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The Shaming of America

Public stocks, public dunkings. These were the fates of those shamefully accused of witchcraft in the 1600’s.

Scarlet Letter A’s for adulterers in the 17th century.  A way of publicly humiliating and shaming those who went outside of their church sanctified marriages back in the day.

Today Amish still turn their backs on their brethren and sistren when they feel they have wronged the church in some way, their way of saying “Shame on you.”

Shame, Shame, Shame.

We were and still are a country of shamers. And we shame everyone.

Recently a woman took photos of Geoffrey Owens, an actor who had played Elvin Tibideaux on the Cosby show, while he worked at a NJ Trader Joe’s grocery store. She posted the photos on her social media account and it caused quite an uproar. An actor working as a cashier in a grocery store? For shame!  Somehow this misguided woman was under the impression that actors who aren’t acting don’t still need to pay rent, put food on the table and do what the rest of us have to do to make ends meet. She job-shamed him.

Luckily Mr. Owens has a strong sense of self and didn’t fall into the trap of feeling any shame. He was an actor making ends meet by working as a cashier. But the notoriety of the event did force him to leave a job that he may have otherwise been content to keep working at had the issue of “job shaming” not come into play and been plastered over the internet. (Although the woman who posted the pics later expressed remorse for the entire episode, Mr. Owens, a man just minding his own business, ended up having to quit his job.)

And then there is actor Steven Wilder Striegel, all set to be featured in a 20th Century Fox film “The Predator”, that is until a co-star in the film, Olivia Munn, discovered that Striegel was a former sexual offender. (Why she chose to pull skeletons out of someone else’s closet is unclear, but that’s what she did.)  Munn wasted no time in alerting Fox studios of her discovery and Fox quickly excised Striegel’s scene. Munn stated that she was “surprised and unsettled” that the director (who new of Striegel’s past and was a close personal friend of his) hadn’t shared the information with cast and crew. (I wonder how Ms. Munn would feel if any and all of her past mistakes were pulled from the closet and shared by the director with cast and crew?)

Did it matter to Munn that Striegel’s offense was from 2010? Or that he had already completed his court appointed sentence? Or that he could probably  lose his job for no other reason than the fact that he was on the registry?

No. It certainly didn’t matter to Ms. Munn. She thought she was doing everyone a favor, righting some terrible wrong by exposing a part of Mr. Striegel’s past which I’m certain he’d rather and rightly, have put behind him. Of course Ms. Munn’s “good intention” ended up right on the front page of the internet, the public shaming venue of the 21 century.

Unfortunately, there are plenty of people like Ms. Munn who don’t think before they act. Things could have been handled so much better. She could have talked to Mr. Striegel about the information she had uncovered, about her concerns working with him. Or, she could have given up her part in the film if she was uncomfortable working with Striegel.  But no, none of that happened.

A few days later Munn went on to complain in an interview that she felt isolated by her co-actors, that she felt they were giving her the “cold shoulder” and not giving her the proper amount of support for what she’d done.  After all, she had spoken up and done the right thing by exposing a human being who is required to register, hadn’t she? (Perhaps there were other actors who didn’t agree that she had “done the right thing”.  Perhaps there are rational people who believe that when a person has paid for their past transgressions, they should be left in the past!)  Maybe the tide is turning…..

I don’t know if Ms. Munn sees herself as some kind of hero or if she wants an award for saving the rest of the cast from…..from what exactly? A man with a past (Ms. Munn, we all have a past) who was just trying to work.  Mr. Striegel hadn’t done anything sexually inappropriate towards Ms. Munn or anyone else in the movie from what I can gather in the news articles.  So what was she trying to do exactly? Shame someone else to get publicity for herself? I don’t know. It’s hard to understand why someone does something like that.

Today we want everything to be a media event. And we want to be the star, the hero, the righter of wrongs. There’s a # movement for everything.

We’ve seen it with the #MeToo movement, the #Time’sUp movement. Not a day goes by anymore when someone isn’t accusing someone else of some kind of sexual wrong-doing. Events that one side says happened decades ago are brought out of the dark recesses of a closet. It becomes a public “he said she said” media bonanza. The spotlight is often on those in Hollywood and there’s an old Hollywood expression “any publicity is good publicity”. So, good, bad or indifferent, if it gets someone in the spotlight, even at someone else’s expense, well, that’s what seems to matter, frequent spotlight moments.

