But it wont be.
I happen to know a registered sex offender. Naturally, I won’t reveal his name, so we’ll just call him ‘Jim’.
Jim was in his mid 50’s, married, and had a great job. Like many people, he had accumulated a lifetime of assets…a nicely furnished home, a car, and a garage full of junk. His marriage was not perfect, but better than most. He was considered an excellent friend, neighbor, and co-worker.
Then he got stupid. For reasons that even he can’t fully explain he got involved in passing underage pornography around on the internet. Having discussed this with Jim, I am convinced that his online activities had nothing to do with any desire to sexually abuse a child. The prime factor seems to have been nothing more than morbid curiosity; the same thing that causes people to slow down to gawk at bad accidents on the highway, or want to watch desperate people jump to their death from the World Trade Center Building. And then there is the ‘Bill Clinton Explanation’…”I did it because I could”.
Then one day the police showed up at his home with a search warrant. Jim and his wife sat on the living room sofa as the police confiscated 3 computers, about 6 dozen discs, a digital camera (reason unknown), and a digital camcorder (reason also unknown). An hour after the search his wife left him. She had no idea.
The police told Jim they would get back to him in about eight months. Word spread quickly through the small town where he lived. He immediately lost his job. He began to have suicidal thoughts. He composed his final note. And he had eight months to wait for the other shoe to drop.
That shoe dropped exactly seven months later when Jim was indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of possessing and distributing child porn. He was told how the court would go easier on him if he cooperated. He did. They didn’t. Jim was eventually to plead guilty to the charges for two reasons. First of all, he did what they said he did. And secondly, no one has the resources to fight the federal government. He was sentenced to 10 1/2 years in federal prison, a term which he recently finished serving, and he now lives alone in a motel room, and is a registered sex offender. His prior criminal record consisted of one traffic ticket.
You may be thinking that this is a story about Jim. In fact, it is the story of tens of thousands of ‘Jims’. Best estimates are that there are now over one and a half million registered sex offenders in the United States. And a large percentage of them were guilty only of passing inappropriate pictures around on the internet. They never assaulted anyone…man, woman, or child, in any way. And they were never accused of any such thing.
If ever there was a law passed by congress based entirely upon political exploitation and government fear mongering, SORNA (Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act) is it. Politicians gain great ground by convincing the public what a great job they do protecting people, especially children. How many times have you seen the press conferences with the redundant banners behind the podium proclaiming “Protecting The Elderly”, “Protecting The Handicapped”, “Protecting The Poor”, “Protecting The Children”, add infinitum. What they are most interested in protecting is their congressional seat. The quickest path to the hearts and minds of politicians is the voter’s children and grandchildren. And they use it.
There is no shortage of draconian laws that have been proposed in both state and federal legislatures. Fortunately, not all of them have passed. It seems that even the politicians are able to exercise at least some measure of restraint when considering an absurd piece of legislation.
Here are just a few of such proposals:
All sex offenders must wear a specially designed shirt with “R.S.O” emblazoned on it.
If they park their car anywhere other than at home they must put a high-rise flag on it, with the same “R.S.O” lettering on it.
They must post a sign in their front yard proclaiming “Sex Offender Lives Here”. I’m not sure what their option is if they live in an apartment (which is pretty much impossible anyway).
They must have a special license plate on their car identifying them as a sex offender. No mention of what they do if their wife is driving the car.
Their driver’s license must identify them as a sex offender. That will allow the police to hassle them a bit more if they are pulled over for a simple traffic violation.
There are more, but you get the point. Now, here are some of the things Jim has to endure:
He cannot live within 1000 feet of a school, public park, daycare, or any other place where kids hang out, even though his crime had nothing to do with any of those things.
He cannot use a camera or any other recording device, even though his crime had nothing to do with any such thing.
He cannot rent an apartment simply because no apartment manager will rent to him.
He can’t drink a beer with his hot wings, even though his crime had nothing to do with drinking.
He cannot travel anywhere without permission, even though he has served his time in prison. He is therefore still incarcerated…it’s just a bigger fence.
He cannot get a date because no lady would go out with him if she knew. He refuses to be deceitful and not tell a prospective date right upfront. So they know.
His picture an address are posted on a state website, thus making him vulnerable to harassment, vandalism, and physical assault.
Now I don’t mean to defend what Jim did. He has answered to his family, the court, and will answer to God if there is one. But I have given this some thought, and there are some serious points to be made.
