Jan has agreed to share her story to raise awareness about the inhumane and devastating effects these continuously changing laws have on the former offender, their families, children and society as a whole. Although this is Jan’s story, it is similar to the over 850,0001 men, women and children (as young as 8) who are on a sex offender registry in this country.
My name is Jan. I am a wife, mother, daughter, sister, and grandmother. Twenty six years ago, when I was 22, I made a very stupid choice. I had consensual sex with a 15-year-old boy.
I subsequently pled guilty to one misdemeanor count of sexual conduct with a minor, and I served one year probation. I tried to move on with my life in a positive way putting my one and only crime behind me. I married, had a family, furthered my education, and became gainfully employed.
Arizona law requires anyone convicted of any sexually related offense to register as a “sex offender” for life regardless of a crime’s severity. In 1992, registration consisted solely of informing the Sheriff’s Department if you moved. But over the last 26 years, subsequent legislative sessions have created new laws prohibiting “registered sex offenders” from many things and requiring new conditions which apply regardless of a person’s risk or date of the offense. Failure to abide by any of these new laws can be a felony. These new laws apply to me even though I have already served my time.
I want to share my story and give you insight of what it is like to live on the registry. In 1999, Megan’s Law passed to “make communities safer” by making the registry available to the public. My four children and I were declined housing due to my “status as a sex offender”. A credit reporting agency falsely listed my crime as felony child molestation implying my victim was under 12 years old. I also received a letter from the Department of Public Safety in 2002 stating that I must obtain a new driver’s license or state ID card that is only valid for one year. People not on the registry in Arizona only have to go to the MVD every 12 years for a new photo and eye exam until they are 65 years old. Having to go back every year to get it renewed is a huge source of anxiety and humiliation, and great cost due to the $10 renewal fee. Additionally, I have had difficulty renewing my license many times which puts me at risk for felony charges.
In 2004, the picture from my driver’s license was shown on commercials on a news broadcast called “The Face of Danger,” which highlighted Sheriff Arpaio’s plan to install software in all public schools that would alert local police if a “registered sex offender” showed up on campus. I have three children and was petrified every time I had to go to their schools. My children and I missed out on many activities and memories because I stayed away from their schools, even though I had legitimate reasons to be there. I feared for my children if my presence had triggered an alarm.
Lawmakers pushed to make everyone on the registry subject to community notification. I started a website under a pseudonym to protect my family’s privacy and spoke out against these laws. I became the target of vigilantes. They threatened me, exposed my real identity, published many websites with my picture stating that I was a “pedophile,” pro-pedophile,” “child molester,” and “child abuser.” They published my address, telephone numbers, and email address. They told businesses I worked with to sever ties with me or be placed on their “Corporate Sex Offenders” website and be outed a “Pro-Pedophile” and the companies complied. The vigilantes stated they knew the names of my children, had their photos and were watching them. The FBI refused to help. The local police department responded to me with, “What do you think the registry is for?” When I filed a federal lawsuit in 2008 to try to force a federal judge to order an investigation into the vigilantes, the battle never resulted in any criminal charges. I was not able to get the response or treatment that any other citizen would get.
In 2009, the legislature amended the fingerprint clearance card statute. Anyone required to register as a “sex offender” was no longer able to obtain a fingerprint clearance card and was barred from obtaining a good cause exception hearing. The legislature also expanded the types of employment that require fingerprint clearance cards. My realtor’s license was revoked. All of my post-secondary education since Megan’s law passed became useless. I now have thousands of dollars in student loan debt (accruing interest) that I have no way of paying back.
John Stossel of ABC’s “20/20” picked up my story in 2009. He interviewed me and some of the vigilantes. The story was titled “Age of Consent.” It is viewable on YouTube.
In 2011, I gave up the fight. I am unable to obtain a job. Because we are a one income family now, we cannot afford health insurance. I suffer from terrible anxiety and depression and rarely leave my house. My last suicide attempt was October 2017. In my suicide note, I told my loved ones not to be sad or cry for me because I was finally free of everything, and I would no longer be a burden to them. I wanted them to know that I had finally found peace.
For 26 years, I have tried to become a better person and to rise above my past, rise above my own childhood trauma, and give my children a better life than I had. For the same 26 years, our government has undermined each of my efforts. We are supposed to be a country of second chances where people aren’t judged by their worst decision. I wish our government would remember that. I also wish they would think of my innocent husband and children who have suffered through these ever-changing and restrictive laws every bit as much as I have.
Every punishment should fit the crime, and every punishment should have an end.