By Michael M . . . It is easy for some people to feel that no matter how oppressive the hardships imposed upon former sex offenders may be, they probably deserved it. The most common refrain we see posted by unsympathetic social media commentators typically contains some variation of, “He (or she) should have thought of that before they committed their crimes!” While such a response may be emotionally satisfying for the person who makes such a statement, the unspoken assumption is that any punishment, no matter how cruel, can be justified by the fact that you’ve committed a crime, no matter how trivial. Oh, so you were beheaded for jaywalking? Well, you should have thought about that before you stepped outside the crosswalk!
It also completely ignores the plight of the innocent bystanders who often bear the brunt of our country’s draconian sex offender registration laws. The families, friends, employers, landlords, and associates of former sex offenders often become the unintended casualties of the current wave of anti-sex-offender hysteria sweeping the nation. Recent studies have begun referring to these tangential victims as “collateral damage,” as if we were talking about accidentally backing the car into the neighbor’s mailbox, rather than the complete destruction of innocent people’s lives.
By the way, it isn’t just the families and associates of sex offenders who suffer. Most of the states will admit that their sex offender registries are difficult to maintain and contain inaccuracies. One study discovered that as many as 25% of the addresses on the registry were incorrect, which resulted in the addresses of family homes where no one was a registered sex offender being listed on the registry. A Detroit, Michigan couple didn’t learn that their address was incorrectly listed on the registry until they tried to sell their home. They reported the error to the local police, who told them that nothing could be done about the problem until they tracked down the former owner who bought the house three years previously from a registered sex offender.