Heartbreak and Hope
"My nephew got sentenced to 75 years in prison for his offense of having sex with an underage girl at a high school party. (He claimed it was consensual but the girl's parents and the DA disagreed; so did the jury). Meanwhile, in the same county, in the same time frame, a man who killed three people while driving drunk received less than 10 years in prison.)
I heard that story and dozens more at the `10th annual NARSOL (Nat'l Assoc. of Rational Sex Offense Laws) conference last week. Aptly themed "The Road to Independence", the conference was held outside Cleveland, in Independence, Ohio. The title also pertains to the difficult road those on the sex offender registry face.
Conference attendees fell into two or three overlapping groups. There were those who had been convicted and others whose family member had been convicted. There were professionals who are attempting to change laws that many consider "draconian." The registry requirements are, for some, a lifetime shackle and stigma of shame.
Despite these stories of unfair treatment and aggravating cultural biases, the mood overall was hopeful, largely because NARSOL is about action. These people were well informed and disciplined activists.
Two state legislators, a lobbyist, a former DA, a handful of attorneys, and a documentary filmmaker gave the capacity crowd a lot to celebrate. Slowly, progress is being made to reduce the registry's impact on those under its power. Slowly, the term "sex offender" is being replaced by terms that better differentiate the vast differences between the "Romeo and Juliet" types of reported incidents and those in which children and others are subjected to repeated sexual abuses.
Like other areas in our country that cry out for justice, this issue is gathering adherents and making changes that will bring restoration to families and communities, instead of more punishment.