Once upon a time, a young high school teacher was pursued by one of her male students; he flirted, made suggestive remarks, and wrote her poetry. She made her first stupid mistake by not reporting it to school authorities. She eventually committed her second, very stupid mistake.
She engaged in a one-time encounter of kissing and touching with him. They were caught and reported, and her life ever since then has been a nightmare of mistakes.
She accepted a plea from the district attorney that involved a ten-year probationary sentence and the promise of no sex registry when the ten years were up. What she did not know was that during the ten years, every aspect of her life would be looked upon and handled as though she were a convicted pedophile on the sex offense registry. She is required to meet with her parole officer a minimum of every other week. She attends a mandatory weekly hour-long counseling session for which she pays and where she is regularly humiliated and degraded. She has unannounced visits at her home from a compliance officer; they were extremely diligent the last week in October, as they needed to assure themselves that she was carving no pumpkins or placing no Halloween decorations in an attempt to lure children. At the beginning of October, she submitted to her parole officer, on demand, a detailed schedule of how she planned to spend Halloween.
She cannot drive through a McDonald’s or Burger King, much less go in their doors, if a playground is attached. She may not walk her dog at any park. She may not seek employment at any place where children might be present. She may go online only for job searches. She must take a required number of polygraph tests, at her expense, and if the administrator’s interpretation is not favorable, she could be revoked and sent to prison. She may not be in the same location with anyone under the age of seventeen, not even her own infant nephews. She cannot leave the county in which she resides, even for the day. Unless some unforeseen event occurs, this will be her life for nine more years.
She is one person. Approximately 90 % of people on the sex offender registries across the nation pose the same dangerous risk to the children of our communities as she does-that is to say, zero risk that she or they will stalk, kidnap, rape, torture, or murder a child. Yet 90% of the resources allotted to monitoring, “treating,” and supervising sex offenders is targeted at her and those guilty of consensual teen-age sex, public urination, prostitute solicitation, texting of nude pictures, “streaking,” and other non-violent, non-child oriented behaviors that got them placed on the registry.
It does not take a mathematical genius to determine how much time, money, and energy remain to monitor the remaining 10% who may pose an actual danger to an actual child. When the registry was first being formulated in the late 80’s and early 90’s, its intent was to enable law enforcement to closely monitor the handful of dangerous pedophiles and rapists who had served their sentences and were released back into the communities. With the registry now so inflated with those who pose no risk, the exact opposite of what was intended-greater safety for children and women-is the result.
An entire industry has been created in, around, and of the “sex offender issue,” making true and meaningful reform very difficult; those profiting from the industry are motivated to keep things as they are, and lawmakers and politicians fear the kiss of death in the form of negative votes if they take any action that is perceived as being “soft” on crime, especially crime involving “perverts.” This monster that has been created did not grow to maturity overnight; true and meaningful reform, that which will strengthen the ability of law enforcement to help keep our children and communities safer, will not occur overnight, but unless those who have the power and ability to effect change are willing to admit that there is a problem, are willing to put financial consideration and politics aside to help solve the problem, it will not occur at all.