By Sandy Rozek . . . “Texas sex offender added to 10 most wanted sex offenders list.” “Virginia man arrested for sex crimes after third victim comes forward.” “Arizona sex offender sentenced to 100 years for child porn.”
These are the sorts of headlines that inundate the news and media outlets regarding those in the criminal justice system because of sex crime charges. The cumulative result is to leave the public with the impression that everyone who is labeled a sex offender has done some horrible things and deserves not only lengthy sentencing and harsh punishment but also inclusion on a public sex offender registry for as long as possible.
However, the headlines that would show how untrue this is are seldom if ever seen.
On March 12, the West Virginia Supreme Court overturned a sex offender parole violation for a man who has been imprisoned for more than three years. Forbidden any internet usage by terms of his parole, Bobby Ross was revoked and imprisoned when the parole board learned that his girlfriend with whom he lived owned a computer with internet access. In spite of the fact that he did not know the password for the protected device and that no evidence existed that he had ever accessed it, he was sent back to prison.
Where is the headline saying “Sex offender imprisoned again because his girlfriend owns a computer that he never used”?
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 23 percent of contact sexual offenders were younger than 18 at the time of their offense, with 16 percent under the age of 12. The statistics further show that in more than a third of sexual-abuse cases against minors, the perpetrators also were juveniles; with victims younger than 6, 40 percent of the offenders were juveniles.
These situations, which are often consensual for teenagers and part of age-appropriate play and curiosity for younger children, seldom make the headlines. The cases of “40-year-old man charged with sexual assault of 6-year-old child,” however, blare from every media source for days on end, and in as sensationalized terms as possible, whenever they occur.
“Michael” is a former police officer in Colorado. In telling about the “sex offense” cases he remembers the most vividly, he related these, cases he was required to visit as an officer in order to verify their registration compliance.
“A 10-year-old male (yes, I said 10) was at a sleepover at a 9-year-old male friend’s house. The mother of the younger boy walked into the bathroom, and both boys were naked, laughing, and poking at each other’s privates. Instead of being a parent and telling them to knock it off, she called the police. The older child was charged and forced to register on the sex offender registry.
“After a homecoming game that her school won, an 18-year-old female cheerleader boarded the bus with the rest of the students to return to their school. She saw the opposing side’s cheerleaders outside the bus, lowered the window, pulled down her underwear, and “mooned” them. She was subsequently charged and registered as a sex offender.
“A 23-year-old male at a college party, intoxicated, as a joke ‘shorts-dropped’ a male friend of his, exposing his buttocks. He was charged and registered as a sex offender.”
These types of cases seldom make the news, and if they do, it is highly unlikely to be beyond the local level. When they do, the public outrage at their triviality and the waste of resources generally causes a reversal or at least a reduction of the charges. The Zach Anderson case is a prominent example of that. The revision of many state laws in regard to teen sexting is another.
But these are seen as the exceptions rather than the majority. In actuality, a report issued by the Justice Department verifies that only a small fraction of those on registries are truly high-risk.
Sandy, a NARSOL board member, is communications director for NARSOL, editor-in-chief of the Digest, and a writer for the Digest and the NARSOL website. Additionally, she participates in updating and managing the website and assisting with a variety of organizational tasks.