By Michael M.
My decision to become a full-time advocate for criminal justice and registry reform wasn’t an easy one. When I was arrested, the news media took whatever they could find online about me and ran with it, exercising complete disregard for its source or validity. At one point, they published the photos of over a dozen of my professional associates, some of whom I’d never even met, and asserted that they were all members of a sex cult. Anyone unfortunate enough to have been associated with me in business or socially was instantly branded as a probable co-conspirator, cult member, or sex-trafficker.
During my incarceration, my family and friends were targeted with harassment, vandalism, and death threats. So, given that back-story, you can probably imagine their reaction when I announced that I was about to become a very public advocate for changing how the judicial system and society deal with sex crimes, victims, and offenders.
They freaked out.
But this was something I really needed to do. I’ve never been one to sit back and let life dictate to me how things ought to be. My stay in federal prison left me desperately needing to feel in charge of my own destiny once again. Because of what I’ve been through, I feel I may be uniquely qualified to contribute to the national discussion in ways that I hope are insightful and based on real experiences rather than conjecture and ideology. The fact that I have extensive previous experience in writing, politics, and public relations is icing on the cake.
I needed to assure my family and friends that I would do everything possible to prevent them from becoming the “collateral damage” in a fight that none of them wanted to have any part of. I gave it a lot of thought, and this is the result of that contemplation.
Ten tips for sex offender registry advocates. I hope you find this useful.
It isn’t always about you. Despite appearances in the first few paragraphs of this article, I am trying very hard not to make my advocacy all about me. Sure, I truly believe I’ve been screwed by an unfair and uncaring system but, then again, so has pretty much everyone else who’s been touched by our labyrinthine and dysfunctional judicial system. I will let my experience inform and shape my advocacy and infuse my message with some level of credibility, but I won’t let it become a holy crusade to fix my particular problem. You shouldn’t either.
Focus your message on your target market. Your objective shouldn’t be to preach to the converted, but to convince the undecided. To do that, we must find common ground for discussion and potential agreement with people outside our comfort zone. Picking social media fights with people who are obstinately against you is a terrible waste of your valuable time and resources. That hour you spent in a flame-war with a pin-head who will never see things your way could have been better spent engaging with a handful of people who are willing to see things your way. Focus also means looking for the most efficient expenditures or your energy. Marching up and down the street with a protest sign isn’t very effective or safe. Writing a letter to your congressman? Better. Donating time or money to an organization working on your behalf? Great!
Don’t allow yourself to become indifferent to evil. It’s incredibly easy to fall into the trap of “whataboutism” or relative morality. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn said, “It is in the nature of the human being to seek a justification for his actions.” Some folks unthinkingly justify themselves by accepting or minimizing the immoral or illegal actions of others. Others feel better about themselves if they can condemn and persecute someone whom they consider more despicable than they are. The world is confusing and complicated enough without all the dissembling. Pointing out that rape is evil, even if you happen to be a sex offender, isn’t hypocrisy. It’s simply stating the truth.
Never get suckered into being portrayed as someone who wants to abolish sex crimes altogether. No one wants that. Those laws exist for a darn good reason – they serve to protect society. A person attempting to undermine your credibility will often use a “straw man argument” such as: “So, if you had your way, child sex abuse would be legal!” Our position should unequivocally be that sexual crime is indeed a serious problem, but it can’t be solved through mass incarceration, shaming, humiliation, banishment, unemployment, forced homelessness, and vigilantism.
Don’t lower yourself to the same level of vitriol as the haters. Christ was reported to have said, “Converte gladium tuum in locum suum. Omnes enim, qui acceperint gladium, gladio peribunt.” (“Return your sword to its place, for all who will take up the sword, will die by the sword.”) By using their logic, their tactics, you’re validating their position. If you want to put all false accusers on a registry to be humiliated and persecuted, you’re accepting the notion that registries actually accomplish something. If you think that people pressing for longer terms of incarceration should spend a year in some rat-hole jail cell to “learn what it’s like,” you’re just as bad as they are.
Avoid no-win arguments. Getting into one with someone who is incapable or unwilling to use reason is a losing proposition for all concerned. A person who is spewing hatred and duplicity at you is never going to suddenly smack himself in the forehead and say, “Wow! You know what? You’re right! I am a fatuous moron! Thanks for setting me straight!” except, perhaps, in your dreams. Far more likely is the possibility that the enraged nitwit will try to track you down and try to make your life miserable in some way. Block and move on to something productive and less emotionally draining.
Keep your privileged information privileged. Abstain from publishing your home address, phone number, employer identification, or other critical information that could be used to identify, harass, or harm you or your family, friends and employer. It’s bad enough that, if you’re a registrant, the government is already publicly publishing this stuff about you, you shouldn’t be making matters even worse. Yes, people may be curious about you, but their curiosity doesn’t give them a right to know personal details that might put your family at risk. Even allies could someday become adversaries. Get used to asking, “Why do you want to know?”
Victims of sexual assault absolutely deserve to be treated with respect. Many registrants were, themselves, victims of childhood sexual assault. A broken judicial system victimizes practically everyone it touches. Registry reform is not an issue that requires polarization into opposing camps. We all want safer communities, less sexual abuse, better investigative tools, rehabilitated offenders, rational laws and sentencing, and greater respect for everyone’s constitutional rights. Focus on commonalities, not differences. The only way we can accomplish anything is to work together, not against one another.
Don’t just talk the talk; Walk the walk. It’s easy to grouse about how bad things are, but what are you actually doing about the situation? If you think simply “liking” stuff on social media is going to bring about meaningful change in our society, you’re seriously deluding yourself. Change always involves risk, and it’s invariably painful. It’s up to you to decide how much risk is acceptable and where your pain tolerance lies. If you haven’t volunteered your talents or donated even a small amount of cash to the cause, then you’re as much a part of the problem as the uninformed and apathetic public.
Keep your advocacy focused on the betterment of society as a whole, not just a better world for former sex offenders. We aren’t advocating for constitutional rights for sex offenders. We are advocating for constitutional rights for everyone. Registrants are simply the canary in the coal mine, bringing to light the kinds of legislative and prosecutorial overreach that should be worrisome to anyone who believes in the constitution. We’re not looking for a free pass. We just want a system that is fair and does what it is supposed to do, which is keep our communities safer.