My wife and I recently added a big family room to the back of our home. The person we hired was affable, meticulous, bright and reasonably priced. Apparently he is also a convicted child molester. We discovered this after he had finished the work. A neighbor stopped by to let us know what everyone else on our block already seemed to know (though no one told us): About 20 years ago, when he was in his early 30s, he served four years in prison for child molesting.
After investigations of our own, that’s about all we know. We couldn’t find out if the victim was a 6-year-old boy or prepubescent kid or an extremely developed 13-year-old girl. (Obviously any of these scenarios would be wrong but there are varying degrees of repulsiveness and, I assume, different levels of pathology.) All we know is that there were two counts, he served two consecutive terms, and that the class of felony would indicate the victim was under 14 years old.
We have no kids in the house, so we aren’t worried in that respect. We’re just trying to decide exactly how freaked out we should be and, I guess, we’re both surprised that we’re not more upset. I’m old enough to be comfortable with my feelings, and quite honestly, my feeling at this point is more circumspect than outraged. While our neighbors have called him a “monster” and suggested we’d be wrong to hire him again, my wife and I aren’t convinced this even makes sense.
I mean, he did a superb job on our addition and under normal circumstances there’s no question that we would ask him to do other work for us. But then I wonder if I’m being selfish and shortsighted by thinking only about our material needs. Is it our ethical duty to demonstrate disapproval and disgust by denying him the opportunity to work? (I’m not being rhetorical here. I really want to know.) Is it possible that someone convicted of child molestation might be a decent guy who used bad judgment, who was set up, who was misunderstood, who was wrongly accused? I have no idea. I do not feel comfortable confronting him. I don’t want him to know that I know.
If I had kids in the house, I wouldn’t be writing this letter today. I simply wouldn’t take any chances. Yet, there are families with small children up and down our street and I don’t want to put those kids at risk … although I’m not sure how hiring him would put them at risk since they don’t come into my house. On the other hand, if I hired him to do landscaping, he would at the very least be able to see the kids next door playing in their yard. On the other, other hand, he presumably sees kids every day all over the place. Beyond telling all the parents that the guy in the coveralls is a convicted child molester, is it my responsibility to keep him off the block altogether? While I’ve heard that child molesters can’t be “cured,” is it possible that he’s the exception to that assumption? If he served out his prison term, is it wrong to think that he has paid his debt, endured his punishment, and can attempt to live a regular life and be gainfully employed? Again, I’m not posing rhetorical questions here. I want to know what you think.
You ask, “Is it our ethical duty to demonstrate disapproval and disgust by denying him the opportunity to work?”
No, it’s not your ethical duty to deny him work. Your ethical duty is to be ethical. The ethical thing would be to treat him as a person who has committed a crime, paid the price, been allowed back into society and seems to be doing well.
At the same time, it would be prudent to take precautions.
You can be both ethical and safe.
I would be honest with him, even though it will be uncomfortable for you. I would say that it’s come to your attention that he has a prison record, and that your neighbors are concerned, and that you want to continue to hire him but you need to also make peace with your neighbors. So, uncomfortable as it is, you need to know the truth about his past so you can make a difficult decision.
It is difficult for us to live with certain knowledge. The mark of a mature society is how it handles difficult issues. We don’t stone adulterers. In our finest hours, we are above that.
All sorts of precautions can be taken in the neighborhood to ensure that this man does not molest children. He can be kept out of houses.
The one concern that seems to trump our high-mindedness is this: What if his crime involved the secret stalking and abduction of children? If he stalked and abducted a child, you might conclude that even though he has been to prison, he hasn’t necessarily been “cured” of that possibility, and that your duty to the safety of the neighborhood trumps your duty to him as an individual. It doesn’t sound, from what you know, like it involved abduction. But you don’t really know anything except what people have told you. You need to know. You need to find out for yourself.
The bottom line is that you must make this decision based on what you know, not on the fears and possible hysteria of your neighbors. But you must also consider their right to be safe in their houses. If you conclude that what he did was not to intrude on strangers but to give in to a sick impulse when he was left alone with children, then ensuring that he is not left alone with children might seem sufficient. But if he broke into people’s houses and abducted their children, then you may conclude that you can’t in good conscience have him around.
We know that prison doesn’t cure people. Nevertheless, we agree to allow people back into society.
We believe in forgiveness. We don’t stone people in the streets.
But we do take precautions.