Monday, July 1, 2013

A Look Back and the View Ahead

Way back in October 2008 I founded RSOL (Reform Sex Offender Laws) of Virginia. 10-25-14: The  RSOL-VA Website is no more, I decided not to renew (pay for) another year of web-hosting I'm sorry!-Mary

The original goal of RSOL of VA was to stop new and harsher legislation based on myth, fear and hysteria from passing at the yearly Virginia General Assembly sessions, to hold back the tide basically.  

Then in the summer of 2010 I took the necessary steps of formalizing the organization as an incorporated 501c4 non-profit which became official in September 2010. I waited 2 years to become a 501c4 and to accept or solicit donations from “supporters” because I wanted them to know that my main goal was reform for them and their family, not taking their money. I had hoped that having a board of directors would result in more faces and names being public, speaking against and for legislation, sharing their experiences with our lawmakers, traveling to D.C. occasionally and conceiving and participating in fund raisers and speaking events.

Two years later by September of 2012 my expectations and my enthusiasm of what a strong and determined organization could become were dashed. It was time for someone new to take the reigns, a new name and a new face for the cause. 

It was prudent to shed myself of the organization filings, deadlines and paperwork, the mountains of correspondence including the daily registration inquires and pleas of help, the legal questions and employment inquires, all the state and postal fees, the high costs of running a website and keeping it current plus much, much more. It all became a full-time position, a mental and physical drain and in a way a distraction from the original goal to stop new retroactive restrictions and regulations from becoming law.

But when I offered my spot as Executive Director to the board members no one was interested to take over, no one. So in December 2012 the RSOL of Virginia was dissolved and I became a volunteer advocate with no organization behind me but still advocating for data-driven legislation and common sense approaches for all issues sexual-related. This is where I feel my real contribution to these problems lie.

For the last 4.5 years (5 General Assembly sessions, 2009-2013) I have read the books, studies and reports written by experts in this field, kept track of what other states are saying and legislating plus the Federal laws new and old, constitutional challenges across the country on SORNA/AWA, residency restrictions and mandated lifetime registration. 

The original intent of the registries was supposed to be administrative and the current reality of the registry is a lifetime of vengeance that is punitive in every possible way.  

By publicly shaming “those people” our country is continuing to punish, banish and destroy the opportunities and the reentry chances of  Registered Sex Offenders as well as the family members they are attempting to support. No punishment is ever quite enough, no forgiveness or second chance will ever be allowed. By segregating and denigrating our state creates and “us” and “them” environment. That those listed are beneath “us”, they are unworthy, they are unfit, and they are a monster for all of “us” to loath and destroy. 

Vengeance and anger are the initial driving force, but fear and ignorance keeps the momentum.  

When the sex offender registries were first created the politicians told the public that creating them would prevent future crimes and victimization, but has it succeeded? Studies and reports over the last 15 years from across the country have concluded that in fact the registries have not lowered the number of new crimes, it has not reduced victimization nor has it made the public feel safer. In reality the registries actually keep the public in a perpetual state of agitation, alarm, panic, suspicion, fear and watchfulness with no tangible results.  

Not to mention my day-to-day, first hand knowledge of what it's like for family members of falsely accused citizens who fall victim to the current plea bargain system and extreme sentencing in the Commonwealth and what the undeserved label can do everyone involved, not just the RSO. 

If there was a SME (Subject Matter Expert) in Virginia on sex offenses, treatment, re-entry issues and barriers, civil commitment of SVP’s, residency restrictions, home and employment checks or any public registry I would be it. 

During the 2013 General Assembly session without a website I did not have a place to post bills that concerned citizens needed to know about and oppose. If there had been a really, really terrible bill proposed I would have emailed the past RSOL of VA supporters but we lucked out and there weren’t any emergency bills or action items. 

I would like to think that my years of advocacy plus all the email’s and phone calls from RSOL-VA supporters for 4 years (2009-2012) have made a difference in both the quantity and the outlandishness of proposed legislation against Registered Sex Offenders in Virginia. 

This coming November every seat of the Virginia House of Delegates is up for election. There are many districts where there is no incumbent running and as usual there are many districts where the incumbent is running unopposed. But no matter what the election results are when the 2014 Virginia General Assembly session begins the second Wednesday in January there will be new members who have never had a discussion about the sex offender registry or who believe the myth’s and hysteria that has been screamed from the rooftops for far too long like every RSO had 100 victims before they were finally convicted or that every RSO has a recidivism rate of 100% and I will be there armed with facts and solutions to educate them. 

Just this past March a State Senator who participated in a Point and Counterpoint discussion attempted to inflate statistics to force his point and I made sure the readers were left with the facts before it was over. 
Roanoke Times Point & Counterpoint Editorial: Does the VA Sex Offender Registry Need Reform?
Mary Davye Devoy
Senator Bill Stanley

Part 1- March 31, 2013:
Point: Raising fear, to no effect, Mary Devoy

Counterpoint: Why sex offender registries work, Senator Bill Stanley

Part 2- April 7, 2013:
Rebuttal: Don’t believe every scary statistic, Mary Devoy

Rebuttal: Sex crimes are among the most heinous, Senator Bill Stanley

I had hoped that during this years G.A session a new advocate would have stepped forward for this platform but none did. I was still the only voice in the room opposing poorly thought out and hate-driven bills in the Virginia House and the Senate. 

I’ve also waited 7 months to see if anyone created an informative, action filled website where advocacy is more important than the solicitation of donations but there is also a void for this need.  

Someone needs to be fully engaged in the legislative process to make a difference otherwise every year we all face more extreme restrictions and regulations and the possibility of being retroactively re-classified into a higher level or having the minimum time of the registry increased, again. I feel there needs to be a reliable and up-to-date place for Virginians to check for action items, issues and news.  

I have the knowledge, I've already made the contacts and I am willing to be a public figure for this platform. So it looks like I'm in this position for the long-haul, it seems it's the role I was meant to hold because I'm willing to do it not just for my family but for everyone's.  

So in preparation for the next Virginia General Assembly session in January 2014 I have started this blog as a place for folks to stay current and know what could be looming as a possible new law and how they can take action to oppose it.  

Websites and Search Engine Optimization are very expensive but this blog is free. That means I am not taking on any additional costs (like I did with RSOL-VA) and I will not be asking anyone for donations. 

I hope you will continue to check back and each time you do that you find something new and become a follower. 


Mary Davye Devoy