The Man Who Abused Me is Not on the Sex Offender List (The One who Saved Me Is)

Folks, this is a long essay, but one I’m proud to share, as I continue to believe the Sex Offender Registry is not keeping kids any safer, and yet it is ruining a lot of lives. It comes to us from Shana Rowan, executive director of USA FAIR, Inc. (USA Families Advocating an Intelligent Registry), a nonprofit group founded by family members of people required to register.  As Shana says, “USA FAIR promotes intelligent, fact-based sex offender laws and shines a light on the collateral damage imposed on loved ones of registrants.” A noble goal. – L. 

MY ABUSER, MY FIANCE, AND THE SEX OFFENDER REGISTRY  

by Shana Rowan

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In the middle of tenth grade, I was a fire engine red-haired, eyebrow pierced, plaid-mini-skirt-and-combat-boots-wearing 15-year-old, fighting a losing battle with depression and anxiety. Eventually, this would cause me to lose every friendship I ever had. By the beginning of my junior year, I had only one – a handsome, quietly sweet boy who was innocent obliviousness to my undying love. The few words he did speak meant that much more. I could always tell that he was in pain; it radiated from him. I never asked why and he never offered. For both of us, just knowing the other was aware of our silent suffering was enough.
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One day he and I were leaning against the lockers in H building, me unable to focus on anything but his deep brown eyes. The next day he was gone – arrested, removed from school and from my life. I never got to say goodbye – much less find out what had happened. With my last support system gone, I floundered badly. I was lucky to graduate high school – not because I wasn’t smart enough, but because everything at school reminded me of what I had lost, and just being there was difficult.
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My life was so desolate that by 23, I was four and a half years into a relationship to a man 14 years my senior, who had become my husband. He subjected me to physical and sexual violence on a regular basis. He isolated me from my family, refused to work while I worked two jobs, and wouldn’t let me go anywhere alone. The shame of allowing myself to be victimized over and over again coupled with the paralyzing fear I had of my husband kept me from ever hinting that anything was wrong. The only thing that kept me together was everyone else’s illusion that everything was fine.
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GAME CHANGER
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One day my husband and I were attending a baseball card signing (regular “fun” outings were part of the jig). As we waited in line, a plug for a local nonprofit organization – for the prevention of domestic violence – played over the loudspeaker. My husband laughed and said sarcastically, “maybe you should go there.” Earlier that morning he had grabbed me by the hair and slammed my face into the floor (I had accidentally knocked coffee onto his Yankees jersey). I was attending the card signing with a split upper lip. His laughter that day awakened the last trace of dignity I had. My problem was finding a way to get out of the house before he caught up to me – and more than likely, killed me.
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At a complete loss of where to start, I decided to track down my high school love – who had written to me from prison a couple of years prior. As overjoyed as I was to hear from him, especially when he admitted that he had always been in love with me, I was terrified my husband would find out. I threw away his letters and tried to forget about him. Luckily, it didn’t work. Through the powers of Google, I learned he was out of prison and working nearby. On my lunch break, I marched into the mechanic shop he worked in. He had his head under the hood of a gold Buick. When the door shut behind me, he looked up, and back down. Up, and back down. Up.
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AN EXIT
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He was the first person I told about what my husband was doing to me. Three weeks later, I walked out the door under the guise of visiting my sister. I never went back. I moved back in with my parents, and with my friend’s help, revealed to them what I had experienced. Soon, my friend was my boyfriend. His having been pulled out of tenth grade to serve a sentence in state prison had had a similar effect on him that being with an abusive man had on me. After about eight months, we made the decision to move 250 miles northwest where the cost of living was much cheaper.
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There is no doubt in my mind that if it had not been for my boyfriend, who is now my fiancée, that my now ex-husband would have killed me eventually. He — my fiancee — has been with me throughout my recovery. He embraces my independence and individual interests, making it possible for me to live out my dreams of owning and fostering multiple rescue dogs. He supports me 100% financially, which allows me to act as the Executive Director of USA FAIR, Inc. a nonprofit organization – a volunteer position. I’ve found a church family I love, and play the piano there on Sunday mornings.
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AN ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE 
