By Shana Rowan (Blog, USA Fair Inc.)
Folks, this is a long essay, but one I’m proud to share, as I continue to believe the Sex Offender Registry is not keeping kids any safer, and yet it is ruining a lot of lives. It comes to us from Shana Rowan, executive director of USA FAIR, Inc. (USA Families Advocating an Intelligent Registry), a nonprofit group founded by family members of people required to register. As Shana says, “USA FAIR promotes intelligent, fact-based sex offender laws and shines a light on the collateral damage imposed on loved ones of registrants.” A noble goal. – L.
MY ABUSER, MY FIANCE, AND THE SEX OFFENDER REGISTRY
In the middle of tenth grade, I was a fire engine red-haired, eyebrow pierced, plaid-mini-skirt-and-combat-boots-wearing 15-year-old, fighting a losing battle with depression and anxiety. Eventually, this would cause me to lose every friendship I ever had. By the beginning of my junior year, I had only one – a handsome, quietly sweet boy who was innocent obliviousness to my undying love. The few words he did speak meant that much more. I could always tell that he was in pain; it radiated from him. I never asked why and he never offered. For both of us, just knowing the other was aware of our silent suffering was enough.
One day he and I were leaning against the lockers in H building, me unable to focus on anything but his deep brown eyes. The next day he was gone – arrested, removed from school and from my life. I never got to say goodbye – much less find out what had happened. With my last support system gone, I floundered badly. I was lucky to graduate high school – not because I wasn’t smart enough, but because everything at school reminded me of what I had lost, and just being there was difficult.
My life was so desolate that by 23, I was four and a half years into a relationship to a man 14 years my senior, who had become my husband. He subjected me to physical and sexual violence on a regular basis. He isolated me from my family, refused to work while I worked two jobs, and wouldn’t let me go anywhere alone. The shame of allowing myself to be victimized over and over again coupled with the paralyzing fear I had of my husband kept me from ever hinting that anything was wrong. The only thing that kept me together was everyone else’s illusion that everything was fine.
One day my husband and I were attending a baseball card signing (regular “fun” outings were part of the jig). As we waited in line, a plug for a local nonprofit organization – for the prevention of domestic violence – played over the loudspeaker. My husband laughed and said sarcastically, “maybe you should go there.” Earlier that morning he had grabbed me by the hair and slammed my face into the floor (I had accidentally knocked coffee onto his Yankees jersey). I was attending the card signing with a split upper lip. His laughter that day awakened the last trace of dignity I had. My problem was finding a way to get out of the house before he caught up to me – and more than likely, killed me.
At a complete loss of where to start, I decided to track down my high school love – who had written to me from prison a couple of years prior. As overjoyed as I was to hear from him, especially when he admitted that he had always been in love with me, I was terrified my husband would find out. I threw away his letters and tried to forget about him. Luckily, it didn’t work. Through the powers of Google, I learned he was out of prison and working nearby. On my lunch break, I marched into the mechanic shop he worked in. He had his head under the hood of a gold Buick. When the door shut behind me, he looked up, and back down. Up, and back down. Up.