It’s Time for a Common Sense Approach to the Sex Offender Registry

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I’m a father of two great kids. I’m retired military police. I know bad guys and have locked up my fair share of them over the years. The guy across the street from me is not a bad guy. He keeps his yard immaculate. He has a pretty wife, and his dad lives in their house too and he seems nice. That whole family keeps to themselves, which is why I was surprised to learn that a couple who wanted to buy my house recently, backed out after learning about him. Him, is the guy across the street from me who moved into my neighborhood a year after my family and I settled, and he’s on the sex offender registry.

I’ve been told that my state’s sex offender registry is a valuable source of information, but I find it contains information that is vague at best and incomplete at worst. What is one supposed to do with that lack of information?

It seems my neighborhood knows. They now stay inside all day.

My neighborhood used to have kids riding their bikes and playing everywhere, until he moved in. Now, it feels like we are ALL TRAPPED. I feel like a prisoner in my own neighborhood and I didn’t commit any crime. When people ask me why I haven’t sold my house yet, I feel ashamed mentioning him as the likely cause. Do I know he’s the cause for sure? No. But, again, that is the shitty part of having a child molester across the street…everything is his fault, even if it’s not.

Which brings me to a problem I have with my state’s sex offender registry. It is only good if it’s maintained. I don’t have the statistics in front of me, and frankly I don’t care about the statistics, because my friends in Law Enforcement tell me that a number of sex offenders disappear, drop off the list, or move and never register again. I am sure the list was designed to warn and inform parents, but the list — and I’m being boldly honest here — produces fear and anxiety within neighborhoods and discriminates against the offender in measures that can be disproportionate to the crime itself.

For example, in my state, if my daughter were to send a nude photo of herself to her boyfriend and got caught, she could be charged with electronically transmitting child pornography. A felony. A crime requiring her to register as a sex offender — for life. “Ridiculous! That wouldn’t happen!”, you say? Right now I know of a family seriously contemplating pressing charges against a 14 year old boy for this offense. At 14, he would spend the rest of his life as a registered sex offender.

There is little incentive for a criminal who has served his (or her!) time to reintegrate back into society when that society brands that person for their crime for life. Because the sex offender registry brands a person for life, there must be some common sense applied to the sex offender registry. As a counselor helping sex abuse victims, I see the effects sex abuse has on survivors and the struggles many of them face, and I think we owe survivors of sex abuse a system that protects them even as it informs others; a system that accurately monitors offenders and encourages compliance, while being an indisputable source of evidence of non-compliance. And for those offenders who can reintegrate in with society, perhaps even the opportunity to be removed from the list after recommendations from a hearing, like a parole hearing, as well as a period of a time has elapsed without any other criminal record. We currently do it for other offenders, right?

Instead, we have the sex offender registry with all it’s current flaws and untapped potentials .

If the sex offender list is supposedly effective, especially to me as a parent in keeping my children safe, then tell me why there is not a list for every drunk driver within a ten mile radius of my house? I drive my children everyday, and drunk drivers are dangerous, too. How about a list for every person who committed murder? I’d like to know if a Ted Bundy lives nearby. Or, how about a list that shows every convicted drug dealer because drugs kill.

And therein lies the problem. We have been led to think the sex offender registry is going to protect us and our children, but it can’t. I argue that we are being encouraged to use an unreliable and inaccurate sex offender registry while being misled to believe that we are safer because of this list. A list won’t keep me or my children safe. The best that the sex offender list can do for now is inform. Instead, we should be demanding a more accurate list, operated with common sense, and focused on community safety.

No, I’m not concerned about him living across the street from me because I know he’s there, and he knows the whole neighborhood knows he’s there. He’d be dead before he hit the ground if he tried anything. Actually, you know who worries me? It’s all those potential threats against my children that I can’t see coming…the drunk drivers, the drug dealers, the murderers, and those molesters who prowl neighborhoods and playgrounds throughout America, undetected. That’s why, as a parent, I protect my children by educating them while watching out for them. There’s no list that can (or should) replace parental supervision.