Category: Life on the SO Registry

Picture Yourself a Registrant

restaurant-small1by Michael M.

Consider this hypothetical scenario:  While your 15-year old son is scrolling through the pictures on his phone, you catch a brief glimpse of a nude photo and ask him to hand the phone over. Reluctantly, he does, and upon inspection you discover that his girlfriend – who is also 15 years old – has recently sent him a couple of nude photos. Would you call the police and report it?

If you’re like most parents, the answer is probably going to be no.

Related imageMost parents would likely confiscate his phone, revoke all privileges for a reasonable period of time, and continue to lecture him until his head explodes. You might even contact the young lady’s parents to ensure that an adequate level of “boom lowering” is taking place in that household, as well. Naturally, they self-righteously proclaim that their innocent little angel would never do such a thing! So, to prove your case, you send them the photos. That’s when “Murphy’s Law” begins to exert its awful influence.

Instead of thanking you and nominating you for “Parent of the Year,” the young lady’s parents are suddenly and inexplicably angry about the fact that you’ve seen naked pictures of their little angel. They rant and rail at you over the phone, calling you a pervert and plenty worse. You hang up, your head reeling from the unexpected attack. You shake your head, mumbling to yourself, “No good deed goes unpunished!”  You delete the offending photos from your son’s phone and go back to your daily routine.

Related imageWithin a couple of hours, there are a two police officers at your door with a search warrant. After talking to your son (who is still mad at you) and seizing all phones, tablets, and computers in the house, they inform you that you are being arrested for possession of child pornography, exploitation of a minor, distribution of child pornography, destruction of evidence, and obstructing an investigation. They explain to you that some of those charges carry a potential twenty-to-life sentence and that it’s their fondest wish that you’ll grow old and die from scabies in prison. Then they give you a scribbled receipt for your stuff, which you’ll never see again.

Months later, while still in jail, you have several meetings with your attorney where he explains your choices. You can fight these five charges, but the prosecutor only needs to convict you of one of them to put you away for a long, long time. Sure, he says, you can definitely beat some of the charges, that’s not a problem. But expecting to beat all five charges – especially when prosecutors have a 97% conviction rate – is unrealistic. He tells you that your best bet is to plead guilty to a single charge that will result in a maximum sentence of five years in prison. In return for your plea, the prosecutor will drop the other four charges. With luck, he says, you’ll be home in a year or two. He says this with a used-car salesman’s grin and pats you on the back as if you’ve just won the lottery.  As much as this plea agreement goes completely against the grain of everything you’ve ever believed in, you agree to do it. It isn’t until three months later, at your sentencing hearing, that your attorney whispers to you, “Did I forget to mention that this plea agreement means you’ll be listed on the sex offender registry?”

Welcome to the never-ending hell that is life as a registrant. Even if you are lucky enough to be removed from the registry someday, you’ll always be referred to by the authorities and the media as “a sex offender who no longer has to register.” That label has a special kind of glue.

Perhaps that hypothetical scenario is a little too far-fetched for you to believe that it could ever happen to you. Maybe you can’t really relate to it because you don’t have kids, or you simply can’t imagine our judicial system being so fatuously dysfunctional. Fair enough. Let’s talk about some things that you may have actually experienced in real-life.

selfie1Have you ever sent a nude photo of yourself to another person without first getting permission to do so from the other person? In most states, without explicit prior consent, that’s considered a sex crime. And if you didn’t verify that the person was over 18, you may have unwittingly committed a sex crime against a minor. Ignorance of the person’s age is not a defense, nor is being lied to by the minor.

Have you ever engaged in a sexual act while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or with someone else who was under the influence? An inebriated person cannot legally give or get consent. How do you know if someone is too inebriated to consent? That’s a very good question! Police officers regularly resort to breathalyzer or blood alcohol tests to determine if a person is too drunk to drive. So, how is an average person supposed to know if someone is too drunk to engage in sex?

