Wednesday, May 29, 2013

protect the children

Protect the Children is a great slogan, almost impossible to argue against. No sane person wants to argue  that we should torment children. What kind of person would think that way?

As it turns out, every defense of the sex offender registry is an argument to torment children. It's tricky, though, because the defense of the registry is tucked inside the unassailable Protect the Children slogan.
...Human Rights Watch released the results of an exhaustive new study on the long-term impact of placing minors on sex-offender registries in the U.S. “Raised on the Registry,” examining 517 cases of youth sex offenders across 20 states, reveals an almost incomprehensible reality in which children as young as 9 are being added to sex-offender databases, sometimes for life, and often as a result of sketchy plea deals or faulty juvenile-court proceedings.
Nine! Think about yourself at nine and what you knew about sex at that age. Of the information you had, and perhaps you even had a lot of it, how much of it did you truly understand? Maybe you understood how pieces and parts fit together but you couldn't have understood how sex affects people, their emotions and their sense of self for a lifetime. Nine-year-olds are simply too young to fathom the effects of adult behavior. How can a nine-year-old understand that sexual behavior today can affect himself and others for years to come? He has only nine years on which to base his understanding.

A child who gets into trouble for sexual behavior and ends up on the sex offender registry not only needs to deal with his faulty understanding of sex, he will need to deal with public humiliation as well. How does that help him? To protect the children, this child is put into another situation he is completely unprepared to handle: that of being labeled a sex offender.

Children who are abused by family members or by a trusted friend often do not feel better when their abuser is taken from them. Love and trust are twisted when sex abuse is part of the relationship. What child can make sense of that? Telling them that their uncle did a bad thing might be something they understand but they are not prepared to deal with the inner turmoil resulting from that bad thing. Children can feel guilt for sending the abuser away, grief for the person now missing from their lives.

On top of that confusion, the abuser is on the registry. A family member, a close family friend. The abuse is publicly known and talked about. Family know about the child's role--a role without blame, for certain, but how does a child deal with the rest of the family (and strangers as well?) knowing what the child did or what happened to him? When a sibling is the abuser, two children are tormented. Putting the abuser on the registry does not help matters for the rest of the family; it introduces more heartache.

With a parent on the registry to protect the children, the child's address is also on the registry. Her house can be searched by law enforcement at any time; the family car can be pulled over for a search at any time. Parents of her friends learn something very private about her family when they find her parent on the registry. Perhaps friends are forbidden to come to her house, perhaps she knows that people look at her and wonder if she had been abused, perhaps others look at her and wonder if she would be an easy mark for further abuse.

The registry is for a lifetime for former offenders even if their names are removed after 15 or 25 years. Nothing disappears from the Internet. A child who abuses a six-year-old will forever be labelled an abuser of a six-year-old. When the child is nine, people might understand how the abuse happened. When he is 17 and asks a girl to prom, a six-year-old victim will be a problem. The older the abuser is, the further away from his abuses--the worse his offense looks.

In jurisdictions that notify the neighborhood whenever a sex offender changes residence, how does an abused child deal with the periodic reminders of his abuse? A postcard arrives at the house, announcing where the offender now lives. Oh, you remember which offender, dear. The guy who did that terrible stuff to you. This is not a good way to help children deal with memories.

What about the children I haven't mentioned yet? Your children. You know...the ones who deserve protection from sex offenders. Does the registry protect them? Nope. Family members who are abusers are still bringing pumpkin pies to Thanksgiving dinner, still whispering secrets with your children. Those abusers are not on the registry. Ninety percent of sex offenses are committed by first-time offenders.

In plain terms, the next sex offense arrest in your town will most likely be at a home not listed on the registry.

The registry does not protect the children. It does, however, make life painful for a very large number of children. With over 750,000 Americans on registries, the number of children affected must be staggering. Abolish the registry and protect those children.

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