Last year, I had a conversation with a woman on staff at a homeless shelter. She was working with a homeless man in his early 20s. He was on the sex offender registry because as a teenager, he had mooned a group of people at a party.
I thought to myself "we have created a new leper class." I was also reflecting on the fact that if this person had access to resources and a decent attorney, he would not be on the registry. But he was poor, and so he is registered as s sex offender.
The ease with which people are placed on the sex offender registry is deeply troubling. The consequences are long lasting and life devastating. I am not defending pedophiles. I am saying that the registry has become so broad; it is failing to serve its purpose. I am saying that by registering teenagers who moon people,along with eighteen, nineteen, and twenty year olds who have consensual sex with fifteen year olds, we are creating a leper class of untouchables. These people have trouble finding employment, they are restricted in where they may live, and they must wear a scarlet letter of public shame. In cases like these, the offenders are extremely unlikely to become repeat offenders. This is different from pedophiles who have a high propensity for repeat offenses.
“Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them." Luke 7:22
One of the greatest sins of humanity is our propensity to dehumanize others. In Jesus' day, the blind, the lame, the lepers, the deaf and the poor were believed to have brought such things upon themselves by sinning against God. Jesus was not having it- they were included in the circle of God's love. As Christians, we continue to be called to this high standard of love and inclusion, even for those on the sex offender registry, and even for those who are pedophiles on the registry. The sex offender registry process needs revision. Appropriate safeguards for children are very important. But no one is beyond the scope of God's love. That is the good news for us all.
Below is a piece written by Jeanine Kleimo, who is the chair of the board for a local shelter (Dover Interfaith Mission for Housing).
How To Ruin A Life
I deal with sex offenders every day. “Ugh!” is the likely reaction of many readers.
Rapists! Perverts! Pedophiles!
There are violent and emotional reactions to the mere notion of a sex offender.
Keep calm and keep reading.
Here is a story that is illustrative of many branded as sex offenders:
Two fifteen-year-old girls sneaked out of their houses to attend a party. They were forbidden to attend, as it was being held by older teens without proof of parental supervision.
They were excited about being in the presence of older, more “mature” boys whom they perceived as different from their male peers at school. When two of the boys invited them upstairs to the bedrooms, they went along. Both boys were 18. The girls told them that they were 16 going on 17 and looked the part, as they had dressed in their most sophisticated clothes and wore makeup.
Both couples had sex. When the girls attempted to sneak back home, one was caught. Her furious father argued with her until she admitted her sexual escapade and revealed the name of her partner.
Her father pressed charges. The young man—whom we will call Joe—went to prison for a year. His plans for college were derailed.
When released from prison, Joe learned that he was on the Sex Offender Registry for life as a Tier Three offender. He would be required to wear an electronic ankle bracelet so that the Department of Corrections could monitor his whereabouts at all times. For the privilege, he pays about $6 each day. He has a curfew from 10:00PM to 6:00AM, during which time he must be at the home whose address is registered with the Police and with his probation officer, with whom he must have weekly appointments. His neighbors would be informed that a Sex Offender lived nearby.
He was informed that he cannot have contact with individuals under the age of 18, so he may not attend school or work in a setting in which there are children.
He cannot attend his younger brother’s sporting events.
He cannot belong to the Youth Group at his church.
Everyone he knows is aware of his status as a SEX OFFENDER. It is the Scarlet Letter of today.
No one wants to hire him.
His status as a SEX OFFENDER is a matter of public record, and anyone (friend, potential employer or landlord) may determine his status readily on the computer.
Frustrated and depressed, he turns to drugs and away from God, as no one at his church is supportive of his new situation (though his family’s pastor offers to keep him in his prayers.)
Did Joe do the wrong thing? Yes, of course.
Did his girlfriend-for-an-evening do the wrong thing?
Was this really a criminal act?
Do we want to prevent Joe from becoming a productive citizen?
Do we want to spend state resources to incarcerate him?
An older man named Tom committed a similar “crime” in his youth in Delaware. He served time and went on to be a highly-placed professional in his community in the Philadelphia area. He married, supported a wife and children, owned a home, and was active in his family’s life and in his children’s school.
One day, he returned home to a letter from Delaware advising him that he was required to return to the state and to register as a Tier Three Sex Offender, with similar restrictions to those of young Joe. He had to abandon his career, his home, and his family to comply with the law.
Now, he is homeless, bound by an ankle bracelet and the restrictions of the Sex Offender Registry, and is trying to recover from the deep depression and dependence on drugs that were the immediate impact of this most-unexpected event. He wants to work again so that he can contribute to his family—whom he is forbidden to see.
Is this right?
Let me be clear: I am not saying that pedophiles who harm children should escape consequences. On a related topic, I have been angry and outraged by the ways the Church, especially the Catholic church, has covered up egregious abuse. I am in no way defending such behavior. I am saying that the registry has become too broad and the swath of its destruction is ruining lives.