Image result for furry handcuffsSpeaking of consent, this bears repeating loudly and often: Minors cannot consent to sex under any circumstances, even with other minors. A person who is asleep or unconscious cannot legally consent to sex. A person with a mental illness that impairs his or her judgement is cannot legally consent to sex. A person who is restrained by bondage or handcuffs cannot legally consent to sex in most states. Generally speaking, students cannot consent to sex with their teachers, prisoners cannot consent to sex with their jailors, patients cannot consent to sex with their doctors, and clients cannot consent to sex with their lawyers.

Ever pinched, patted, or swatted someone on the behind without first getting his or her permission to do so? That’s considered a sexual assault just about everywhere. Maybe you’re thinking, “No worries, I’ve only ever done that to my wife.” Sorry, there’s no spousal exemption from the law.

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Tracy Lords

Do you ever watch porn? How do you know for certain that the porn stars you’re ogling are of legal age? More to the point – how could you possibly know? In 1987, porn super-star Tracy Lords was a coast-to-coast sensation with dozens of films to her credit when it was discovered that she had used false identification to get hired when she was just 15 years old. Retailers nationwide scrambled to pull her films off the shelves to avoid child pornography indictments, and several industry moguls went to prison.

Consensual sex between teenagers under the age of 18 is a registry offense in twenty-nine states. Cohabitation with a member of the opposite sex is still illegal in four states.  Being HIV-positive can result in involuntary civil commitment after incarceration or being placed on the sex offender registry in six states, and thirty-three states have HIV-specific criminal statutes. Soliciting a sex-worker can land you on the registry in five states, even if you never had sex. Sodomy (defined as “unnatural sex,” which can include oral and anal sex) is still illegal in twelve states, despite a Supreme Court decision striking down state anti-sodomy laws. Urinating in public can land you on the registry in thirteen states. Exposing yourself, even if there is no sexual or lascivious motivation – such as when streaking, flashing your breasts, or skinny dipping – is a registerable sex offense in thirty-two states!

The average person – unless he has spent his entire life in a cave on a remote, deserted island – has probably committed at least a few of these “sex crimes” and yet most are spared from being chewed up by our crapulously obnoxious legal system.

It’s easy to imagine that every person who is listed on the sex offender registry is a monster who is an imminent danger to the community, but that simply isn’t the case. While there will always be a small percentage of registrants who recidivate, the overwhelming majority of registrants live quiet, lawful lives, harming no one in the process.

Those people deserve a chance at redemption – just as you would, if you were on that list.

Signs of the Times for Sex Offenders

restaurant-small1by Michael M.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words.  For those who say that being on the sex offender registry is simply a minor administrative inconvenience for registrants which allows law enforcement to better track their whereabouts and activities, here are a few pictures to refute that notion.

Imagine becoming the target of these “good neighbors,” after your incarceration has been completed, after your fines and victim compensation have been paid, after you’ve served your probation, been through your SO treatment program, and made peace with your family, friends, associates, and your God.

Like anyone who has paid an awful price for you crime, you just want to move forward and build a good life for you and for your family.  Supposedly, that’s what society wants, too.  Re-integrating former offenders back into society to live a productive, crime-free lives is the stated goal of our criminal justice system.

But then this sort of thing happens…

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The next door neighbor of a Robinwood, Alabama sex offender resorted to erecting this sign in an effort to force the registrant to move out of the neighborhood in November, 2016.

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In Nassau County, Florida, the local Sheriff’s Department erects these red signs in the yards of known sex offenders during Halloween season.

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A woman in Marion County, Florida put signs in her front lawn and on telephone poles on her street to warn everyone that a sex offender lived six houses down the street from her.

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One Arkansas father discovered his 16-year-old daughter was having a sexual relationship with a 21-year-old man. But when the concerned dad brought his findings to the police, there was nothing they could do because she was over the age of consent.  So he did this:

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This registrant was sentenced by a local judge to walk up and down the main thoroughfare of his town in Petersburg, Indiana wearing a sign that said, “Registered Sex Offender Who Bought Alcohol for Kids.”

