The law professor stood at the front of the classroom and introduced Nick, his 30-something son, saying, "I'm very proud of him."
The dad, Larry Dubin, told the small audience about Nick's growing up, graduating college and eventually writing three books. What dad wouldn't be proud?
Then he talked about his son's diagnosis: Asperger's syndrome, a neurological disease on the autism spectrum. As a young child, Nick flapped his arms a lot. At 3, he barely spoke. As an adult, he still cannot tie his shoes, making it all the more impressive that he has achieved so much.
Then the dad added one more item to his son's resume: Nick is a convicted felon, a sex offender on the registry. He was found guilty of possession of child pornography. "That does not in any way dilute my feelings and respect for who Nick is as a person," said the dad.
And maybe that's something the rest of us have to digest.
What the dad has learned the hardest way possible is that many of the people charged with possession of child porn turn out to be people with developmental disabilities. One study found it's actually the majority, which is not totally surprising. These are people who have often grown up bullied and despised. The differences affect their lives in other ways, too, including the age of the people they relate to. If you're 20 or 30 but part of you feels about 8 or 10 or 14, it's not that surprising that that's the age you'd like to see pictures of. You may not even understand it's wrong.
Now, I realize this is a tough and depressing topic. No one wants to talk about it. But that's why it was so impressive that Larry and Nick Dubin decided to make this public appearance — their first — to discuss what it's like to live with a disability and be a sex offender. They'd been invited to St. Francis College in Brooklyn to do so.
Nick went behind the lectern after his silver-haired, professorial dad. He looked boyish in a striped sweater, chosen instead of a suit perhaps because he can't tie a tie. People with Asperger's can be genius-smart in some respects and far behind in others.
"I think you can see how I've been able to survive this," he said with a grateful nod toward his father.
As a kid, Nick was, not surprisingly, tormented by some of his schoolmates. But as he got older and watched them entering relationships, he felt even worse. When he discovered the world of online porn, that's where he went to feel less lonely. He knew there is something wrong about child porn, but he had no idea it's illegal. Then one morning, before dawn, his door burst open and 12 men flooded his room. They yanked him out of bed, threw him against the wall and clapped him in handcuffs.
It was the FBI. He was under arrest for the illegal images he'd been looking at.
By the time his case was finally settled, Nick had undergone five psych evaluations. They all concluded the same thing: He is developmentally disabled. He poses no threat to children. Still, he is now a felon.
"I don't enjoy talking about this," said Nick. But he decided to take this embarrassing leap into the spotlight because as word of his case spread — and because of the fact that his dad is a law professor — the family phone started ringing. Almost once a month, it is a desperate parent sobbing, saying the same thing just happened to his or her son — a son with Asperger's or autism or some other illness.
Over the years, we have come to take into account a defendant's IQ in criminal cases. We understand that someone wired differently should be treated differently.
It's time we realized that about child porn possession, too.
Lenore Skenazy is author of the book and blog "Free-Range Kids" and a keynote speaker at conferences, companies and schools. Her TV show, "World's Worst Mom," airs on Discovery Life. To find out more about Lenore Skenazy ([email protected]) and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.