The question to ask re sexual offense laws: What bad do they do?

By Rudy Apodaca . . . A not-so-uncommon story:

The sexual assault victim — a girl of 16. She’s now 37 years old, happily married to the love of her life, and the mother of three children.

The attacker — a man who was unaware his victim was just shy of the age of consent and had consensual sex with her. As a result, he had to register with the Texas Public Sex Offender Registry. He’s now married to his teenage sweetheart and is the father of the victim’s children.

That’s right — the victim and her attacker got married soon after the girl’s mother, learning of the couple’s romance, reported the “assault” to prosecutors.

Although he has a master’s degree, the attacker couldn’t find a teaching job because he was listed in the sex offender registry for life. His wife had to work multiple jobs to help support the family.

Finally, an attorney working pro bono succeeded in setting aside the judgment, thus allowing his removal from the registry.

Before that removal, their three children were ostracized at school after their father’s photo was found in the registry by students. The family moved many times after neighbors discovered his registry entry.

This story isn’t a figment of my imagination; it’s true, as are many similar stories that occur as a result of the overreaching registry.

Generally in Texas, those convicted of a “sex crime” must register as a sex offender, usually for life. The offenses may involve minor crimes, consensual sex or no sexual contact at all. These individuals and their families suffer negative consequences — they may have trouble finding employment, face restrictions on where they live, and experience social ostracization, threats and harassment.

Ill-advised lawmakers, seeking popularity by pursuing legislation they believed was favored by their constituents, enacted the registry laws with good intentions. But these laws do more harm than good simply because they require an unnecessarily large number of offenders to register without assessing their risk of reoffending. That’s overkill.

The Legislature placed emphasis on the good the laws would do — protecting society and especially children — and forgot to ask an important question: What bad would the laws do?

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