As for the rest of us mere mortals, when it comes to Hollywood or big corporation CEO’s, do we ever knows who’s telling the truth when sexual accusations are thrown around?  To be honest, it happens with such frequency that most of us no longer care “what” if “anything” really happened or who was to blame.

We become numb to that kind of thing pretty quickly when it happens again and again and again, and you never really know who’s being truthful.

Shame, Shame, Shame.

What is wrong with society? Do we get some depraved sense of pleasure by shaming others? Do some of us feel so “morally superior” that we think we are above ever being shamed ourselves? Is shaming each other ingrained in us humans?

Those accused of sexual offenses are shamed.

They are shamed when the offense happens. Their offense often makes the local newspaper, TV or in some cases the internet. The media thrives on publicly humiliating and shaming.

After completing their sentences, those required to register are shamed by their government by being placed on a public ‘hit’ list accessed by vigilantes.

Their families are shamed, their friends are shamed.

America. Aren’t we better than this?

It’s shameful.



7 thoughts on “The Shaming of America

  • (“Eighth Amendment challenges have also failed to overturn shaming conditions, despite arguments that ‘modern scarlet-letter probation conditions constitute punishment in and of themselves’ and that certain shaming conditions impose psychological cruelty while yielding no better results than conventional punishments.”); id. at 1953 (“Courts have simply adopted the reasoning that shaming is not cruel or unusual when the alternative is imprisonment.”); Dan M. Kahan, What Do Alternative Sanctions Mean?, 63 U. Chi. L. Rev. 591, 646 n.226 (1996) (“Although the doctrine is exceedingly indeterminate, it seems fairly obvious that shaming penalties are not ‘cruel and unusual’ for purposes. We do, however, note that Blanton v. N. Las Vegas,489 U.S. 538, 103 L. Ed. 2d 550, 109 S. Ct. 1289 (1989), is instructive, if only indirectly. In Blanton, the Court considered whether a Nevada DUI defendant was entitled to a jury trial pursuant to the Sixth Amendment. The inquiry into whether the offense constituted a petty crime not subject to the Sixth Amendment trial provision required the Court to evaluate the severity of the maximum authorized penalty. Id. at 541. The statute provided a maximum sentence of six months or, alternatively, forty-eight hours of community service while dressed in distinctive garb identifying the defendant as a DUI offender, payment of a $200-$1000 fine, loss of driving license, and attendance at an alcohol abuse course. Id. at 539-40. The Court wrote: We are also unpersuaded by the fact that, in-stead of a prison sentence, a DUI offender may be ordered to perform 48 hours of community service dressed in clothing identifying him as a DUI offender. Even assuming the outfit is the source of some embarrassment during the 48-hour period, such a penalty will be less embarrassing and less onerous than six months in jail.

  • https://prawfsblawg.blogs.com/prawfsblawg/files/gementera_cert_petition_final.pdf
    In Hackler, the California Court of Appeal held that a condition of probation requiring the defendant to wear a t-shirt that advertised his status as a convicted felon was invalid. In striking the shaming condition, the California court held that “the relationship between the required conduct (wearing the t-shirt) and the defendant’s crime (stealing beer) was so incidental that it was not reasonable and that the true intent behind the condition was to expose Hackler to ‘public ridicule and humiliation’ and not ‘to foster rehabilitation.’” Gementera, 379 F.3d at 611 (App. 28-29) (Hawkins, J., dissenting, citing 13 Cal.App.4th at 686-87.) Similarly, in this case, as Judge Hawkins recog-nized, “the purpose behind the sandwich board condition was not to rehabilitate Gementera, but rather to turn him into a modern day Hester Prin.” Id. Such conditions also raise both practical and fairness concerns, given the nature of the wound that shaming seeks to inflict. According to modern scholarship reviewing the psychological implications of shaming punishment:
    When it works, it redefines a person in a negative, often irreversible, way. Effective shame sanctions strike at an offender’s psychological core. To allow government officials to search for and manipulate this vulnerable core is worrisome, to say the least. Moreover, nothing in the psychological materials on shame, or in the available literature on the stigmatic aspect of punishment indicates that a judge or any other person can reconstruct that core after a defendant has “done her time” in the “public stocks.” Certainly, nothing in contemporary criminal punishment practices suggests that judges have adopted procedures for rebuilding this core.