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What, exactly, do these “good neighbors” expect will happen as a result of their actions?    Human beings and their families don’t just go *poof* – disappearing, never to be seen again.  They continue to exist, perhaps not on your street, but on someone else’s street, somewhere else.  And you’ve created an entire caste of people – including the spouses and children of offenders – who may become bitter, unemployed, or homeless as a result.  Hopeless people are dangerous people.

If you’re one of the people helping to create this growing body of social lepers in our society, you’ll have only yourself to blame for the unintended consequences of your insane short-sightedness.

The “Predator” Granny Next Door

restaurant-small1by Michael M.

[The following is a true story, published with permission, which has had significant and lasting consequences for everyone involved. The names and some minor details have been changed to protect those individuals from further harm and stigmatization.]

In 2003, JoAnne Hester was a 39-year old married mother of three children, carving out a typical small-town existence in a rural county of the State of Virginia.  As a working mom, she certainly had her fair share of parental challenges, but the most vexing problem in recent months was her oldest child.

JoAnne’s 14-year old son Erik had been going over to the house next door an awful lot over the past few months, which seemed extremely odd, since there were no other kids living there – just Brenda Mears, a 28-year old divorcee who seemed to have way too much free time on her hands. When JoAnne confronted Erik about it, he claimed that Brenda was teaching him how to do scrapbooking, a hobby he’d never shown any interest in previously.

mom-sonSkeptical, JoAnne told Erik that he was not to spend any more time at Brenda’s house, a decree that angered him, but which he grudgingly accepted.  Even so, just a few days later, JoAnne saw him exiting Brenda’s front door one afternoon and confronted him about it.  There was a shouting match on the front lawn punctuated with sharp denials from Erik and escalating threats of punishment and loss of privileges from JoAnne.  By the end of the confrontation, Erik was grounded for a month.  JoAnne naively thought that would put a stop to his increasingly out-of-control behavior.  She was wrong.

Two weeks later, on her way down the hallway to the bathroom at three in the morning, JoAnne found Erik’s bedroom empty.  In a fit of anger, she called the local police. When they arrived, she told them that her son was most likely next door, ensconced in Brenda’s bed.  The policemen went next door and pounded on Brenda’s front door.  After what seemed like several minutes of knocking, Brenda answered, wearing only a robe.  After some questioning, she admitted that the boy was in the house.  They took the boy aside, and questioned him, too.  His responses must have been damning, because a short time afterward, the officers arrested Brenda for carnal knowledge of a minor.

Next, the officers spoke to JoAnne and asked how long this had been going on.  Without thinking for a moment that she, herself, could become the target of a police investigation, she replied that Erik’s suspicious visits to Brenda’s place had been going on for at least three or four months.  After a huddled conversation amongst themselves, the officers advised JoAnne that she was being arrested for failing to report a sex crime in a timely manner, a sub-section of the state law against indecent liberties with a child by custodial or supervisory relationship.  By legislative decree, that charge is classified as a “violent” felony.  Her son Erik was also taken into custody at that time and placed in juvenile detention.

A few months later, while still in the county jail, JoAnne sat in a bare cubicle and listened in disbelief as her attorney advised her to accept a plea bargain that was being offered by the State’s Attorney.  The proposed deal would result in a maximum twelve-month prison sentence, her attorney explained, rather than risk a possible twenty-years-to-life sentence by going to trial.  Though her head may have been spinning at the time, to the best of her recollection, JoAnne swears that her lawyer never told her that accepting this guilty plea would require her to register as a violent sex offender for the rest of her life.  She just knew that a maximum of twelve months sounded a hell of a lot better than a minimum of twenty years in prison.

WOMEN-N-JAIL-1She took the plea.  She spent twelve months in a state prison as a model prisoner.  Thirty days prior to her release, her prison caseworker informed her for the first time that she would be placed on the state registry upon her release.  She says she was blindsided by this news, and she spent her last month in prison in a daze of stunned disbelief.

That was fifteen years ago, and JoAnne is still on VADOC probation and considered a violent sex offender by the state.  Due to other hardships in her family she is now raising four of her six grandchildren, and yet she isn’t allowed to take them to school or pick them up, can’t attend any school sporting events or recitals, can’t take them to play at the park or swim in the community pool, and can’t take them trick-or-treating.

