More Sex Offender Insanityby Doug Mataconis
The state of Georgia regards 28-year-old Wendy Whitaker as such a threat to public safety that it posts her photo and address on the Internet, bans her from living near schools, churches and playgrounds and forbids her from working with children.
Eleven years ago, when she had just turned 17, Whitaker engaged in a single act of oral sex with a boy in her sophomore class on school property. That’s it.
Though less than two years separated the couple — the boy was about to turn 16 — Whitaker was arrested for sodomy, a charge to which she pleaded guilty and completed five years probation. However, that plea also means that Whitaker will serve a lifetime on the state’s sex-offender registry, placing her in the same category as truly dangerous people such as rapists and child molesters. It also imposes severe — some might argue unconscionable — limits on where she can live and work.
And, thanks to one of the most draconian sex offender registration systems in the country, getting on the list pretty much means your life is ruined:
For Whitaker, a full-time college student studying criminal justice, the law has meant that she and her husband of seven years had to leave their new house in Harlem, Ga., because it was near a mother’s morning-out program.
“This is a home we love,” she says in a written statement on how the law affected her life. “It has a white picket fence and big American flag outside.”
The couple also gave up attending Sunday services for fear of violating the provision against loitering near churches. Whitaker and her husband have now moved twice because of the law, while still paying the mortgage on their original home. She and her husband bunked with her brother-in-law for a time, but Whitaker was concerned that she would eventually be in violation of the law because her niece was about to start school and a school bus would be stopping near the house.
Jeffery York, 23, of Polk County, faces a similar predicament. He, too, was convicted of sodomy for having oral sex with a 15-year-old when he was 17. Because his home was near a school, he moved in with his grandmother last year. When it turned out that she lived within the 1,000-feet limit of a child-care center, York was forced to move again. He now lives in a camper van in the woods without running water or electricity. “I feel like my life is just stuck in the mud because of all the restrictions on me,” says York.
We can all agree, I think, on the wisdom of keeping tabs on offenders who have preyed on children. But the hysteria over this issue has led to a situations where people who are clearly not criminals are being treated as such and lives are being ruined because of what was clearly just the product of youthful indiscretion.
Consider for example, these incidents related in a Washington Post column:
In December 2006, a 4-year-old boy in Waco, Tex., was punished with an in-school suspension after a female aide accused him of sexual harassment. According to a television station there, the child had hugged the woman while getting on the bus, and she later complained to administrators at La Vega Primary School that the child had put his face in her chest. School officials later agreed to remove sexual references but refused to expunge the “inappropriate physical contact” charge from the boy’s school record.
Last December, a kindergartner was accused of sexual harassment after he pinched a classmate’s bottom at Lincolnshire Elementary School in Hagerstown, according to the local paper, the Herald-Mail. The charge will remain on his record until he enters middle school. “It’s important to understand a child may not realize that what he or she is doing may be considered sexual harassment, but if it fits under the definition, then it is, under the state’s guidelines,” school spokeswoman Carol Mowen told the Herald-Mail. “If someone has been told this person does not want this type of touching, it doesn’t matter if it’s at work or at school, that’s sexual harassment.”
And these are children were talking about here. Does anyone even think they knew that they were doing something that made someone uncomfortable ?
I’m not sure whether all this is being driven by prudery or paranoia but, either way, innocent people are being hurt in the process.