I was watching CNN a bit ago and they were talking about a couple teens who were nailed for production, possession and distribution of child pornography (cue dramatic music). These kids were involved in something known as “sexting”, which is the sending of sexually explicit text messages and/or pics. These particular kids made naughty photos of themselves which they sent out to friends. As a result of that, one is facing felony charges and the other is now a convicted felon and sex offender.
Yes, a sex offender. He’s on the sex offender list and will likely remain there for the rest of his life, depending on what state he’s in. The other person, a girl, will end up on the list if she’s convicted.
The sex offender registration lists are much more than what you’d expect. You might imagine that they’d include people who violently raped someone or who fondled a kindergarten student, and you’d be right. But they also include these kids, people who are charged with public indecency (which can be something as simple as urinating on the sidewalk while drunk), or someone like Genarlow Wilson, who had consenting oral sex with a girl two years younger than him and did time for it. Someone like him would certainly be listed as a sex offender (though I don’t believe he actually is due to the unique nature of his case).
I have a dear friend who is on the list. When he was 13, he “exposed himself” to a pair of male cousins (it was a bit of the old “Show me yours” kind of thing), and was playing doctor with a five-year-old girl. Now these things aren’t good, and certainly called for counseling, but what happened instead is a 1st degree felony, four years in prison and being put onto the sex offenders list for the rest of his life, despite clean living for the last many years.
Now the laws on sex offenders vary widely depending on what state you’re in. In Washington, where my friend lives, you’re on the list for a set number of years depending on your crime; either 10, 20 or life. Down here in Arizona as well as in California, you’re on the list for life period. This means if your crime was something like sexting, you’re screwed forever. You don’t even get the hope that after a certain number of years have passed, you might not have to register.
There’s other variances to the laws, too. In Washington and California landlords cannot refuse to rent to you because of your sex offender status. In Arizona, they can and do. Actually we even have a fun law here in Arizona that says no more than a certain number of sex offenders can live in a given area, which means if you are on the list and find a landlord who doesn’t have a problem renting to SO’s, that landlord might not be able to rent to you, cause they have too many living at that location already.
Now some talk about how important these laws are and how they keep the public safe. Well, they don’t. You ever hear the phrase, “don’t shit where you eat?” If you’re an SO and you are determined to go off and do something bad, you can just do it on the other side of town. No one knows who you are there.
Further these laws make it much harder for sex offenders to find work and living space. You might be thinking, “well, boo-hoo, cry me a fucking river”, but it does matter. It’s been proven time and again that the odds of someone with compulsive sexual behavior reoffending go up dramatically the more stress they have in their lives. If you’re stuck homeless and unemployed you’ll likely revert back to your previous behaviors no matter how much therapy you’ve had.
This brings up another point: the rate of reoffending by sex offenders is actually lower than that of many other crimes, including murder, arson and drug offenses. Sex offenders are substantially less likely to reoffend, though it is true that if they do get re-arrested on a charge, it will most likely be another sex offense.
It’s also worth noting that with the laws as they stand now, if the kid mentioned at the top of this article moved in next door to you, you would have the right (depending on the state), to be warned and notified by the police. If, on the other hand, someone who did twenty years for murdering both his next door neighbors moves in next to you, you don’t have the right to know about that. Tell me which you think is the greater threat.
Ultimately these laws serve no purpose other than to give you a false sense of security (“Oh, the government has a list of all these people! They’re keeping us safe! Hooray!”), while simultaneously making you more paranoid (“Oh, my god! Look at all the dangerous people on this list! Some of them live near me!”). They also make it much harder for sex offenders to re-enter society.
There’s four possible solutions to this situation as it stands now.
First: get rid of the list entirely. It serves no useful purpose and makes the general public less safe.
Second: if the list is kept, require that all felons be on the list. As mentioned before, if a murder moves in next door to you, you don’t have the right to know about it.
Third: if the list is kept, provide uniform laws across the nation for how it is maintained and who is required to register and for how long. As it stands now, if you don’t like the way the laws in your state handle your case, you can just move. And when having the requirements for how long someone has to register, don’t make it for life unless it’s the most serious offenses (violent rape or something with a large age and/or power disparity). For most crimes, make it somewhere from 1 – 20 years.
Fourth: needless to say, if you’re being charged with making child pornography of yourself, you shouldn’t even be charged, much less put onto the sex offenders list. The ideal behind the child porn laws is to prevent exploitation of children, but how can you be exploiting yourself? This is the ultimate example of a crime where the victim and the perpetrator are the same person and it makes no sense to enforce them as we are.
It used to be that we had the ideal of “You did the crime, you did the time. Now you get a second chance”, and we still do have that for some things, but we have this huge blind spot when it comes to sex offenders, and it’s made worse by the democratic process that makes it next to impossible to get elected if you say you want to reform the laws to make life easier for the sex offenders. Let’s face it, no one will ever fail to get elected because they said, “I want to get tough on these evil perverts!”, but if they said, “Let’s be a bit more logical and compassionate,” they’d stand no chance at the ballot box.
For the sake of everyone, from the general public to the sex offenders themselves, these laws need to change.