|Senator Brad Lager|
By Brad Lager (Website)
Missouri’s sex offender registry was created back in the mid-1990s as part of a nationwide movement. The concept is simple: require offenders convicted of specific sexually related crimes to enter their personal information into a public database that citizens could then search to see if there were offenders living in their area. Unfortunately, with government, nothing is ever simple, and managing a responsible sex offender registry has proven more difficult than ever expected.
The sex offender registry is an important tool in keeping our communities safe. Many sex offenders, especially violent ones, are at a high risk of committing a similar crime. The challenge, however, is that not all sex offenders are the same, and the laws dictating who has to register have become so broad that they now encompass crimes as brutal as the sexual abuse of a child and as innocuous as getting caught urinating in a public park after dark.
By treating all these crimes as equal, we’re condemning some people to lifelong punishments that may far outweigh their offense. One dumb decision as a teenager, and a person is stigmatized for the rest of their life.
A perfect example was given during this debate. A senior in high school (he was 17) begins dating a freshman (she was 14). They become sexually involved, and during the course of the relationship he turns 18. Upon learning about the two teenagers, her parents pursued charges of statutory rape against the boy, despite the relationship being completely consensual and having started when both were technically minors. The boy was ultimately convicted and thereby forced to register on the sex offender list. Fast forward 15 years. The high school sweethearts have married and have two children. He is a great husband, and a loving and caring father who takes his family to church every Sunday. The all-American family, except for the fact that the husband is still listed on Missouri’s sex offender list, lumped in with people who’ve sexually abused children and raped women. The saddest part of this story is that the relationship that the father is allowed to have with his kids (events he can legally attend, etc.) is heavily governed and limited by state law.
Because of stories like this, this year, the Legislature passed House Bill 301 (PDF), which was an attempt at reforming Missouri’s sex offender registry. In my opinion, this legislation made it too easy to get off the list and thankfully, the governor vetoed it. Regardless, it did begin a conversation we should continue having.
It is time to instill some common sense into this broken system. We must find a balance that both protects the public from true offenders while allowing those who pose no future risk to go through a legal proceeding, after a certain period of time and under very specific situations, that would provide a path to having their names removed from the registry. Finding that middle ground won’t be easy, and reform will take time, but as a nation and a state that prides itself on justice, we have a duty to see that the punishments under our legal system fit the crime.
Sen. Brad Lager, R-Savannah, represents Senate District 12, which includes northern Clay County and the cities of Smithville, Kearney and Holt, in the Missouri Legislature. He can be reached at 573-751-1415 or firstname.lastname@example.org.