By Emily Yoffe
My husband is a loving man, a wonderful father, and a sex offender. Before you or your readers assume the worst, when he was 16 years old he had sex with his 13-year-old girlfriend. Despite his girlfriend’s pleas, her parents got angry, he was convicted, and now his life is now ruined. I knew all this when I met him and I thought I could make things better. It happened 17 years ago and was his only offense, yet it is destroying us on every level. He cannot find work. Anytime he gets a job, someone finds the sex offender registry, complains to management, and he is fired. We recently moved because our neighbors were threatening us and our children. Our children are mocked and rejected at school and our home has been vandalized. We have been married 10 years and I am no longer the strong woman I once was. I am tired of struggling to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table because he cannot find work. No lawyers will help us, no lawmakers, representatives or senators, ever respond to my pleas for help over the last seven years of writing to them monthly. My conclusion is a harsh one, but I see no other way to help my family. Secretly, I have purchased a life insurance package on myself. And once I have paid for the allotted time, I plan on wrecking my car in a way that could never be described as suicide. The money will provide my family with a decent life. I am tired of drying the tears of my children. If my sacrifice can make their lives more stable, it is a small price to pay. If you can see any other option for me, please tell me.
—Rendezvous With Death
If your children are crying now, imagine what happens after their beloved mother dies, the insurance company investigates—and given the timing of the purchase of your policy and your accident, they will—and your death is declared a suicide. You will be leaving heartbroken, and broke, children haunted by their mother’s abandonment to the care of a father who cannot provide for them. Imagine you don’t die, but survive but in dire shape, leaving your family in an even more desperate situation. I understand the agony of the terrible and unfair ostracism you describe, but suicide will only compound the despair of the family you love. Please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline to get help for these dark thoughts. You’ll also find understanding and support regarding your family’s particular hardship by calling the hotline of Reform Sex Offender Laws. This organization makes the case that increasingly punitive and expansive sex-registration laws ruin the lives of people on the registry without improving the safety of the public. This New York Times article about youthful offenders illustrates this point.
I am going to take your account of the circumstances of your husband’s conviction at face value—that he himself was a minor having sex with a girl too young to give legal consent, but who was a willing participant. I spoke to Nina Ginsberg, a Virginia criminal defense attorney, and she says getting legal relief for your husband is indeed a daunting task. But she pointed out that given your husband was a juvenile at the time of the crime, some states might allow him to come off the registry 15 years after his conviction. Instead of writing fruitless letters to uninterested legislators, you need to be investigating this possibility. After you do your research, look at the appropriate state or local bar association for a criminal defense referral. Sometimes a short conversation is free; some bar associations have programs or referrals for reduced fee or pro bono legal services. You once thought love would solve all problems. Now you just as naively think money will. But imagine that you had married a man with an unblemished legal record who died when your children were young, leaving you as their sole support. I’m sure you would have risen to the occasion. The additional burdens caused by your husband’s status may seem insurmountable, but your children need the love of both their parents. Their father committed a regrettable act long ago. Don’t commit a more devastating one now.