Dots on a sex offender map terrify many parents. “Look! There’s one of them in the neighborhood!” Here is a letter from the wife of one of “them.” I would not be afraid for my family to live near him.
Free Range Kids:
I’m married to a registered sex offender. I’ve told our story before, but I don’t mind telling it again, because I think too often we get bogged down in a false dichotomy about sex offenses: there are innocent people who don’t deserve to be sex offenders at all because they did nothing wrong (people who urinated in public, 18 year old guys sleeping with 15 year old girlfriends, etc.) and then there are those horrible child molesters who deserve the harshest punishments we can throw at them. The argument goes that these policies are wrong because they lump the “innocent” in with the “guilty.”
I disagree. I think many, if not most, sex offenders, actually *did* do something genuinely wrong, but still don’t deserve to be punished for life. Some, of course, do. But, a huge number of sex offenders are men like my husband: men who, in their 20s, committed a non-violent, non-forcible offense (either in “real life” or virtually) involving a willing post-pubescent teen (or an officer pretending to be one).
That’s not okay. It should be a crime. But, it should not be a crime that you are never, ever allowed to move on from. The 22 year old guy who sleeps with a willing 15 year old, the 20 year old guy who has some nude pics of a 14 year old girl he met online, the 25 year old guy who engages in inappropriate conversations in an adult sex chat room with an adult officer who poses as a sexually-experienced 15 year old eager for a hook-up (as happened to my husband, with an officer who initiated conversations with him for months until he finally agreed to a meeting), the 26 year old assistant coach at a high school who begins a relationship with a senior on the team: these are people who did things that are wrong. They did things they should have not done. They did things we can rightfully condemn as a society and punish.
However, treating these acts as the most heinous crimes imaginable, as crimes that a person should never be allowed to leave in their past, seems like an overreaction. We do not and should not treat every transgression as an ultimate transgression.
The judge and prosecutor offered my husband a deal of two years’ probation, based on their assessment of the situation and evaluations by two psychiatrists. That is how serious they considered his offense, that it was worth a sentence of two years’ probation. His probation officer and the judge signed off on him having completed his sentence after 16 months. And yet, because of our state legislature, he has 25 years on the registry. He’s done almost half that time. At this point, over 12 years have passed since his offense, and a decade has passed since he successfully served out the punishment the court deemed appropriate for it. We have been very fortunate that he has remained employed and we have faced minimal harassment.
He is now almost 40, the father of 4, and a very different person than he was at 25. (Aren’t we all, thank God?!) However, he will spend the rest of his life, until and unless the registry is abolished, waiting for the next shoe to drop. He is part of a class of citizens we have deemed it okay to discriminate against, in the most heavy-handed and blatant ways, and he knows that any law can be passed against him at any time.
At any time, we could have to move because a new law makes our current housing illegal. At any time, he could lose his job because a new law, say, requires employers of sex offenders to put a sign on the window announcing such. At any time, he could no longer be allowed to legally offer a juice box to one of our kids’ friends (a few years ago, an MI lawmaker tried to pass a law making it a registry violation for an SO to give any food or drink to any child under 18). At any time, anything could happen. And, yes, most of those restrictions would likely be deemed unconstitutional at some point in the future, but in the meantime he would be committed a felony sex crime if he violated them (because registry violations are often considered new sex offenses).
This is not okay. The farther out we get from his offense, the less okay it seems. If he had, 12 years ago, committed a carjacking of a woman and child, or an armed robbery, or at this point even voluntary manslaughter and today be out of prison and free to move on with his life, without notifications going out to neighbors every time he moved. I just personally don’t see how what he did was worse than committing a carjacking, armed robbery, or taking a person’s life, but according to our laws the people who committed those offenses do not have to belong to a class of individuals who can be discriminated against at the whim of lawmakers (as it should be! they SHOULD be free to move on with their lives and have a second chance!) while my husband is.
We have to move beyond a “Yes, but” conversation about sex offenses. “Yes, maybe these laws are overreaching, but what these people did was wrong!” Yes, most sex offenders did something wrong. Agreed.But, that doesn’t mean that it is okay to throw whatever laws we want at them, for the rest of their lives. We already have a number of options for dealing with people who commit sex crimes–or any crime–who we think pose a serious risk of re-offense. Many sex offenders who commit forcible offenses against minors or offenses against those under 13 end up on lifetime supervision, which means that even after they get our of prison, they will be under the supervision of a PO and have restrictions on where they can live, where they can go, and who they can be around (including being barred from ever being around minors without a trained monitor, if at all). Some SOs who are considered high-risk can be electronically monitored long-term. And, of course, international travel can be banned for life for anybody who has been convicted of child sex tourism or trafficking.
What this law will do is create one more barrier for those who once committed a sex crime but have been deemed to have successfully completed a legal punishment and ready to reintegrate into society from doing so. Thank God more and more people are realizing this is not okay. In many ways, I think our sex offender hysteria has and continues to sow the seeds of its own destruction: law enforcement has become so overzealous, especially about internet crimes and going after teens and young adults, that soon nearly everybody will know somebody on the registry they think doesn’t belong there, and that will cause them to question these policies.
We question those policies here because there is no evidence that public registration has made children any safer. And there’s no evidence that there is a need to brand sex offenders’ passports. And by my calculations, at least, it seems that a child is more likely to end up ON the sex offender registry than to be molested BY someone on it.
That seems a lot scarier than a dot on the map. – L.