I haven't read all of the essays in Best Sex Writing 2009 though I'm just over halfway. I do want to take a moment to note how much I like "Sex Offenders!!" by Kelly David. It is an extensive piece of investigative journalism that originally appeared in San Diego City Beat on April 15, 2008. The original essay is still available on their site. I have long had a problem with sex offender registries because of the disregard so many people have for how "sex offender" is defined. People assume that it only means pedophiles, but it often includes people convicted of a wide range of crimes. This article gets at that, which is why I was happy to read it. For example, David describes a former prostitute who ended up being labeled a sex offender because she said "Show me your dick" to an adult male vice officer. I won't get into prostitute's rights in this post, but I do wonder why that act means she has to spend the rest of her life on a sex offender registry?
Furthermore, why is this woman not allowed even to walk her kids to school since the law the article talks about says those on the registry can't ever appear within three hundred feet of a school, public library, city park, or other such business? Now, to be fair, the article does not say this woman has kids, but the point is the same. Any person convicted of the same crime of which she was convicted cannot ever appear within three hundred feet of their kid's school or ever take part in a parent-teacher conference or attend a school play or help out at a class party without risk of going to jail for up to six months. And this is even if their crimes only involved adults. I just don't get that.
Whenever I think about these issues, I always think of David Valdes Greenwood's play Bully Dance. He held a reading of it on my campus a few years ago. I have a copy in my campus office, but I'm at home now, so I can't list the names, but the play is autobiographical. Valdes Greenwood was on a bus with a Canadian man who had traveled to Maine to kill people on their sex offender registry. He killed two men, one of whom was on the registry for statutory rape. When he was seventeen, he slept with his fifteen-year old girlfriend. The father had him arrested, and he was jailed and told he had to appear on the registry for the rest of his life. He married the girlfriend and had children with her. When the killer realized that he'd killed a man who was not a pedophile and who had been in a long-term marriage with his victim, he lost it and ended up on the bus with Valdes Greenwood and other passengers. The killer ended up shooting himself while on the bus. He was one of those people who made the idiotic assumption that someone who appeared on a sex offender registry must be a pedophile. When he realized he was wrong, it was too late. Who hurt her more? The man who had sex with her when they were both in high school, married her, and fathered her children? Or the man who shot her husband in cold blood?
This particular article in this book might be more than two years old, but the issues are still relevant. The Supreme Court recently decided that Congress is allowed to continue keeping sex offenders in prison after their sentence has ended. A new federal law proposed by the Justice Department says that teenagers who commit crimes would not have to appear in such registered for the rest of their lives. I'm glad to hear that since I don't think a fourteen-year-old-girl arrested for some form of prostitution needs to have letters saying she's a sex offender sent to all of the other residents of the nursing home she enters when she's eighty. We're nowhere near to having a firm grasp on these issues, but I hope that anyone who fights for any position is crystal clear as to how they are defining "sex offender" and why.
ETA: The man from Canada who shot the sex offenders in Maine is Stephen A. Marshall.