As a registered sex offender simply trying to live, I am well aware that those so registered win no beauty contests in the arena of public discourse. We are systematically marginalized, if not gleefully so, and finessed to live like pariahs, if even afforded that indignity. And while there exist those who feel as if we should have been locked away forever, if not worse, our society has generally determined otherwise. And what society has also determined is that it knows where sex offenders live in order to protect children and prevent sex offenders from working with children, both reasonably laudable goals that find its purpose with the Sexual Offender Registry (SOR). But these efforts have gone far beyond those goals, becoming transformed as an electronic witch-hunt to harass and intimidate, and even drive out.
Katherine Ludwig’s otherwise breezy and humorous piece [“Virginia: the scorecard,” June 10, 2008] nevertheless panders, perhaps unwittingly, to the widespread, if not misplaced notion that SOR registrants are an especially evil underclass within society, which is decidedly contrary to the SOR’s stated purpose. (For those keeping score at home, Virginia also ranks 12th in the number of SOR registrants, consistent with its population rank.) Given that SORs have a legitimate purpose, however much abused on a daily basis, it would be nonregistrants with which to be gravely concerned. The latest statistic is that 24 percent of sex offenders (some 700 in Virginia) fail to comply with registration requirements.
With the sometimes onerous and invasive Virginia SOR registration requirements, and as noted in the article, information about us is readily available, we are hardly “lurking.” Further, while many of us might have met the crass, simplistic perception as being a “pervert,” a 2002 U.S. Department of Justice Bureau Statistics study tracking 9,700 sex offenders for three years after their release from incarceration found a re-arrest rate for another sex crime of 5.3 percent, and a 3.3 percent re-arrest rate for sex crimes involving a child—hardly supporting the old straw of rampant recidivism usually invoked to make our lives as difficult as possible, if not to banish us “somewhere else,” as with recent efforts undertaken in some localities.
The one-size-fits-all approach pervasive to SORs nationwide does nothing to address the issue of sex offenses, per se, and little, if anything, to make anyone safer. A 2000 Iowa study of the impact of its SOR upon recidivism found a slight decrease in violations after the registry was established. For example, over a period of 51 months, sex offense recidivism was 3 percent for the registry sample (offenders listed in the SOR) and 3 1/2 percent for the preregistry sample. Washington State, which enacted its SOR in 1990, found no reduction in sex crimes against children.
Pandering to the pitched-fork-and-flaming-torch-bearing masses doesn’t make anyone safer either, however unintentional. We have paid our dues to society, and we keep on paying; but, we want nothing more than to live our lives as best we can and be left alone.