By Sandy Rozek
Sex offenders are a topic guaranteed to push the limits of any discussion. The range of those limits tops out with feelings, usually worded with as many expletives as possible, that anyone who is on a sex offender registry should be taken out and shot. The fact that this has actually occurred (Video, Posts), and more than once, is proof that at least some of those advocates aren’t just swaggering verbal bullies but are willing to follow through with actual murder.
More and more, however, discussions on the topic reveal that a large segment of society is questioning a registry that grows disproportionately larger and registers children as young as nine and offenses as benign as childish play and as common though ill-advised as consensual teen sex.
Adding to the level of intensity are studies and reports from government bodies and academics alike showing a number of findings that contradict the value of a public registry and call into serious question the wisdom of maintaining it at staggering costs that are bankrupting state after state. These findings include such things as recidivism rates for former offenders that are remarkably low, the fact that roughly 95 percent of new sex offenses are committed by first time offenders, and, most tragically, the fact that virtually all sexual crime against children is committed, not by some stranger already registered for a previous sexual offense, but by family members, peers, and others who are well known to their young victims and have relationships with them.
All of these issues are brought to the forefront when jurisdictions across the nation are making headlines for their efforts in keeping children safe from registered sex offenders on Halloween. Halloween has come and gone, and no children anywhere were harmed or, as far as anyone knows, even approached by such an offender. This includes the thirteen states in which there are no mandates in place regarding sex offenders and Halloween; it includes the many jurisdictions and counties where no such mandates exist even though others in the same state have them. And it includes going back as many years as records have been kept. Even though there is no police report of a child being attacked on Halloween by a registrant, ever, some states and counties choose to dedicate great resources to protecting children at Halloween from them. And the result is their success rate is exactly the same as it is in the counties and states that spent not a penny: 100 percent success rate for all.
Encouraged by such a victory, one state at least, Louisiana, has extended the Halloween ban for registered offenders to encompass other holidays in which children can be involved. One fact of note is that these bans, like the Halloween ban, target everyone on the registry even though many of those offenses were non-child related. And even more disturbing because it appears to be in serious violation of our Constitution, the bans apply to everyone required to register even though many are no longer under supervision such as parole or probation.
The state law on holiday restrictions for sex offenders states: “Every person currently required to register who has been convicted of or who pleads guilty to a sex offense is prohibited from using or wearing a hood, mask or disguise of any kind with the intent to hide, conceal or disguise his identity on or concerning Halloween, Mardi Gras, Easter, Christmas, or any other recognized holiday for which hoods, masks, or disguises are generally used. It shall also be unlawful to distribute candy or other gifts on or concerning Halloween, Mardi Gras, Easter, Christmas, or any other recognized holiday for which generally candy is distributed or other gifts given to persons under eighteen years of age.”
Every registrant who gives an Easter basket or a candy egg, a Santa cookie or a Christmas present of any sort to his own minor children or grandchildren, or to nieces or nephews, will be in violation of the law.
I find that extremely disturbing. I know many registrants with young children, several of whom are on the registry for having sex, back in high school, with the girlfriend who for years now has been wife and mother of those children. Thankfully, none of them lives in Louisiana, but I am certain there must be similar situations there.
It is abhorrent that, in an effort guaranteed to grab headlines and votes, the protection of children is used in a situation where there is no risk to them to begin with, and even more abhorrent that it is done to the detriment of other children who suffer the negative consequences of daddy or mommy not being allowed in family participation of those holidays that make the memories that help shape children’s lives.
I only hope that in Louisiana this year no child’s memory includes the reality of Daddy being arrested and taken to jail because he was seen buying his child a Christmas present or giving him or her a candy cane.
Sandy Rozek works with Reform Sex Offender Laws, a group based in Cambridge, Mass., that lobbies for reform of the nation’s sex-offender laws. More information at www.reformsexoffenderlaws.org.