Wednesday, March 14, 2012

California's Broken Sex Registry

Meet Joe. Joe is a convicted sex offender. He will remain on the California Sex Offender Registry for the rest of his life. His crime? Consensual sex with the woman who is now his wife. He was convicted of statutory rape, defined as lewd and lascivious acts with a child, because he had sex with his underage girlfriend.

Her parents found out about their relationship and chose to press charges. She was just shy of 16. He was 18. After his jail term, and the three-year period when they were not allowed to see each other for fear of his reincarceration, they were married. They are still married ten years later. Joe and his wife deal with the issue every day. They've had to put a restraining order on a neighbor who was constantly harrassing him. Because registered sex offenders are not allowed to live within 2000 feet of a school or a park, even finding a place to live was extremely difficult. Joe and his wife now live in a trailer park, and Joe hasn't been able to find a stable job since he was required to register.

"We're together, we're married, he did everything he was supposed to do... and it's sad to live this way. I'm scared all the time." says Joe's wife. Having been declared a victim by the state, she is still being victimized by the state ten years later.

Some who are on the California Sex Offender Registry are there for urinating in public. Children have been taken to jail for sexting (sending explicit photos to other teens), and some have even been placed on the registry for just that.

California, usually thought of as one of the more liberal states, is one of only four with a lifetime registry. Yet while 95% of the people on the registry never recommit a sex offense, those on the registry are treated as lepers. As mentioned earlier, the housing restriction makes it hard to find a place to live, and some portion of registrants end up homeless as a result. In Mission Viejo, California, anyone on the registry is banned from city parks and beaches, thanks to an ordinance that was passed unanimously by the city council. Reason Magazine calls the registry "the medieval stocks of the 21st century."

Even in the face of situations like Joe's, more laws are added to the books every year, sold to the voters as "doing something" about the problem. The truth is, the vast majority of sexual crimes against children are committed in their homes, or in the homes of trusted friends or relatives. The Mission Viejo ordinance just discussed was the result of a child being abducted from her home, not from a public space, making it painfully obvious that it was never intended to address the real problem, but rather to fulfill the requirement of "doing something, even if it's wrong."

Attempts by legislators to revise the laws have met with no success, and the demonization of those on the registry has made revision a political "third rail," considered fatal to a political career by many officeholders. One organization is opposed to any changes for fear that serious offenders would "slip through the cracks" if there was any way to get off the registry.

But even Joe's wife finds some reason for hope, scant though it may be. "Maybe some time in the future there can be something that can be done, possibly, for our situation."

Perhaps... if California legislators can find more value in actually addressing the issue than in pandering for votes from the citizens they've taught to live in fear.

...and that's all I have to say about that.

1 comment:

  1. I vaguely recall a bold statement, perhaps from a high school history class (perhaps I did learn something despite having no interest at the time!) having to do with the formulation of United States laws and justice that goes something like "Better than a thousand guilty men go free than one innocent man go to prison." A quick google shows that to be a variation of Blackstone's Formulation, and its origins may be in the Old Testament:

    But this obviously does not apply of those convicted, or even suspected of a sex crime against a child. All I can hear are the shrieks of pitchfork-wielding parents screaming "think of the children!" Society clearly mush protect children from true child molesters, but the legal definition of that can easily be too broad.

    In reference to this: "Children have been taken to jail for sexting (sending explicit photos to other teens), and some have even been placed on the registry for just that."

    Aren't crimes committed by minors kept secret by the state? How does a child being put on the sex offender registry jibe with that?

    Here's a rather infamous case from Georgia where a teen was sent to prison on what was basically a loophole in the law (enabling the prosecutor to give a much harsher charge that resulted in a 10 year sentence) and that was fixed by the legislature while he was serving time:
    Judge Throws Out Sentence in Teen Sex Case
    I think the most interesting sentence in the story is "The district attorney who prosecuted his case offered a deal to reduce the sentence provided that Mr. Wilson admit guilt and register as a sex offender, but Mr. Wilson has refused."