The Scarlet Letter of The Twenty First Century

“To Deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity” – Nelson Mandela

We as humans tend to take pride in our centuries of supposed social evolution and progress. We claim we are no longer the people in the dark ages of our ancient past; however, even in our modern, advanced age of the 21st century we are still labeling people in our society with a form of a scarlet letter. Sex offenders seem to get the brunt of it and treated as social undesirables. With this label they are treated as a form of an untouchable creature and the worst of the worst, in many, if not most cases, they are doomed to wear this label for life. This modern day form of labeling can in ways be compared to the treatment of the character Hester Prynne and Reverend Dimmesdale in the classic novel by Nathaniel Hawthorne titled ‘The Scarlet Letter’, or possibly the letter or band many lesser valued peoples of Adolf Hitler’s time were forced to wear during WWII. Are we now reverting back to this uncaring and uncompassionate form of behavior we claim to have conquered almost 100 years ago?

After WWII Americans forced Germans to view how the horrors of the holocaust had affected so many innocent victims. The reason given for this forced viewing was said to be that if the Germans would see how the people had suffered from this it would help prevent the same thing from happening in future generations. Apparently this so-called “cruelty prevention” tactic actually never really worked for those trying to teach the lesson. Americans act as if they have learned nothing from the history of that era. That time in history was when Germany started to take away the rights of some of its citizens simply because the people in power felt some of the citizens were considered of lesser value. We here in America now seem to be acting in this same manner of our treatment to many others.

Even now, we try to justify this practice of labeling  by saying we are protecting children and innocent people from sexual assault. We try to excuse it with the stories of how children were abducted, sexually assaulted and in some cases even murdered. We convince one another and ourselves the people that are convicted of these crimes must be some form of horrible monsters and we assume that they will continue to do this type of thing regardless of any help that he or she may be offered. Then before we are properly informed of all the facts of their case we decide they need to be restricted from association with others and should be watched for their entire life.

We seem to forget that this restriction harms and marks not only the accused but also their entire families and loved ones. The result is making the registered citizen, and those they are assumed to associate with, feel very much treated similar to some sort of vile danger to all. Loved ones of registrants have even suffered through unwanted divorces, causing broken homes and loss of parents, one or both at times, there are also many cases of sibling separations. Children have also suffered physical and verbal abuse by peers and some adults in their lives due to this label we are giving to more and more people. This type of ‘labeling’ or ‘grouping’ of a person can have disastrous consequences, even murders and suicides. It has been found in many studies that around half a million children of registered citizens suffer physical and emotional damage daily because of the registry and community notification. Are politicians actually standing up for these disadvantaged children? Absolutely not, they are too busy trying to gain popularity by punishing the registered citizens who have already paid their debt to society. By passing more laws and stricter laws, politicians are in fact hurting many of the very children they claim to be attempting to protect.

Many families have even been restricted from churches and places of employment. Prisoners currently in the custody of the state still maintain a right to be safe from others and receive medical care. The restrictions on employment and having the public registry after they have been released seem to take away these rights and continue the punishment long beyond the court order and even adding punishment for life in many cases. These restrictions also inhibit the registrants from becoming integrated back into a functional society and stable lifestyle, oftentimes inhibiting their loved ones as well. Imagine being told to leave a public place because you are friends with a person who endangers children so you must be the same way! Or even in some cases asked to leave the church you have attended for years simply because a close friend or relative has been put on the registry. Yes, this sort of thing actually does happen.

What we have witnessed is the registry causing more harm than good; instead of protecting the children (the alleged intent of the registry), it has become a vicious public shaming roster. The public registry has been a great cost of unnecessary expenses to the taxpayers, including increases in unemployment, welfare dependence and homelessness among those forced to register, causing a financial burden on our country. The registry encourages vigilante justice and bullying of all sorts and degrees.

America has designated the month of October as ‘Anti-Bullying Month’. We tell our children bullying is wrong and hurtful, then at the same time we as a country are now turning and encouraging other nations to take up this same form of labeling practice. But registered citizens and their loved ones are seemingly exempted from these anti-bullying campaigns. This goes to show that there is no justification for the removal of any citizen’s rights. These actions can cause a country to quickly plunge into darkness, for once rights have been curtailed by the government for any specific group it isn’t long before they are curtailed for everyone within the nation. History has provided us with more than enough evidence of this truth.

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