When I thought my husband was an aberration–that men in their 20s arrested in internet stings in adult chat rooms for considering having sex with a willing post-pubescent teen didn’t end up on registries, and he was just the rare idiot who got himself into that position–I didn’t care. I figured, he was stupid, he wronged me, he deserved whatever happened to him.
I felt that way for years.
It wasn’t until I learned that he wasn’t an aberration that my feelings changed. In fact, he’s the norm: men arrested in their late teens or early-to-mid 20s for offenses involving willing post-pubescent teens (or undercover officers posing as post-pubescent teens, or anything involving an image of a post-pubescent teen) are the new normal of the registry.
I learned that the vast majority of registered sex offenders–anywhere between 85-90%–are single-time, non-violent victimless or statutory offenders.
And that’s when I got really angry.
Because if it were just happening to my family, I could take it. I could live with that. I could even rationalize that, because he’d made a mistake and I’d made the choice to stay with him, we deserved it.
But when it’s happening all over the country, when it’s happening to tens of thousands of young men each year, when it’s happening to scared, confused, blindsided young wives and girlfriends and mothers, then I can’t rationalize it away any more.
Then it becomes an issue of justice, and keeping silent in the face of widespread injustice is not an option.
So this is not about me. It’s not about my husband. He was arrested nearly a decade ago. For eight years, I did not care. For eight years, I thought he was an idiot who did wrong and deserved it. For eight years, I thought we were the exception, and while being the exception might suck, it doesn’t point to any larger social problems.
I had and continue to have no interest in making life easier for my husband. I have no interest in somehow making things better for my individual family.
No, I’m interested in justice. I’m interested in the larger social problem. I’m concerned about the hundreds of thousands of children and wives and girlfriends and mothers and men who are negatively impacted every single day because those men, when they were in their late teens or twenties, made one really bad choice about sex involving a willing post-pubescent teen or an image downloaded from the internet.
It does not have to be that way. It shouldn’t be that way. In no other nation in the world, in no other time in human history, would it be that way. Please remember that: we are the only nation in the entire history of the world–and, even now, only parts of our nation consider these offenses deserving registration/public notification, and even, in the case of the internet chat room sting operations, crimes at all–who has ever believed that a public sex offender registry is warranted for anybody, much less men who, in their late teens or twenties, engaged in sexual activity with willing post-pubescent teens. We are not bravely blazing a right new trail: we are just wrong. And we are wrong in a way that is destroying lives.
And that is why I care. I don’t care for my own family; I wouldn’t care if it were just my family. It’s the other families I have learned about who make me care. It’s learning about the reality of the registry and who is on it that makes me care.
It is the possibility that your son, when he’s 20 or 22 or 24 and stupid and lonely and horny and spending too much time online and not thinking a whole lot about what he’s doing or saying or downloading while on it, could end up on one of these registries for decades or life for a single, non-violent offense, and be in a position where he could be arrested, twenty years later, for hanging out at a friend’s house too close to a school.
That’s why I care. If it were just about me, I’d let it go. But it’s about your family, too, and so I can’t.