By Michael . . . My partner has been charged with a terrible crime. How can I support him without appearing to condone what he did?
Is there hope for someone in my situation?
How much jail time should I expect?
How will my family ever be able to cope?
Will this punishment ever end?
These are the kinds of questions that are often top-of-mind for the millions of people most affected by the draconian and often confusing laws related to sexual offense registries. Unfortunately, there are no easy answers to questions like these catalogued in any how-to manual. It’s also hard to know who amongst your friends and family you can trust with your concerns, much less to give good advice.
Some people might be tempted to turn to NARSOL or some other advocacy organization for guidance on how to navigate the treacherous waters of being on a registry. Unfortunately, NARSOL’s structure and mission (public education, influencing legislation, impact litigation, and media outreach) is relatively ill-suited for dispensing practical personal advice on issues like how to hold your family together or whether you should seek counseling. Even so, NARSOL has taken steps to address this very real need by creating the NARSOL Connections social media platform, where members can share their knowledge and experience each other in solving problems and, in so doing, perhaps feels less alone in their struggles.
Similarly, and for many of the same reasons, over two-thousand internet users have come together as part of a discussion group called “Sex Offender Support” on the Reddit social media platform. While some registered citizens might understandably chafe at the group’s title, there can be no denying that it has also contributed greatly to the group’s visibility and success.
Michael H. (Diggsentme on Reddit) is the primary manager and one of the five co-moderators of the group. He describes their discussion forum as “a place where people charged or convicted of sexual offenses and their families can come for support and answers to questions best answered by someone who has first-hand knowledge of the challenges they face.”
Common discussion threads involve questions about relationships, coping strategies, compliance challenges, legal processes, parental rights, mental health, and innumerable other topics. Advice, when given, is not presented as authoritative or expert but as more of a friend-to-friend offering. Moderators continuously scan the site for trolls or troublemakers.
Not everyone who finds their way to the group is a registrant or registrant’s family member. One Reddit user, unconnected in any way to a registrant and going by the username Princess wrote:
“As a victim of CSA, when I found this subreddit [discussion group] I was ready to be upset or enraged. But honestly, as I read your posts it made me realize that you all aren’t my abuser. I have no idea if I have any right to post here, but it’s inspiring hearing you all accept responsibility and trying to move on with your lives. Society as whole may not be willing to accept you for the people you are, but I think I am. I wish you all the best.”
Internet discussion groups may or may not not be your particular cup of tea but, for some people, they offer comfort and badly needed information. Additionally, you should always be careful about revealing sensitive personal information online. NARSOL naturally hopes you’ll give our own (official) Connections social media platform a chance but there’s always room for more of what works, especially when different groups can learn from one another and move closer to our mutual goals. Check out Connections and Reddit and let us know what you think!
NARSOL Connections: https://connections.narsol.org/
SexOffenderSupport on Reddit: https://www.reddit.com/r/SexOffenderSupport/
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.