“If the Sex Offender List Saves One Child…”

Folks, this guest post addresses a sentiment that really disturbs me — the “one child” idea that is used to justify everything from not allowing kids to walk to school to never letting folks who’ve served their time return to the community as anonymous citizens, same as anyone else. “Shelly Stow” is the pseudonym of a member of National Reform Sex Offender Laws, Inc. and of Texas Voices for Reason and Justice. This piece originally appeared in longer form at Corrections.com  - L 

If It Saves One Child by Shelly Stow 

Almost everyone today has some idea of what the sex offender registry is, and most feel it is a good thing. The registry was originally created as a way for  law enforcement (and only law enforcement) to help keep track of repeat, sexually violent child predators. But now it has the names of over 700,000 people on it whose “crimes” are as varied as consensual teen sex, taking and sending a photo of one’s own breasts, and rape. And even though experts and studies have denounced the list as ineffective, the battle cry of its supporters is still, “If it saves one child…!”

“If it saves one child….”

There is no evidence that the registry has done that at all. However, many, many thousands of children have had their lives made a living hell because of it. These are the children of parents on the registry. Some of those registered committed violent crimes, but many — even most —  did not. And yet, all the people on the registry and their families are subject to the whims of local and state laws, including severe restrictions on where they may live. They can also find themselves not allowed to enter libraries, parks or beaches with their children. Some states will bar the registered parent from even being within a 1000 feet of the school his child attends.

Recently a woman took the picture of a registrant that she printed from the Internet and brought it to the school where the registrant’s 5-year-old son was in kindergarten. She showed it around, warning children about this man. His little boy ended up in tears.

Vigilantes have murdered registrants, leaving their children fatherless. The false perception is that everyone on the registry has committed a serious crime and that most, if not all, molested children. So if they have children of their own who are harmed, so what? It’s just collateral damage because the registry might—MIGHT—”save one child.”

“If it saves one child….” Children themselves are registrants on sex offender registries. Nine years old is apparently the youngest age at which children have been put on the registry (in Delaware and Michigan). Several states register children as sexual criminals at ages 10 and 11. Registered 12-year-olds aren’t even rarities. And a 15-year-old who is the child victim for having consensual sex with an 18-year-old becomes a predator and registered sex offender when his or her partner is 14! In Wisconsin last year a district attorney did everything he could, and bragged about it, to have a 6-year-old prosecuted and targeted for sex offender registration for “playing doctor.” Some of these children find escape only in suicide. The registry didn’t save any of them; it destroyed them.

“If it saves one child….” Children do need saving. According to the Justice Dept. and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, many thousands are sexually abused and molested every year. But the registry is not the answer. Most children — about 95% — are abused and molested by their family members and acquaintances, by those they interact with. Keeping the focus on “strangers” on the registry turns us away from the bigger problem, even while taking away  the resources to deal with it.

“If it saves one child” isn’t good enough. Thousands — no, hundreds of thousands — need saving from the registry. When and how and with what will we save them? — Shelly

Not all dots = child rapists.

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