Based on comments by our wonderful readers, I have edited this piece by adding an additional paragraph. S.
By Sandy . . . The Mississippi Legislature July 1 passed a bill that may be well-intentioned but is ill-conceived and potentially destructive.
Senate Bill 2009 stipulates:
. . . . it is unlawful for a person required to register as a sex offender under Section 45-33-25 to do or commit any of the following actions with respect to the victim of the offense triggering the duty to register under this chapter:
(a) Threaten, visit, assault, molest, abuse, injure, or otherwise interfere with the victim;
(b) Follow the victim, including at the victim’s workplace;
(c) Harass the victim;
(d) Contact the victim by telephone, written communication, or electronic means;
(e) Enter or remain present at the victim’s residence, school, or place of employment when the victim is present.
Certainly no victim, nor anyone else for that matter, should be allowed to be subject to threats, assault, molestation, injury, or harassment.
But visit, contact, or live/be in the same location with?
This legislation lumps together actions that are illegal and should never occur under any circumstances with actions that are legal and, even for former victims and their abusers, can be appropriate.
This legislation is “umbrella” legislation, affecting all who wear the label “sex offender” without regard for individual circumstances. This legislation imposes a consequence that extends beyond the punishment phase, many for life. This legislation will destroy families that have overcome the past, reconciled, and are living in safe and peaceful relationships today. This legislation may well prove to be unconstitutional.
In every state in the union are men who are on the registry for consensual sex with an underage partner, and some of these men and their “victims” married and are raising families. Under this law, it is now illegal for them to live together or be anywhere at the same time until such time as the wives are financially able to hire an attorney — or knowledgeable enough to attempt legal proceedings without one — , petition the courts for the right to live with their husbands, and be granted such permission.
This legislation ignores two of the most valuable tools in sexual offender treatment and rehabilitation available today, family reunification therapy and restorative justice, two initiatives that, for those who choose them, hold out more hope for healing of victims and perpetrators alike than do incarceration and traditional therapy. For those unfamiliar with, or skeptical of, the power of restorative justice and family reunification therapy, you will benefit from reading the series, “I’m a child rapist,” at narsol.org.
The bill does include a caveat stating that if “. . . the victim or the parent, guardian or conservator of the victim, enters an order allowing contact with the victim . . .” that the court may – MAY — enter that order if – IF — the court feels there are reasonable grounds.
But isn’t this backwards? If the parties and the families involved, be it a situation between parent and child, between siblings, or involving other relatives, have opted for reunification, have committed to it, have worked hard at it, have forgiven and wish to restore the normal familial relationships, why should the blessing of a court be needed?
Indeed, many families who have long ago forgiven, healed, recovered, and have been living together or enjoying being together in a family setting will, due to this legislation, now be ripped apart unless they petition the court for permission to do what they have been safely and successfully doing for possibly years.
The vast, vast majority of former offenders will not reoffend, and unless connected by a familial relationship, are highly unlikely to seek contact with former victims.
Would it not have made more sense had the statute been written so that those feeling threatened and NOT wishing to have contact with a former abuser seek a protection or distance order?
Sense and sexual offense legislation – seldom seen together.
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.