In Greek mythology, the Lernaean Hydra was a mighty serpent with great regeneration powers — cut off a single head and two grow back. It was only when all the heads were severed was the hydra truly defeated.
I’ve stated this many time before in many places (and even discussed this on my blog at least once before), but I want to emphasize my belief here that the mythical Lernaean Hydra is the perfect illustration of the sex offender registry.
I do not believe the registry can be nearly reformed, and after years of butting heads with a number of other legal reformists for pretty much this entire decade, I don’t believe that merely limiting the registry to Law Enforcement Officers (LEOs) or advocating for Tiered Registries or limiting the registries to “high-risk offenders” will solve the problems caused by these registries.
If we attempt to sever a single head by attempting to limit the registry for use by certain people or to those we merely consider “high risk,” it will only take a couple of inevitable rare but tragic cases to regenerate that law and strengthen it. After all, the Jacob Wetterling Act was limited in scope, a non-public registry for use only by LEOs (though states had discretion, not the obligation, to allow public access), and within 2 years, it became public. We are also seeing laws that were once rejected make a comeback; Minnesota was among the first states to conclude residency restrictions were useless and counterproductive, yet has been a battleground for residency restrictions over the past couple of years. Where is the registry today? It is obviously far greater in scope than imagined by those who created it.
States are moving away from assessing risk by way of actuarial testing and towards the offense-based classification scheme embedded within the federal Adam Walsh Act, but promoting a Tiered system is like getting to choose your own method of torture in a POW camp. I’ve watched those within the anti-registry movement make dubious claims about the efficacy of a Tiered system to promote the concept to a state lacking a Tiered system. In doing so, we have to decide who gets thrown under the bus, and in many case, I was among those thrown under the bus.
My own life story is a testimony of the failure of a risk assessment system. Risk assessments are ultimately flawed because test-makers err on the side of caution. Risk assessments are completely arbitrary and subject to the whims of decision-makers. If you take a risk assessment and you score high risk, well that’s proof you are a threat. However, if you score low on the risk assessment test, then the decision makers have the discretion to toss that out. How do I know this fact? I’ve lived with an erroneous assessment since 2005.
What I’m experiencing in my personal life at this moment is why I cannot trust the registry to be limited to Law Enforcement Agents. The registry in ANY form can be weaponized against those on the list in many ways. Do you need to silence a political activist or protester? Do you want to push a registrant out of the community? Even in the hands of law enforcement, the registry can be used against us in many different way.
No matter what happens to me in the near future, I won’t rest while there is a registry in existence. The registry needs to be abolished, not just “reformed.” I don’t need to write a whole book about why I feel that way. I have lived a never ending nightmare for almost 20 years. I’m still waking up to it daily. There are many reasons why I feel the registry should not exist, here are just 25 off the top of my head:
- It is ineffective
- Most sex crimes aren’t committed by registered persons
- It makes the public believe everyone on the list will rape and kill your children
- Registrants struggle to find housing
- Registrants struggle to find employment
- Vigilantes use the registry to find their targets
- The registry promotes social ostracism
- The registry justifies discrimination against RCs
- The registry can be used as a weapon to hurt you by anyone from family to jilted lovers and beyond
- Police can misuse registry info to trump up false charges on RCs
- Failure To Register can send a person to prison longer than an actual sex crime would in many cases
- The registry is costly to everyone involved
- The registry continues to expand
- The registry fuels new, more restrictive laws the longer it is allowed to exist
- Scammers are using the registry to collect sensitive data
- Registrants find it hard to get justice for crimes committed against them
- Registrants are finding it difficult to get assistance in natural disasters
- Registrants are increasingly expected to pay for the privilege of being on the government blacklist
- Registrants are used as cannon fodder by media and politicians
- Once you are on the registry, you are listed on private registry and extortion sites long after you’re off the actual registry.
- States like Florida routinely drag registrants to their states or force them to register just to visit in order to boost their numbers
- Anyone who is ever connected to registrants, be it a lover, family member, a roommate, or a neighbor, experience a number of the consequences I listed above
- Non-registrants who look like someone on the registry or live at the address connected to the registry have been harassed or attacked
- Many innocent people have accidentally been added to the registry or had a mark placed them by the government because they screwed up paperwork
- Incentives to actual reform of the laws are stymied for fear of angry constituents and losing votes
Yes, reforming the registry is a step in the right direction but we should not make that the end game. In pushing for these steps, we should never compromise the message of abolition as the endgame for our efforts. A Tiered system might indeed be superior to a non-tiered system, and a limited access registry will always be superior to a fully public-accessed registry, however, having NO registry at all is far more superior to either or all other options.
Nothing anyone can say can change my mind. If I live to 100, I want to have that moment where I’m sitting on my deathbed and able to look back at my life and see a world without a registry. I don’t think I can rest in peace any other way.