A recent TV news show on a completely different topic recently introduced me to the phrase, “Fear Obscures Fact.” That short phrase struck a nerve as it concisely explains one of the major obstacles in the registrant community.
There is a plethora of data in studies and reports from both government and academia stating the facts. For example, the rate of re-offense for individuals required to register is very low and continues to decrease the more time they spend in the community. This rate of re-offense is as low as less than one percent for registrants on parole.
Another example is that the registry is ineffective in large part because it gives families a false sense of security. That is, many families believe that if they protect their children from individuals required to register, their children will be safe. That is not so, however, because the perpetrators of at least 90 percent of child sex abuse are not on the registry, but instead are family members, teachers, coaches, clergy and law enforcement officials.
We repeat these messages over and over when we lobby and in lawsuits we file yet they are not heard. Why?
If we accept the premise that “Fear Obscures Fact” we can start to understand. According to brain scientists, humans have a part of the brain called the “reptilian brain.” In case you haven’t heard of that part of the brain, it is often described as the center for “fight or flight.” It is the part of the brain that increased the success of cavemen and cavewomen escaping from a hungry saber tooth tiger.
While the “reptilian brain” helps humans escape from physical harm, the same part of the brain shuts down critical thinking as well as the ability to absorb new information. Think about that. If a human believes he or she or his or her loved ones are in danger, they cannot think critically, and they cannot absorb new information. Therefore, if a human believes that all registrants are monsters and are ready to pounce on their next victim, the human may literally be unable to hear and understand the facts they are given.
So what can we do?
According to communications experts, the most effective way to communicate a message that others may not want to hear is to frame that message in a way that does not frighten the listener and therefore does not trigger the “reptilian brain.” I learned this lesson a few years ago while lobbying in the state capitol.
I observed that when I told those with whom I was meeting that I am an advocate for the civil rights of registrants, they shut down. Although their eyes were open, their ears were closed. After many tries, I developed a new message, which is that I am an advocate for the protection of the Constitution (pause) which can only be achieved by restoring the civil rights of registrants.
It was the same message, but delivered differently. And the results have been tremendous and produced positive results both in the state capitol and in courtrooms.
We need to continue this trend, that is, to reframe our messages so that our listeners are no longer afraid. It will take a lot of work and especially the crafting of careful language, but it will be worth it because it will take us to the Tipping Point where registrants are no longer treated as the lepers of society, but instead as human beings.
May it be so.