In this 9-minute video you’ll meet Shawna, an Oklahoma mom not allowed to play with her kids on the playground because of a “sex offense” she committed at age 19: She had consensual sex with a boy, 14. That was 15 years ago. She is on the registry for life, and registrants are banned from playgrounds.
This short was made by David Feige, a public defender and documentarian. Below it I have excerpted some of what he wrote about Shawna and another “offender” you’d probably be proud to have as your son. Don’t read it if you can’t stand feeling rage at the way we have taken the decent, human desire to protect our kids and twisted it to justify sadism.
Listening to Shawna’s story, it became immediately clear that she was far from the kind of person we imagine when we think about sexual predators. She wasn’t some serial rapist or violent pedophile, but rather a young woman who happened to hook up with the wrong guy on her birthday. And as we continued to work on the film, we consistently found others consigned to the margins of society and slapped with a “sex offender” label that didn’t quite seem to fit.
In a desolate parking lot a few months later, I met Adrian. And while his story ultimately didn’t become part of the film, it stuck with me. Adrian was a junior at North Dakota State majoring in business management, when he travelled to Miami for spring break. There, he met a girl at an 18-and-over club. They flirted and danced, then walked to the beach where they had sex. They spent about five days together, hanging out on and off and occasionally hooking up.
Adrian returned to college after the trip and all seemed well, until seven months later when he got a call from a detective with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. As it turns out, the girl had used a fake ID to get into the club. She was actually 15 years old at the time. Her mom filed a complaint when she found out what had happened.
Asked to return to Miami to answer some questions, Adrian took a bus back to Florida. He explained to the detective that everything was consensual, and that he’d assumed the girl must have been 18 or older since she was in the club. Officers recorded his statement, thanked him for his co-operation, handcuffed him and placed him under arrest. Unable to post the $40,000 bond set by a judge, Adrian remained in jail for nearly eight months. It was the first and only time he’d ever been arrested.
In Florida, as in most other states, the fact that the girl was a willing participant was not a defense. Having admitted to the affair and facing some twenty years in prison, Adrian had no choice but to plead guilty to four counts of lewd and lascivious battery of a person under 16. That guilty plea guaranteed he’d spend the rest of his life listed on Florida’s sex offender registry.
Is there any silver lining to these cases? Some evidence that our sex offender laws are at least making children safer?
Study after study has shown that our sex offender registries are utterly ineffective at reducing sexual violence, and that public notification about sex offenders may actually increase recidivism by making reintegration into society nearly impossible. But what Adrian and Shawna’s stories highlight is a more general problem with our approach to sex offenders: In our zeal to protect children and get tough on crime, we have allowed our criminal justice system to run amok — expanding categories and exacting punishments that upon closer inspection few of us would really condone.
Five years after his guilty plea, Adrian had been rejected from more jobs than he could count. Unable to find housing that complied with a Miami ordinance that prevents registrants from living within 2,500 feet of any public or private school, daycare center or playground, Adrian was was forced into homelessness. He slept in a car parked in a lot — one of the few places sex offenders are actually allowed to reside. His college career was over, as was any hope he ever harbored of having a productive life. Then, two years ago, almost a decade after his conviction, Adrian failed to properly register his whereabouts with the police. As a result, he was sentenced to three years in prison.
There are more than 800,000 Americans who are now required to register as sex offenders. And contrary to popular belief, violent serial pedophiles do not fill the ranks of the registered. Rather, a wide swath of sexual thoughts and actions can lead to the lifetime of stigmatization that being on the sex offender registry entails.
Read the rest here. As for what we can do to turn our country away from ineffective, cruel punishment toward policies that actually make kids safer?
My suggestion for today is: Share this video. – L