The sex offender hysteria in America has now been widely exposed for what it is – a panic and a witchhunt. Yet it continues and grows every day, with politicians of all stripes and parties still climbing on the scapegoating bandwagon.
This great American injustice involves the public shaming of at least 600,000 Americans, most of whom are non-violent offenders, and about 50,000 of whom are juveniles. The Human Rights Watch Report issued last fall, No Easy Answers, by Sarah Tofte, described the U.S. sex offender registry and related laws as vindictive, punitive and ineffective. Debbie Nathan in CounterPunch, Dorothy Rabinowitz in the Wall Street Journal, and a whole range of journalists writing in major newspapers as well as alternative and online media, have clearly shown the damage done by wrong-headed sex offender registries in every state, including online public humiliation and ridiculous residency restrictions in most states, and by life-time civil commitment laws in many states. As a Supreme Court Justice in Maine pointed out, these laws have taken America back to the days of pillories and stocks in colonial Salem, undermining some of the most basic American Constitutional protections, including the right to habeas corpus and the restriction against ex post facto laws.
Perhaps worst of all, it is clear that such laws do not protect children or anyone from sexual abuse. Everyone, including children, is harmed by these repressive laws that erode basic U.S. civil liberties and human rights.
It has been eight months since we announced in CounterPunch a major effort to campaign for the reform of these unjust laws, RSOL – reformsexoffenderlaws.org. That effort has grown from an initial thirty signatories to more than 250 today.
It is important to show the breadth of this effort: in addition to prominent Americans like Howard Zinn and Dr. Richard Pillard and others on the original list, more and more important signatories have been added. These include Dr. Jerome Miller of the National Center for Alternative Institutions; internationally acclaimed health educator David Werner; anti-war activists Sid and Louise Peck; native American leader, David ¨Tally¨ Plume; psychiatry professor, Dr. Martin Kafka; sex offender treatment specialists Geoffrey Prentky, Phillip Taylor, Roy A. Dudley and Ronald Feintech; film-maker David Kennerly; gay activist and librarian Daniel Tsang and gay journalist Doug Ireland; physicians Dr. Clyde Hapgood, Jr., and Dr. Andrew S. Nicholson; sexual and gender studies academics Tom Waugh and Martha Vicinus; social workers Donna DiMarino, David Collesano and Roswitha Winsor; prominent lawyers Michael Steven Smith, Kathy Manley, Debra Beard-Baden, John Swomley, William T. Habern, Michelle Fox, Ernest Winsor, Helen Johnson, Ivan Liborio, Learni Levy and Rebecca Young; nurses & health educators Joellen W. Hawkins, Nancy Stanton, Linda Broadley, Donna Johnson and Madeline Kockler; pastors and other spiritual leaders including Dr. Aaron Peters, Rev. Dr. C. David Hess, Rev. Joseph Daily, Rev. Larry Burton and Rev. Marian Tetor; retired policeman, Tom Poxson; an array of university and other educators including Dr. David Pratt, Dr. Geoffrey D. Birky, Dr. Jack Tobin, and Dr. John V. Walsh; and other writers including Dr. Susan Weissman, Frederick Baumgarten, Alyce Wenger, Brian Rothery, Thomas W. Robinson, Roger Wonderly and David Peterson. Additionally, scores of Americans in various walks of life from group home counsellors and bakers to secretaries and construction workers, have braved public scorn to sign the statement
RSOL now has supporters in virtually every state. RSOL and sex offender rights groups (SoClear, SOSEN, Voicesofthegulag and others) have fostered a wide range of actions around the country, including dramatic protests by sex offenders held for life at the Coalinga State Hospital in California, a rally at the statehouse in Columbus, Ohio, and lobby efforts in Massachusetts, New Hampsire, Texas and Virginia. In one case, a small victory was won when RSOL participants helped block absurd and cruel residency requirements for sex offenders in Nashua, New Hampshire.
Here and there, state courts have thrown up red flags of warning. Indiana and Ohio courts have warned that retroactive re-classification of sex offenders violates the ex post facto laws. Georgia`s Supreme Court finally demanded the release of a black teenager already jailed for years for consensual sex with another teen – calling his sentence cruel and unusual punishment.
Yet the sex offender panic continues to grow, not recede. The Federal courts mostly stoke the bonfires. The U.S. Supreme Court will decide this spring the fate of a man on death row in Louisiana in a non-lethal child sex case, and most observers fear a reversal of the 1970s decision that capital punishment can only be used for certain heinous murders. Ever more repressive laws are added in state after state. Some states have announced that sex offenders of all levels will not be allowed to travel. Residency restrictions just get more and more impossible and absurd – Florida is no longer unique in forcing its sex offenders to ¨live under a bridge.¨ Politicians of every stripe try to outdo one another in venom sex offenders.
RSOL receives regularly emails from people who agree that these laws are wrong, but who are scared to death to be associated with any movement to oppose them.
Writing recently in the online version of the newspaper, the Oregonian, Merilee Karr said, ¨America has a long tradition of witchhunts. The witchhunters will always be well-meaning, like the FBI agent running down grandfathers, pastors and teachers. Reasonable people will always unite to stop the witchhunts. But never, in American history, until after great damage is done. How long will we wait this time?”
We at RSOL appeal to decent Americans – especially to the readers of CounterPunch – DO SOMETHING! Don`t let the suicides and vigilante actions continue without protest. Don´t let the damage just keep piling up. Join us! Start a movement for reform in your community, lobby your legislators and Federal Congresspersons to amend or repeal these unjust laws. Dare to speak out for civil liberties and against the witchhunt. For starters, visit our website and sign our statement, and urge others to do so. www.reformsexoffenderlaws.org. Don´t let these crimes against liberty and the rights of all people, including children, go unopposed!
Alex Marbury and Paul Shannon (The writers are organizers and contact persons for RSOL. Paul Shannon is a well known peace educator in New England. You may contact Alex at firstname.lastname@example.org and Paul at email@example.com or call 617-497-5273.)