By TONY DOKOUPIL
In the run up to Halloween one year, Sharie Keil saw something that really made her jump: Missouri governor Jay Nixon, then the attorney general.
He was on television to announce that registered sex offenders were hereby banned from participating in her favorite holiday. On threat of a year in jail, they had to stay inside and display a sign saying they had no candy. The goal was “to protect our children,” as Nixon put it, but Keil heard only a peal of political hysteria.
- If they really wanted to protect children, then they'd also do the same for DUI offenders, people driving cars, and many other things, but, it's about making themselves "look tough" on crime! Many children are hit, and possibly killed on Halloween, not from a known sex offender but people driving drunk or a child running in front of a car. It's pure hysteria, like she said!
She is not a sex offender nor, at 63, a new-age apologist for pedophiles or predators. She is a mother, however, and in 1998 her 17-year-old son had sex with a pre-teen girl at a party. He was convicted of aggravated sexual abuse, which got him six months in county jail and a lifetime of mandatory registration as a sex offender. Ten years later, after the Halloween law, Keil felt shocked into action.
”As my husband says, I decided to go on the war path,” she remembers.
Today, she’s at the forefront of a growing fight against sex offender registries, a shame-free alliance of offenders and their families, supported by researchers and some advocates who helped pass stringent anti-abuse laws in the first place. They’re organized (albeit loosely) under Reform Sex Offender Laws, a five-year-old lobby that claims 38 state affiliates and a steady patter of legal and legislative victories.
Most of their progress, however, has been limited to a slice of the registry: juvenile offenders. That would remove Keil’s son, but this former soccer mom and chapter head of the League of Women Voters wants to abolish the public registry altogether. She funds a powerful RSOL affiliate, Missouri Citizens for Reform, which has helped push sweeping changes through the Missouri House four years in a row, only to see the effort smothered in the Senate or, last summer, stabbed by a governor’s veto.
“Changing the registry would provide relief for tens of thousands of Missourians,” Keil says. “Since there are nearly 800,000 people on the registry nationally, millions of lives would change for the better.”