Letter to the Editor: Rudy’s reply

By |2018-01-15T15:42:43-05:00September 10th, 2009|Opinions|

It was gratifying to see letters from Ohio, Wisconsin and Florida in reply to my recent column about some irrational aspects of our Sex Offender Registration laws.
One writer, however, missed the point. By saying she remembers “when child sexual abuse was just a dirty little secret” she implied that only “child sexual molesters” were required to register.

I made it clear that I do not defend the sexual abuse of children, nor do I defend those who use violence. A major problem with Sex Offender Registration laws, however, is that they include many people who engage in consensual activity with other adults. They pose no threat to children or anyone else.
The writer referred to “guys who (have) no qualms about hitting weaker people for their own sexual gratification.” She ignores the fact that not everyone who “hits weaker people” has to register. Murderers don’t register, armed robbers don’t register and those who commit assault with intent to murder, or who commit assault and battery, don’t register. It is only when the “sexual” element is present that registration is required. And when sex is involved, hitting is not required to trigger the lifelong stigma of registration.
Contrary to the writer’s implication, it is not just “guys” who are victimized by sex offender registration. In 1996, 17 year old Wendy Whitaker started to perform oral sex on a classmate in her Georgia classroom when the lights went out for a movie. She met her court-appointed lawyer five minutes before the hearing. He told her to plead guilty. She did not really understand what was going on and she did as she was told. She was convicted of “sodomy” and must register for life. She was even featured on a TV news report about local sex offenders (complete with a helpful map to her home). (See The Economist, Aug. 8, 2009, p. 21)
An August report from the Citizens Alliance on Prisons and Public Spending confirms that “people who commit sex offenses are much less likely to reoffend” than others and that “sex offenders rarely commit new crimes against persons.” The report says “there is a significant body of research that appears to contradict the idea that sex offenders are likely to re-offend.”
I believe we should take action that is effective in protecting the public. Registration for those likely to be violent, repeat offenders is a good idea. Registering people who are no threat, however, is an ineffective and superficial “feel good” idea that causes more harm than good. A vastly disproportionate number of gay men are victimized by unfair sex offender laws because “sodomy” and “gross indecency” are still felonies in Michigan and because the police arrest gay men on trumped-up prostitution charges with no offer or request for money or encourage men to expose themselves and then arrest them for indecent exposure.

{ITAL Judge Rudy Serra
36th District Court}

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Between The Lines has been publishing LGBTQ-related content in Southeast Michigan since the early '90s. This year marks the publication's 27th anniversary.