately, the registry doesn’t do this yet.

I did a rotten thing, but under our current way of punishing people, I think that I’m being held to a different, higher standard, and I don’t think that’s fair.

Getting Trivial Things Off My Chest – July Edition

I rather enjoy when it’s time to write this monthly article. It lets me take the thoughts I haven’t been able to form into a blog-length article and just blurt them, even if they’re only a sentence long. It’s just like clearing a garden of the stuff that is decent, but won’t grow.

Side Effects May Occur: My doctor changed my meds recently. He pulled the Wellbutrin and put me on Zyprexa because I’ve been coping with a little bit of depression. This time of year, as the weather is reaching its zenith in these parts, I almost always get depressed. It’s like an opposite seasonal disorder. Anyway, I’m about 10-11 days into it and while the tiredness is getting better, I just feel exhausted so much of the time, especially the first half of the day. It’s supposed to take around two weeks to disappear. I guess the good news is I’m not depressed, but the bad news is I feel stoned most of the day. I just don’t understand how I took stuff recreationally 20 years ago to feel this way on purpose. I guess it’s numbing and that’s what I wanted.

Oh, Canada: In the statistics for this website, which is about 10 months old now, Canada has always come in at a distant third place for visitors and page views, far after the US and UK. Some weeks, India beats Canada. Over the last half of last week, Canada was doing triple the visits of the United States, often accounting for 80% of the traffic, which has been up lately. I have absolutely no idea why this is happening. It’s not resulting in better sales in Canada of my book. I’m getting the same number of queries for my peer support website. Something is going on in the Great White North.

The Fallout of Coping With Betrayal: As many know, I’m working on a book with a professional therapist about pornography addiction geared at the female partners of male addicts. I’ve found many sites run by them on the Internet and talk to many as part of my peer counseling efforts. It’s amazing how differently addiction can hit a wife or girlfriend. Some immediately view it as an illness and work to help their loved one get help. Others view it as the ultimate betrayal and years later are still trying to come to terms with it. I discussed this with my therapist the other day. She said that there are some betrayal trauma recovery patients who she believes will just never get over it, the way that a small percentage of people just never get over the death of someone super-close to them. And “get over it” can be a catch-all term, of course, but she’s talking about being able to live a healthy life and move on to a place where your day-to-day activities are largely back to normal. The hurt will always be there, but the human spirit as a will to survive…except when it doesn’t. Now I’m debating whether to put this in the book or not. Saying, “It’s possible you’re in the super-minority who never get over this” seems unhelpful, but if that’s what happens, is ignoring it a healthier option?

Punishment Fitting the Crime: She told me something else fascinating. If you went back 10 years, the sexual offender clients she had were all hands-on. Today, it’s all hands-off. She said it’s basically the same number of clients, but it’s all people who did stupid things via the Internet. Obviously, I’m somebody who has a personal interest in the legal system, but with the rate that sex offender registries are growing in this country, we’re going to have to start recognizing that the same lifetime punishments for somebody who looked at something illegal online and someone who actually sexually abused a child may need to be put into two categories. I’m not minimizing what I did, I just think that if I am on a list for life, far more has to happen to the hands-on offender post-incarceration or if they are going to be on a list for the rest of their life, maybe the non-contact offenders should be allowed off it at some point.

Cause and Effect? The other thing I wonder, and I’m sure I could compare crime stats to figure it out, is if access to illegal material online has caused the number of real-life abuse incidents to drop or if it’s actually caused them to spike. I’ll have to dig into that sometime.

Expert on the Addiction of Pornographic Material: You may see the phrases “porn addict expert”, “pornography addiction expert”, “pornography addict expert” on this website more in the future. I’ve been told by someone who runs a speaker’s bureau that if I’m moving my life in the direction of being an advocate and educator, I need to more fully exploit my credentials and build a name for myself. If someone types in “pornography addiction expert” into Google, I’m going to want my name to come up in the first page, so dropping these phrases is important. So that explains that, from a porn addiction expert.

Did You Get My Good Side? I wrote another article for Recovery Today magazine that was published last week. Instead of using my usual headshot, they used my mugshot. Yeah..now there’s a guy who looks like someone who should be giving advice.

Almost 200: My book has either been ordered or is now confirmed to be in 198 libraries. If it’s not in yours, request it. Think of all the people you’re helping…like me, for instance.

Help Feed My Kids My book is about to fall under 1 million for the first time on the Amazon bestseller chart. Tomorrow marks six months to the day it’s been out. Don’t let it fall under the 1 million barrier on such an occasion. You’ve been reading my stuff for free for too long. Go pick up your copy HERE.