It’s not easy to come to the defense of nonviolent sex offenders. Any lawmaker that considers reforming the excessively-punitive registry will start out on the losing side of the public’s perception. For starters, there is an erroneous assumption that the registry entirely comprises of rapists and pedophiles. On top of that, sex offender registration has become somewhat of a throwaway issue. Who cares about anyone on the registry? They did something, and that’s their punishment.
However, our inability to think critically about sex offender registration is causing undue legal and moral repercussions upon convicted people. We should care because many offenders were convicted under consensual circumstances that any reasonable society wouldn’t penalize in this way. All states have sex offender registries, as mandated by a series of federal laws in the 1990s, but each state has different opinions on what situations amount to a sex offense. Many situations do not at all fit the pathological predator theme that the public associates with the entire registry.
For example, the Department of Justice estimates that there are at least 89,000 minors on sex offender registries. Just process that for a second. Many of these offenses are nonviolent and fairly normative. Indecent exposure and sexting are some examples of teenage behavior that has landed defendents on the sex offender registry. Note the case of a 15-year-old in Pennsylvania who was charged with manufacturing and disseminating child pornography after taking explicit pictures of herself and sharing them. Or a couple of 14-year-old boys in New Jersey who pulled down their pants and sat on two 12-year-old boys. These may be stupid decisions, sure, but do they justify these kids being registered as sex offenders? Probably not.