Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Sex Offender Registry - A Matter of Proportion

“Susie, you can’t take a teaspoon of green beans
and a huge bowl of pudding. Things must be in proportion.”           

“Our budget allocates three times as much for entertainment as it does for groceries; that isn't a good proportion.”

“The punishment should fit the crime; someone who stole a loaf of bread shouldn’t receive the same sentence as someone who embezzled his company's entire retirement investments. It isn’t proportionate.”

If I had to give a one-sentence explanation as to why today’s sex offender laws and policies are in need of reform, it is because they lack proportion.

This is true on many levels.

As lists of registrable offenses grow to include ever-more misdemeanor and “just stupid” offenses, restrictions and time required on the registry expand. Recently a man stuck a tip—a five dollar bill—down the front of a female golf caddy’s blouse and made her cry. He was found guilty of sexual assault and will be on the registry for twenty-five years.

As our society becomes more sexualized for children and teens in terms of their role models, of the availability and the content of technology, and of, not just the availability of birth control but the active promoting of it, the laws punishing children and youth for sexual curiosity, for sexting, and for sexual activity become harsher and more encompassing. New York just expanded the list of offenses that will apply to children as young as thirteen.

There is virtually no distinguishing minor from major offenses as far as the consequences of restrictions and registration go. The Texas man who had consensual high school sex, has been married to the “victim” for twenty years, and is raising their four children with her is still a lifetime registrant just as is the man who raped several women, strangers, over a period of several years before he was apprehended.

We need a new standard for determining who should be registered, even on a registry that is law-enforcement only. The standard needs to take into account a deliberate intent of harm. If there is no harm—the consensual sex between two high schoolers; two children close in age playing, “You show me yours, I’ll show you mine,”—or if there is no deliberate intent of sexual harm—the guy who stuck a five down a golf club employee’s shirt; the teenager who sexted his girlfriend nude pics—then the registry—any registry—should not even be in the equation.

Teach the kids respect for their bodies. Give the jerk a year’s probation and community service. Have the teens attend required counseling regarding the risks related to teenage sexual activity and the dangers of creating any media containing nudity and sexual content. Don’t put them on a sex offender registry and destroy their futures and that of their families.

Our current system lacks many things and is ineffective on many levels, and it involves problems and issues that will not be solved overnight. But surely—surely—we can start today putting some appropriateness and some proportion and some sense of the punishment fitting the crime back into our sexual offense laws.


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