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Friday, February 13, 2015

HB1366 Pushed Tina to Finally Speak Up, Giving Her a Renewed Sense of Hope and Purpose. Her Voice and Your Voice Matters in Richmond Let the Delegates and Senators Hear You!

 
Dear Readers/Followers/Supporters, 

As I noted in the February 11, 2015 post, two readers from northern Virginia came to Richmond to speak against HB1366, both happened to be RSO’s and one is a female. 

Most Virginians don’t think about the 5% of the Virginia Registry that is female they assume all RSO’s are men. 

After the February 11th hearing I suggested to the female supporter if she felt the experience of coming to Richmond was a positive one she could write a little something about it and I would post it on the site and I wouldn’t use her name if she didn’t want me to. 

Well not only did she write something but she is ready to put her name on it. 

Its amazing how one small step towards reform by speaking out in a room full of people can give you that push to be more forthcoming and to want to do more for others who are in the same boat.

Below is Tina’s summary and takeaway from her February 11th experience in Richmond, I hope her words will inspire more of you to step out of the shadows and participate in reforming our Registry and in stopping legislation based on myth, hate and prejudice. 

Mary Devoy 

 

On Wednesday, February 11, 2015, I traveled from my home in Fredericksburg and joined Mary Davye Devoy to speak against HB1366 in front of the Senate Courts of Justice Committee. I was initially informed the contents of the bill through Mary’s blog, and I began following its progress daily. I was shocked and dismayed when this bill flew through the House unopposed by any delegate—how could they not see how unjust and harmful this bill is? How could they believe sex offenders’ hearings to enter school grounds should include the testimony of any random member of their community? Did they not see that the current system of clearance through the courts was not a broken process in need of amendment? How could they believe that any judge would allow on school grounds someone who poses a risk to children? 

I spent much of January and the start of February mulling the situation over in my mind, lamenting to my husband and to my friends that the Commonwealth of Virginia was merciless, that my life and well-being was expendable to these supposed representatives of the people. It’s my own fault, after all—I committed a sex offense, and this is simply part of my consequences. I deserve it. And even if this bill isn’t logical or just, they wouldn’t listen to me, anyway. I sacrificed my credibility when I committed my offense. And if I decided to speak up, I’d be losing what little anonymity I have. 

This whirlwind of self-defeating thought cannot be unique to me. I know that every sex offender who pays attention to the events of this modern day witch-hunt feels that dreadful mix of fear, anger, helplessness, and resignation. I feel it virtually every day, and it always leaves me crippled. Only this past Tuesday, when I read Mary’s call to action asking for support to oppose HB1366 in front of the Senate committee, a sense of duty stronger than that concoction took hold.
 

I sought advice from my husband, requested emergency time off from work, and on Wednesday morning I found myself driving an hour to Richmond, nauseous and terrified. When I arrived, I found the meeting room in the General Assembly Building and settled myself in a seat, consciously controlling my breath to keep myself calm. Mary walked in shortly after, and I introduced myself. She thanked me for attending, even saying I didn’t have to speak if I wasn’t quite ready. But I didn’t come all the way to Richmond to chicken out, and I told her so. She verbally prepped me, guiding me through the process, and assured me she had felt the same intense fear the first few times she had addressed a committee. I felt better prepared and slightly more at ease after our conversation (I can only marvel at her bravery, given she almost always addresses these committees alone).  

When the bill was called, my heart plummeted to my stomach and I could hear it beating in my ears. It all moved so quickly, I barely remember the details. I know I mustered some guts and spoke to the committee, as I had intended. I know I declared my status as a registered sex offender in my very first sentence, and I remember feeling the immediate uptake of tension around me. I remember my voice shaking, and my sudden inability to read the statement I had prepared despite having read and re-read it many, many times beforehand. I remember that I tried to keep my intonation as powerful as I could. I remember keeping the attention of the senators before me. I remember the subsequent adrenaline after I’d left the podium. But my most piquant, vivid memory—the flush and heat of hope and victory coursing through me when the senators began poking steady holes in the language and legality of the bill—will remain in my mind, and I hope with all of my heart that I instinctively call upon this memory anytime fear and resignation takes hold. 

I am so glad I took the risk of heading to Richmond to speak. It has made me stronger. It has made me believe that my voice can still matter. And I can’t help but feel a renewed sense of hope and purpose—imagine what we could accomplish if we all showed up, if we all made it difficult for the legislature to keep making unchecked, knee-jerk decisions about our lives. The current statutes can change if we try. The onslaught of new bills that affect us so adversely can be stopped.  

If we don’t speak up for ourselves, who will? For years, Mary has tackled these issues in front of Delegates and Senators by herself, fighting for a silent and scared population that deserves its civil liberties but repeatedly allows them to be stolen. We need to stop relying on Mary’s solitary voice to fight for our lives. We cannot continue to resign ourselves to the status quo. We have to start showing up. We have to take ownership of our own well-being, of our quality of life, of our rights.  

To the sex offender who feels the guilt of his or her offense every day, who faces the crooked and harsh rules of probation and treatment, who has lost his or her family, who worries about money or food or his or her job or home or livelihood, who is barred from school grounds or cannot afford to petition for the right to see his or her child graduate, who feels stuck in the confines of a ruthless and unfounded system of laws, to you I say this: your life matters. What you think and feel and experience and say, it matters. Start to believe that, and you will find the courage to fight. 

-Tina Amato, Stafford County