She’s happily married, but the hardships of being on the sex offender registry have taken a terrible toll on her relationship with her husband, who is also affected by the irrational residency restrictions, endless humiliation and harassment from the community, and the added expense and hassles of having to arrange for others to take the kids where they need to go every day.  She can petition the state to allow her on school property,  but the process is a lengthy one, and may be denied.

JoAnne suffers her fate in relative silence, fully aware that most people will simply assume that because she is classified as a violent sex offender that she must therefore be a predator of the highest magnitude and worthy of the scorn that they heap upon her and her family.  The public is largely unaware that 83% of the sex crimes under VA law are classified as “violent,” whether they involved any actual violence, or not.

She and her husband are barely making ends meet financially, which means that pursuing a legal remedy for her situation will be difficult, if not impossible.  She tells her story to anyone who will listen, but nothing changes.  If anything, the restrictions and persecution have only gotten worse for her over the past few years.  The one island of stability in their lives has been the fact that they have been able to stay in their home. Virginia has 500 foot residency restrictions, unlike many states which have 2000 or 2500 foot restrictions which often force registrants out of their homes and into homelessness.

The people on the sex offender registry are individuals, each with a story to tell.  Their crimes are incredibly diverse – sometimes laughable, other times horrifying.  Registrants exist on a spectrum ranging from the seven-year old who gets caught playing doctor with his little sister on one end to the psychopath who rapes and murders strangers for kicks at the other end of the spectrum.

The great majority of registrants are at neither of those extremes.  Most are simply common people who have made some extraordinarily bad decisions, people who have paid an enormous price for their mistakes, and now simply want a chance to rebuild their post-incarceration lives free of fear, harassment, or discrimination.

Keeping them shamed, unemployed, or homeless serves no purpose but vengeance, and makes our communities less safe for everyone.

How to Advocate for Registry Reform with Minimal Risk

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By Michael M.,  Registry Report Editor

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.

Related imageThey 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.

1  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.

2 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!

3 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.

4 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.

5 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.

6 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.

7 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?”

8 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.

9 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.

10 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.

The SO Registry’s Deadly Collateral Damage

restaurant-small1by Michael M., NARSOL & The Registry Report

It is easy for some people to feel that no matter how oppressive the hardships imposed upon former sex offenders may be, they probably deserved it.  The most common refrain we see posted by unsympathetic social media commenters typically contains some variation of, “He (or she) should have thought of that before they committed their crimes!”  While such a response may be emotionally satisfying for the person who makes such a statement, the unspoken assumption is that any punishment, no matter how cruel, can be justified by the fact that you’ve committed a crime, no matter how trivial.  Oh, so you were beheaded for jaywalking?  Well, you should have thought about that before you stepped outside the crosswalk!

It also completely ignores the plight of the innocent bystanders who often bear the brunt of our country’s draconian sex offender registration laws. The families, friends, employers, landlords, and associates of former sex offenders often become the unintended casualties of the current wave of anti-sex-offender hysteria sweeping the nation.  Recent studies have begun referring to these tangential victims as “collateral damage,” as if we were talking about accidentally backing the car into the neighbor’s mailbox, rather than the complete destruction of innocent people’s lives.

By the way, it isn’t just the families and associates of sex offenders who suffer.  Most of the states will admit that their sex offender registries are difficult to maintain and contain inaccuracies.  One study discovered that as many as 25% of the addresses on the registry were incorrect, which resulted in the addresses of family homes where no one was a registered sex offender being listed on the registry.  A Detroit, Michigan couple didn’t learn that their address was incorrectly listed on the registry until they tried to sell their home.  They reported the error to the local police, who told them that nothing could be done about the problem until they tracked down the former owner who bought the house three years previously from a registered sex offender.

sign1In Cleveland, Ohio at least one large real estate brokerage’s property questionnaire includes the question, “Have you ever been notified that a registered sex offender was living in the neighborhood?”  Say yes, and your property value may plunge.  In other words, you don’t have to be a sex offender; you don’t even have to know a sex offender, to be “collaterally damaged” by social hysteria.

