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Sunday, March 31, 2013
Most Virginians would say there are more rapists and molesters today than 15 years ago. They would be wrong.
Approximately 15 years ago, victims’ rights groups and lawmakers began lowering the threshold of what is defined as a sex crime, making the standards of guilt easier, increasing and expanding punishment, tying the hands of judges with mandatory minimums and giving too much power to prosecutors.
Vengeance over justice became the standard. No one dared question these changes or asked for data to support them, fearing they’d be perceived as dishonoring crime victims.
When sex offender registries were created, politicians claimed their very existence would prevent crimes and victimization. Have they?
A plethora of research over the last 12 years by experts in the field have concluded the registries have not lowered the number of crimes nor the rate of recidivism. Nor have they made the public feel safer. In reality, the registries keep the public in a perpetual state of suspicion, fear and watchfulness, with no tangible results.
Virginia has dehumanized an entire class of society, making them public spectacles, monsters of no value. This rationalizes and endorses destruction as opposed to healing and growth. Successful re-entry for offenders — including housing, education, employment and family life — becomes practically impossible.
Every offender is painted with the same broad brush. An 18-year-old who had consensual sexual contact with a 16-year-old suffers the same restrictions as a rapist who assaulted a stranger. After serving lengthy prison sentences, each is listed for life on our registry as a violent offender, convicted of rape, sodomy, object sexual penetration or carnal knowledge of a minor.
Are they equal? Do both deserve the scarlet letter or state monitoring for the next 30, 40 or 60 years? No, they don’t.
Every year, 850 to 1,300 new Virginians (an average of 20 per week) are added to our registry, and fewer than 50 are removed. In December 2008, one of every 202 adult males was registered; in December 2012, the number grew to one of 159. By late 2018, we’ll reach one of every 100. Eventually, every Virginian will know someone bearing this scarlet letter.
There can be an even-handed approach — protecting the public, informing people of who might be a threat and allowing for successful re-entry to the majority who want to be productive citizens. It just takes careful consideration and actually listening to experts in the field.
It is possible to protect society from sexual harm, while preserving civil liberties and genuine justice. Lawmakers, if directed, could construct targeted laws against harmful acts, not classes of people. Which delegates and senators will find the required inner strength to take on this polarizing issue to reform, and restore integrity, to our registry?
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