Sex offender. This is an extremely consequential label, carrying with it a harsh—and often unjustified—stigma. Virgil McCranie certainly did not want this label. Virgil was 19 years old and his girlfriend Misty was 14 years old when they first had sex. But later, Misty learned that Virgil had cheated on her, so she told her father that she had slept with Virgil. Enraged, Misty’s father went to the police with this information; Virgil was subsequently charged with statutory rape. Because she was under the age of consent at the time she and Virgil had sex, Misty could not have legally consented. Alhough he ultimately avoided prison, Virgil agreed to a plea deal that required him to register as a sex offender.
Virgil and Misty eventually reconciled, married, and had children together. Virgil even received a pardon and is no longer registered as a sex offender. But the stigma associated with his sex-offender status followed Virgil for many years. He testified to the Florida Board of Executive Clemency that he had lost 17 jobs solely because of his sex-offender status. Before he was pardoned, Virgil’s name, address, picture, a map identifying where he lived, vehicle description, and license plate number were all posted on the state’s publicly accessible sex offender website. Yet, Virgil had never been charged with any other crimes. He was never found guilty, nor did he plead guilty to a sex offense. But because he was required to register as a sex offender, Virgil had to live with the onerous stigma of his sex-offender label—a stigma that his children also had to experience. On a daily basis, Virgil had to live with the harsh consequences—consequences bearing a striking resemblance to punishment—that accompanied his sex-offender label.