For the families of former sex offenders, it can be much, much worse.

evictionOne eleven-year old juvenile sex offender’s profile popped up during their landlord’s internet search for offenders, and the boy’s family was given two days to move out of their home.  In Fallon, Nevada, a registrant’s failure to update his information in the registry resulted in news stories which, in turn, led to death threats, burglary, and vandalism against his innocent wife.

The 8-year old daughter of a registered sex offender whose offense was 31 years in the past found herself at the center of a public outcry when her school sent out information about area sex offenders in 2007.  She immediately began feeling the effects of being disinvited from events and shunned by friends. The following year, in middle school, she became the constant target of sexual harassment and lewd propositions.  Eventually, her family left the country in 2013 to escape the persecution.

Research into the “collateral damage” suffered by family members of RSOs reveals that 49% often felt afraid for their own safety as a result of their family member being on the registry.  66% said that shame and embarrassment often kept them from participating in community activities, and 77% experienced feelings of isolation as a result.

aloneThe children of RSOs report alarmingly high rates of suicide ideation, with 13% exhibiting suicidal tendencies. Other reported consequences of being the child of an RSO include harassment (47%), ridicule (59%), physical assaults (22%), depression (77%), and anger (80%).

Sadly, one needn’t be related to a sex offender in any way to be “collaterally damaged.”  A widely reported recent story from Kissimmee, Florida, featured a man who poured gasoline into the motel room and vehicle of four persons he believed to be registered sex offenders with the intent of “barbecuing all the child molesters.”  Two of his intended victims were not RSOs.

In Dallas, Texas, a man who had just moved into an apartment that had recently been vacated by an RSO was mistaken for the previous tenant by a vigilante and beaten with a baseball bat.  In another Dallas case, a man who was mistaken for an RSO was beaten by four men and had his teeth knocked out as his attackers shouted “Child molester!”

In Kern County, California, a 32-year old man was stabbed at least 50 times and his body dumped in the desert after a Facebook rumor falsely alleged that he was a sex offender.

body-outline.jpegA Las Vegas man shot and killed two homeless people because one of them (Alfred Wilhelm, age 53) was an RSO stemming from a 1984 rape conviction in Hawaii.  The second victim (Rhonda Ballow, 27) was an innocent bystander who was killed simply for being a witness to the first murder.

In 2013, a husband and wife team of vigilantes in South Carolina told RSO Charles Parker, 59, “I’m here to kill you because you’re a child molester” before killing him. They then killed his wife, Gretchen Parker, 51, simply because she lived in the same house. Both were shot and stabbed multiple times.

These examples are not as isolated or anomalous as some would have you believe.  We often hear that victims of sexual abuse are afraid to come forward for fear of being disbelieved, but rarely do we consider the fact that victims of registry “collateral damage” are often reluctant to tell their stories for fear of being targeted for further vigilantism and harassment.  For every case that gets reported to law enforcement, there could potentially be dozens more that are endured in silence. Police reports are a matter of public record and are often reported in local news media. What sane person would want to invite even more scrutiny and abuse?

As long as the media continues to stoke the public’s vitriolic anti-sex-offender hysteria and as long as our government continues to furnish vigilantes with a convenient “hit list” (which may or may not even be accurate), absolutely no one is safe from becoming “collateral damage.”

County Agrees to Pay $115,000 to Man Mistakenly Listed as Sex Offender

restaurant-small1by Michael M., Registry Report

Yakima County, Washington – Damian Garza Cantu sued Yakima County in November of 2016 for damages after someone else’s criminal conviction for third degree rape somehow ended up on his record way back in the mid-1990s.  For the last 20 years, Mr. Cantu failed background checks for jobs and housing, but assumed that it was because of a DWI that he’d gotten in 1993. In 2016, he learned that he was erroneously listed as a sex offender because of a rape conviction for one Damian Eduardo Gutierrez Cantu, and sued the county for $800,000.

