By Sandy . . . For those not tuned in to current trends or social media, cancel culture is most likely new, even unheard of, although according to Merriam-Webster, its first known usage was in 2016.
The basic definition is “the practice or tendency of engaging in mass canceling as a way of expressing disapproval and exerting social pressure.” The targets of such “cancelling” were public figures and celebrities who had earned the displeasure of their fans or supporters, who then showed that displeasure by either ignoring their existence on social media or by mass shaming.
The idea was to cancel their worth, to erase what they had been before and remove them, figuratively, from their community or society.
Persons who are required to register on a sexual offense registry have been the targets and victims of cancel culture long before the term existed.
They are excluded in many states and cities from living or even being in a large number of places, independent of what they did, when they did it, and even if they did it, long after all court-ordered punishment has been served. Even after years of living exemplary, productive, law-abiding lives, they are not to exist in many places; they are not deemed worthy. Their presence is erased, canceled, and not just theirs but anyone who chooses to live with them and give them support.
Their children do not deserve to live in neighborhoods close to their schools. Their wives and husbands have been denied jobs due to the status of their registered spouses. As a family, they are denied access to many parks, churches, school events, and, in some places, participation in Halloween and other holidays. As a family, they are canceled.
The wife of one registrant described it as “slow motion asphyxiation.”
Access to some social media is denied. Facebook will not allow anyone on the registry to hold an account. I had to really hunt to find this in their written policy, but it is there, far down in their terms of service: “We try to make Facebook broadly available to everyone, but you cannot use Facebook if . . . you are a convicted sex offender.” To the Facebook community, not only those on the registry but also those with any sexual offense conviction, no matter how trivial, do not exist. They are canceled
And now NextDoor, a virtual neighborhood group available anywhere in the United States and even beyond, has gone a step further. Their member agreement, which everyone who joins is required to indicate they have read, states this in the eligibility section: “You may not use our Services if: (1) you are a resident of the United States and are under 13 years old … (2) you are a registered sex offender or share a household with one.” [Emphasis added.]
So on a site designed to help neighbors know what is going on in their neighborhoods—if there has been a rash of robberies, when the open-air concert is, who the next football game will be against, if anyone is having a yard sale—not only cancels out persons on the registry from availing themselves of information about these and other community issues but also cancels out their spouses and their teenage children, their moms and dads and brothers and sisters, their roommates, and the sojourners within their gates. They have sinned by association and must be banished. Jennifer, whose dad is on the registry for consensual teenage sex with her under-age mother before they were married and long before she was born, must explain to her circle of high school friends why she cannot participate in their NextDoor group.
This is a policy born out of ignorance, out of inflated and invalid fear, even out of hatred. One registrant expressed it this way: “[These policies punish] those who have broken no law. Society not only hates [those on the registry] but anyone who would dare love them, befriend them, or help them in any way.”
All valid sources agree that, regarding persons on the sexual offense registry, best practice includes initiatives that offer ample opportunities for housing, employment, social services, family connectedness, community involvement, and acceptance. This not only drives down the already remarkably low re-offense rates but also helps to remove the feelings of isolation, stress, and low self-worth that quite possibly contributed to the offending behavior in the first place.
According to government figures, the total number of people on the registry is approaching a million. With spouses, children, parents, siblings, and friends, the number of individuals affected by laws and policies that are not only ineffective but also cruel numbers in the many millions.
An incorrectly informed public, a sensation-driven media, and a political system that forces our representatives to keep an eye on the next election rather than on what would best serve those they serve create a perfect storm of condemnation, exclusion, and cancel culture when it comes to those who have a conviction for a sexual crime in their pasts.
Changing this is critical before our nation collapses from the weight of cancelled, hated, bitter registrants and those who choose to do what research shows works best for all concerned: support and love them.
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.