Jim’s crime was a victimless crime. Ok, yeah I know…all of society suffers because of child porn. But there is not one child on Earth that can point to Jim and identify him as someone who victimized her. What Jim did was to look at pictures of someone else abusing a child. The mindset required to look at a picture is not even on the same chart as that required to abuse a child.
You’ve surely heard the saying “All poodles are short-haired dogs, but not all short-haired dogs are poodles”. A similar statement could say “All child molesters are child pornographers, but not all child pornographers are child molesters”. In fact, recent statistics state that only 1% of child pornographers ever escalate to a ‘hands on’ sexual offense.
I can understand why someone who has actually committed a sexual assault on a child should be prohibited from living too close to a school, etc. But why isn’t the same restriction placed on someone with five drunk driving convictions? Think about that for a moment. Someone who passed pictures around on the internet can’t live near a school. But a drunk, probably driving on a suspended license and with no insurance (they all do), can live right next door to where the kids get on and off the school bus. Apparently the powers that be are not concerned about the drunk killing a few kids.
There is another ridiculous aspect to the living restrictions. In most states the determining factor as to where you live is where you sleep. In Jim’s case he can live in a home 50 feet from a school, and stay there all day long. He just can’t sleep there. Which means it’s ok for him to be there during the day when the kids are around, but he can’t sleep there at night when they are gone. Duh.
I am compelled to share a scenario Jim shared with me. Imagine that your next door neighbor knocks on your door to tell you that he is going to rent his home out. He is in a hurry to move, and he has five men who want to rent the home. He will let you choose who he rents to. The first is a convicted murderer out on parole. If he repeats his crime someone will die. It could be someone in your family. The second is an arsonist. If he repeats his crime your house could burn down with your family in it. The third is the drunk driver. He could run over your kids as they play in the front yard, or wipe out your entire family at the nearest intersection. The fourth is a drug dealer. He would be happy to sell drugs to your kids. And if you have a young daughter…you don’t even want to think about how he will try to get her to pay her bill.
The fifth one is Jim. He passed pictures around on the internet while in his own home with the doors locked and the window shades down. If he repeats his crime you will never know it.
Who do you want living next door?
If you chose anyone other than Jim it’s probably because you have bought into all the government fear mongering. They have convinced you that anyone who passes around child porn is, in fact, a dangerous child sexual predator, even though the statistics clearly indicate otherwise. And you will probably be sure to vote for that great champion of child protection. That’s exactly what they want.
SORNA is simply bad. It ignores the difference between child molesters and picture traders. It reeks of nonsense. Any person living 1100 feet from a school could easily walk there in 4 minutes. Of course, if they wanted to abduct a child they wouldn’t walk. They would drive, a journey of maybe 30 seconds. And if they were going to commit such a crime they sure as hell wouldn’t do it in their own neighborhood anyway!
Prison officials take pride in their efforts to rehabilitate inmates so that they can successfully rejoin society and become productive citizens again. SORNA makes that literally impossible for sex offenders. Jim wanted to join a bowling league when he got out of prison. That wasn’t about to happen in the town where he lived. Other bowlers simply refused to bowl in any league that included Jim. He wanted to volunteer at a food distribution site. Nope. It was located at a church. And the church had a day care facility.
SORNA ruins families. Most sex offenders, even if they only traded pictures, all not allowed be alone with their own kids. The pressure of the shunning by society creates incredible strains on a marriage (assuming the offender was married and his wife waited for him, which is not likely).
SORNA does nothing to protect children. I am always amused when I go to my bank and see the sign on the door asking customers to remove their hats or hoods before entering. I envision a bank robber getting to the door. He sees that sign and says “Rats, I can’t rob the bank because they won’t let me wear a hood or mask. The same thing can be said of emergency protection orders. A woman who thinks her ex husband or boyfriend is going to kill her asks the court for this EPO. She thinks the guy who plans to kill her won’t violate the order to do it. Any man that wants to sexually abuse a child will not be stopped because he is prohibited from living near a school.
The biggest problem with SORNA is that no group of politicians will ever agree to repeal it. Anyone who suggested such a thing would immediately be branded as ‘soft on child molesters’ by their political opponents. The only way this is ever going to go away, or be substantially amended is for the U.S. Supreme Court to come to their senses and rule it unconstitutional. But they had their chance, and ruled that SORNA is not ex post facto punishment, but only an administrative act.
Maybe some day they will change their minds. But don’t count on it.