Rather than go to court, both parties agreed to a settlement which was announced on June 3, 2018 awarding $115,000 to Mr. Cantu.  We’re going to assume that, like most settlement agreements of this type, Mr. Cantu will be prohibited in the future from discussing the details of the case, sparing Yakima County from the embarassment of having to explain how something like this happened in the first place.

Like others before him, Mr. Cantu will take the hush money and run, kicking this particular can down the road for the next poor victim to deal with.  He can hardly be blamed for coming to such an agreement with Yakima County, though. After all, he’s had just a tiny taste of what sex offenders everywhere have to deal with on a daily basis, many of them for the rest of their lives, and in states with much harsher sex offender laws than Washington.  If someone offered to remove me from registry and pay me $115,000 to keep my mouth shut about the indignities and harm my family has suffered as a result of being on the sex offender registry, I wouldn’t have to think twice about accepting the offer.

Here, however, is the crux of the story that will be missed by many.  Yakima County would never have agreed to this settlement unless they believed there was a realistic chance of losing this case in court.  And by losing, I mean that the court would not only rule against the county, but award substantial damages.

Damages are calculated by the court from quantitative measurements of harm.

Yet, we’re told time and again that being on the sex offender register isn’t punitive and that, while it may be inconvenient and embarassing, it doesn’t actually do anyone any harm. I’m not sure anyone actually believes that load of malarkey, but officials and judges repeat it like the rosary hoping, perhaps, to ward off any “cruel and unusual” judgments from on high.  Finally, someone is admitting (although in a round-about way) that being on the sex offender registry causes a person a great deal of harm.

The only question now is, if Mr. Cantu’s experience on the registry is worth $115,000 in damages, then what is a lifetime on it worth?

Read the news release at KIMATV.com

Read the story in the Yakima Herald

Kids on the Sex Offender Registry

 

restaurant-small1by Michael M., for NARSOL

The headlines today are full of stories of righteous indignation over immigrant children being separated from their families. While that dilemma is certainly newsworthy, the American public seems largely unaware of the fact that tens of thousands of our own children are being taken from their families each year and tossed into a rapacious legal system that chews them up and spits them out as sex offenders.   As hard as it may be to believe, The Department of Justice estimates that there are at least 89,000 children on the sex offender registry, and it should come as no surprise to anyone that it’s destroying their lives.

Imagine, for a moment, what it would be like to have your child listed publicly on the sex offender registry, complete with a photograph, home address, and even a description of the sex crime that resulted in his (or her) inclusion on the list.   Consider what kind of life your child would have if, because of sex offender restrictions, he couldn’t attend school, go to a park or swimming pool, or have a birthday party because other children will be there. Some states simultaneously have laws requiring minors to attend school while at the same time forbidding sex offenders from being anywhere near a school. 44% of sex offenders overall (and presumably juvenile sex offenders, as well) are unable to live with their supportive families due to residency restrictions. Many are forced into foster care, even as bills have been introduced to bar juvenile sex offenders from foster homes and other communal youth facilities.

Elizabeth Letourneau, PhD and professor at the Bloomberg School’s Department of Mental Health and director of the Moore Center for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse said, “Not only is this policy [of putting juveniles on the sex offender registry] stigmatizing and distressing, but it may make children vulnerable to unscrupulous or predatory adults who use the information to target registered children for sexual assault.” Letourneau’s findings in a 2018 study published in Psychology, Public Policy, and Law found that registered children are five times more likely to be approached by an adult for sex than non-registered child sex offenders and four times more likely to have suicidal thoughts.

Other wide-ranging unintended consequences of being a juvenile on the registry include harassment and violence. 52% of juvenile registrants have reported violence or threats of violence which they directly attributed to their inclusion on the registry.   Bruce W., whose two sons (aged 10 and 12) were placed on the registry for an offense against their 10-year old sister, reported that a man once held a shotgun to his 10-year old son’s head. In a 2012 Human Rights Watch interview, one female juvenile registrant said, “I was on the public registry at age 11 for the offense of unlawful sexual contact… Random men called my house wanting to ‘hook up’ with me.” Other HRW interviewees described beatings, drive-by shootings, and even beloved family pets being killed.

