This week I heard two stories from two different people in two different parts of the country. They have never met or spoken to each other. Yet they got the same infuriating news from their childrens' schools: you are not welcome at your child's graduation. In fact, if you show up, you will be arrested and led away in handcuffs. Both men are registered sex offenders.
Both men were saddened to miss such an important event in their child's life, but were far more concerned with their children's reactions - humiliation, sadness, disappointment, anger. Their children have already been forced to live through the accusations, trial, and incarceration of their fathers. Both children and their mothers already risk their safety simply by sharing a home with their father, because their addresses are publicized on the registry. Now this?
Every day I speak with women whose husbands or boyfriends are barred from living with them because our justice system thinks they will molest or abuse any and all children under 18, even if their previous convictions do not involve children. I even know women who have divorced their husbands and moved away from them; not because they don't love or support each other, but because they were threatened with losing custody of their children if they did not do so. That's right - families literally shredded in half and financially ruined due to our society's method of punishing the poor choices of one parent.
Fathers who do live with their children often cannot accompany them to school or other activities where non-related children may be. This may seem trivial, but think about how many important events in a child's life occur at such places: graduation, of course - as well as plays, sporting events, recitals, and even something as mundane as dropping them off at any of the aforementioned events. If you don't think the police actually enforce these laws, think again. A 31-year-old man in Jacksonville, North Carolina was arrested in January of this year for dropping his daughter off at a Girl Scouts meeting. Can you imagine how frightening and embarrassing this must have been for his young daughter?
Unfortunately, as I've mentioned before, children themselves are not immune to the all-encompassing vacuum of hell that goes along with being forced to register as a sex offender. This 2009 study by the US Department of Justice reveals that not only do children make up about a quarter of all registered sex offenders, they also account for over a third of all sexual crimes against other children. With nearly 750,000 sex offenders on the registry in this country, that means just under 190,000 high-school age children (and younger) are being subjected to a damning lifelong label and punishment. In addition to the crippling effect this has on their futures, what about that of their siblings and parents?
Having an incarcerated or previously imprisoned family member is never easy. However the families of sex offenders are subjected to far more hardship and instability than the families of other felons. I say that all families deserve peace of mind, security and privacy.
A family in the UK with two young children reported that their kids were having difficulty sleeping because they were so terrified of being attacked after an unknown individual posted false sex offender posters and listed their address. But is this not exactly what we are doing to the families of sex offenders right here in the United States? Some argue that it is a worthy price to be paid if it protects just one child. But what about the children of sex offenders - are they exempt from the very laws created to "protect" them? If so, why? Who decides which children, and which people for that matter, are deserving of basic human rights and who are not?
It certainly shouldn't be self-absorbed politicians and lawmakers who directly benefit from laws that reflect nothing but misguided public hysteria.