As Executive Director of ACSOL, I listen every day to concerns expressed by registrants and/or their family members. Many of those concerns are focused upon challenges that registrants face in employment and housing. This column does not address those challenges.
Instead, it addresses the overarching issue that registrants are often treated worse than individuals convicted of murder. Regardless of the sex offense for which they have been convicted or the number of years that have passed since that conviction.
I have known this fact for many years. The most obvious difference, of course, is that a person convicted of a sex offense in California must register at least annually and his personal information is often posted on a public website. By comparison, there is no registry for murderers in California and their personal information is not posted on a public website.
Please understand that I am not advocating for nor would I support a registry for individuals convicted of murder. Instead, I am advocating for the end of all sex offender registries.
A glaring example of how registrants are treated worse than those convicted of murder came to my attention during the past week. The wife of a registrant called to let me know that her family has now been reported to Child Protective Services. Not because her husband, who is a registrant, has harmed their children. Instead, it’s because a third party discovered that her husband is a registrant and thought their children were at risk of harm.
As I told this woman, I am not a family law attorney and therefore I referred her to someone who is. Having said that, I decided to look up the family’s situation in California’s Family Code section. I could hardly believe what I found there — a legal presumption that the children of a registrant who has a felony conviction involving a minor are considered to be “at significant risk.” As a result, such registrants are not allowed to have unsupervised contact with their children.
What! That means that a registrant parent could be forced to move out of the family home. Forced to abandon both his spouse and his children.
And it gets worse. That is, a person convicted of first-degree murder can have custody of their children if either the court determines there is no risk to the child’s health, safety and welfare or the children choose to live with that parent. Neither of these options is available to a registrant.
What! How is it possible that a person convicted of a non-contact, non-violent felony sex offense such as possession of child pornography is not allowed to live or even have unsupervised visitation with his children while a person convicted of first-degree murder can?
When this happens, it creates a Sophie’s Choice for the registrant’s wife and the mother of his children. The wife must choose to live with either her husband or her children, but not both. And regardless of the decision she makes, the family is destroyed by a law that makes no sense and fails to protect children who need both parents in their lives.