Without a doubt, some of the children on the sex offender registry are convicted of horrific crimes which led to appropriately harsh punishments. There are others, however, who end up convicted and branded as sex offenders for what has been characterized as fairly normative behavior for children or teens, such as playing doctor or engaging in sexual exploration. Teens who exchange sexy selfies shouldn’t be charged with creating child pornography. Having consensual sex at that age may be a very stupid thing to do, but it hardly rises to the level of sexual assault or predation.

At least 27 states and one territory require that juveniles must register if they commit a sex offense for which an adult in the same jurisdiction would be required to register.   37 states reserve registration for juveniles convicted of specific qualifying offenses. It is difficult to know exactly how many children have been placed on sex offender registries nationwide, however. Studies regarding children on the sex offender registry are relatively rare, and the states typically do not track information regarding the ages of offenders when they were added to the registry. Human Rights Watch attempted to obtain this information from each of the 50 states, but only two responded – and those with aggregate counts only. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, juvenile sex offenders comprise 25.8% of all sex offenders and 35.6% of sex offenders against juvenile victims. They estimate that in 2004 there were 89,000 juvenile sex offenders known to police.

As for the overall age distribution of these juvenile offenders, there is very little data available. Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Kansas, Minnesota, Texas allow juvenile registration at 8-years old.   Massachusetts allows sex offender registration for kids as young as 7-years of age. In 2011, there were 639 children on Delaware’s sex offender registry, 55 of whom were under the age of 12.   In 2009, a study conducted by the Department of Justice discovered that nationwide, one in eight child sex offenders who committed crimes against other children was under the age of 12. Overall, according to the DOJ’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, “Known juvenile offenders who commit sex offenses against minors span a variety of ages. Five percent are younger than 9 years, and 16 percent are younger than 12 years.  The rate rises sharply around age 12 and plateaus after age 14.”

Maya R. was arrested in Michigan at the age of 10 for play-acting sexual scenarios while fully clothed with her step-brothers, aged 5 and 8.  She pled guilty to criminal sexual conduct and was required to register as a sex offender for 25 years.  In many states, when children engage in sexual similar conduct, each child is charged with a crime and is simultaneously listed as the victim in the other’s case.

According to a 2013 Human Rights Watch report, the idiosyncrasies of the juvenile justice system can seriously compound the problems associated with how child offenders end up on the registry.  It is doubtful, for example, that they fully understand their rights to due process and against self-incrimination.  And we really don’t know if they fully comprehend the devastating (and sometimes forever) consequences of pleading guilty before they accept a plea bargain. Even adults can find the plea bargaining process confusing or coercive, even though this is how 94% of all criminal cases are resolved.  Often, these juveniles are not informed that they will be subject to registration until after they have pled guilty, and sometimes not until they have finished serving out their juvenile detention or incarceration.  The decisions made by a 10-year old should never have permanent ramifications that will impact them for the rest of their lives yet, in many of these cases, they do.

The inclusion of juvenile sex offenders on the registry was mandated by SORNA (Sex Offender Registry and Notification Act) and has been a major bone of contention and non-compliance by the states since it was signed into law in 2006.  In 2016, additional guidelines were issued to give states more flexibility in implementing laws regarding juveniles on the registry, but many states remain out of compliance and some of the states who are in compliance are being challenged in the courts. It is worth noting that the DOJ estimate of 89,000 juvenile sex offenders was in 2004, two years before SORNA began pushing the states to put juveniles on the registry. That number is probably much higher now.

The 2018 study in Psychology, Public Policy, and Law supports these legal challenges, finding that “in combination with the available literature indicating that these policies do not improve public safety, the results of this study offer empirical support for the concerns expressed by those calling for the abolition of juvenile registration and notification policies.”

The abomination of having nearly a hundred thousand children on the sex offender registry is just one of the many reasons why SORNA is unconstitutionally cruel and unusual and needs to be repealed now.