  • Angela M.

    I was released from prison in October. It took me until mid-December to find housing and a job. Come mid January, I lost my job. It is now the end of February and I finally – FINALLY! – got hired. Only to have to tell them I cannot accept the position that I desperately need because it is located within 1000′ of a greenway. A GREENWAY. (One, I can assure you, does not get used often, considering it’s asinine location.) I had to go in and apologize to the manager, that I could not work for them, no matter how badly I wanted to, because of my “restrictions.” It is my opinion that this state would rather all SO’s be incarcerated or living on the street. Yes, I feel like I wear a scarlet letter and it is a horrible thing to go through. We are not here to judge others yet I and others like me are discriminated against LEGALLY every single day. For housing, for employment, for simple basic rights. I lost my rights while incarcerated… I shouldn’t have also lost them now that I am “free.” Why is it “we” are the only ones who have this restrictive registry we must conform to? I do not understand. And it breaks my heart.

  • My husband and I have been a couple since 1999, married since 2006. My husband is a registered sex offender in the state of Florida from a 1994 conviction. We were dating while he was still on probation looking forward to the day he would fulfill this part of his sentence. He met all the state requirements and finally he was free from having to get permission to travel. This year the rules for the registered were changed, made retroactive requiring him to again gain permission to leave the area(actually the rules change every year). Being on this registry has cost him jobs he was well qualified for, family members and friends who only see the worst characterization of the term “sex offender.” How can the state keep adding to a sentence already handed down? This past year we hired an attorney to represent and assist my husband to go before the governor of Florida and the review board to ask for his voting rights to be restored. The attorney was positive the would be favorable. We are $5000 out of pocket with an unfavorable response.
    My husband is a military veteran having served our country for 20 years, already suffers from PTSD. I know being on this registry and the requirements which change each year is wreaking additional havoc on his health. Is there light at the end of this tunnel?

  • Wonder how these shamers feel about Donna Hylton, who sodomized a man and then murdered him after torturing him for days. She is the feminist spokesperson these days. She says she’s paid her debt, but do we believe her? I’d like to ask all these shaming women, how they feel about their representative?

    The same can be said for all the #metoo movement loud mouths, if their dirty laundry was exposed from their teenage years, how well would they do under that kind of scrutiny? The discrimination against men in general is almost as it was against women in the 1920’s and we wonder why men don’t want to marry, why they don’t really want kids as much as they might have before. They are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. If they choose to enter into a relationship and have kids, the woman needs only make an accusation that he has touched their children or attempted to rape her and because of the VAWA he will not receive any benefit of the doubt or presumed innocent until proven guilty. For the safety of the children his rights will be severed and he’ll be under scrutiny for the rest of his children’s childhood. They will also get their wages garnished if they refuse to pay. Never mind that there are many men in this country that are paying for children that aren’t even theirs because the woman lied to them. Then the courts will force them to pay for those children even if they aren’t theirs. It would seem the logic is “someone has to” or “you have been paying for them all this time, why stop now that you know they aren’t your’s biologically?”

    Our whole system is based on SHAME, it is how they keep everyone that has committed a crime and have been rehabilitated under the state’s thumb. You shame them so they are afraid to speak up, they have no confidence, just like you see in domestic abuse situations regardless of the gender that is being abused. Men suffer from the same emotional distresses that women do, they just talk less about it because SOCIETY and women SHAME THEM for speaking up.

    The studies say that men and women are domestically abused about the same by their significant other, yet there is only ONE men’s shelter in the whole USA, while there are thousands of shelters for women. Why such the gap? I believe it is because of the nature of the two genders, women talk more about their feelings and many many other things, while men are shunned and shamed for talking about those same things. As we all know the squeaky wheel gets the grease, women are squeaking more than men so they are getting all the attention, when the EQUALITY they all claim they have fought so hard for is being stripped from others. THAT IS NOT EQUALITY, THAT’S STEALING.

  • Judy Burke

    I was outed by a local news station that did a report called “Do you know where your local sex offender works?”
    Our mugshots were shown on TV and the company I had worked for 17 months fired me and 2 others!
    I was the highest selling sales person in our district.

    • AnneMarie

      So sorry to hear that Judy. I am embarrassed for our country asto how we are treating people. Truly saddened.


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