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As I write this, our surveillance system is recording the movements of anyone who comes within 100 feet of our property. My anxiety medication sits within arm’s reach on the night table. I feel an ever-constant, lightly throbbing fear of the next phone call or knock on the door. I feel less safe now than I ever did with my ex. But the source of my fear is not my ex, or remnants of my past trauma. It’s for loving and living with the person I love.
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My fiancé is a registered sex offender. As an adolescent, he sexually abused his younger half-sister, which was simultaneously being perpetrated on him by his mother. I’m thankful that his actions were brought to light and stopped, and that he now sees the immeasurable impact it had on his victim. I wish the same could be said for his abusers. I don’t aim to soften the seriousness of his crime. I do want to point out that while the man who brutally beat me walks free, the man who saved me from that is forever labeled a dangerous monster.
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ARE WE THE EXCEPTION?
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I know what you’re thinking: sex offenders never change; they can’t get better. Your sentiment is shared by many otherwise educated, open-minded individuals. That is precisely why I live my life in fear – even though I’m a world away from the person who held me down while screaming in my face. It’s the reason I’ve been repeatedly targeted and threatened by strangers, had my personal property vandalized, and been told the safety of my family is inconsequential. In case you think we’re the exception, ask the millions of other mothers, fathers, wives, siblings, and children who love someone on the registry.  Ask my parents, my sister, and my friends how it feels that on a whim, some deranged individual can type in a zip code or county, be presented with information commonly referred to as “the pedophile list” – and do with it what they will. (Last June in Washington State, a vigilante used the registry to hunt down registrants and kill them – murdering two before he was caught, and destroying two families, including two young boys who lost their father.)
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Part of how I cope with the onslaught of ignorance and hatred is by immersing myself in research – state, federal, and independent. Truth is, the facts are on “our” side. As a broad group, sex offender recidivism is conclusively very low, and incestuous offenses carry the lowest recidivism of all at .04%. While the registry began as a safety tool to warn parents of violent repeat offenders who preyed on children, now it contains three quarters of a million people, some of whom who have never victimized children or used violence. Children themselves – as young as 10 – can be forced to publicly register as sex offenders, even though juvenile offenders have lower recidivism rates than adults. Most troubling to me is that sexual recidivism rates for convicted sex offenders are the identical same low rates to what they were ten years prior to Megan’s Law.  All the sanctions imposed on my fiancé, and by extension me, have had no impact on reducing sex crimes.
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EVERYONE LOVES A SEX OFFENDER (AS AN ATTENTION-GETTER) 
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Sex offenders provide irresistible political and emotional appeal. Impose ever-stricter laws on sex offenders and you’re “tough on crime.” Add “sex offender” to a headline, even if it’s completely irrelevant to the story, and draw in viewers eager to protect their families. A magic list containing the names and faces of those to avoid sounds a whole lot simpler than educating ourselves about an uncomfortable, emotional subject. Who doesn’t want tough laws and convenient family protection? I think we all do. But even the toughest laws won’t do a thing if they are not also “smart,” and our children deserve parents who are fully educated and aware of the facts. I daresay that the loved ones of registrants deserve all these things too.
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I am 100% against abuse of any kind and believe that perpetrators must be held accountable. If there was evidence that our current sex offender laws had a positive impact on public safety, I and other family members of registrants would accept this and go about living our lives. But since there isn’t – and I can say that with certainty because I’ve done my homework – I urge everyone to embrace new information and fact-based laws. This issue knows no bounds; it affects people of both genders, all ages, races, religions, political leanings, and sexual orientations. Supporting smart laws doesn’t mean you are soft on crime or a sex offender apologist or blaming the victim. It means you care enough to come out of your comfort zone and unify on an issue that affects us all.
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If you take nothing else from my story, I ask just one thing. The next time you hear the term “sex offender” or browse the registry, please remember there could be a family not unlike yours behind the mug shot. – S.R.
If the Sex Offender Registry isn’t making kids safer, shouldn’t we change it?

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