Saturday, May 20, 2017

Josh Gravens: Anthony Weiner, you helped make sex offender registration laws more complicated and now you will suffer under them

Anthony Weiner, you helped make sex offender registration laws more complicated and now you will suffer under them, May 19, 2017

Mr. Weiner, 

You are an idiot. You have thrown away a lovely family, a wife so devoted that she stood by you as you became the laughingstock of the country. Your last name didn't help you much. It only gave your case an instant punchline. 

But enough of the Weiner jokes. While you could teach me about being a politician, I can teach you about being a conscious citizen. You know all about being a policy maker; I can tell you the part that you don't know: what it is like to be on the receiving end of bad policy, policy only looking to score political points and with exactly zero research to back it up. 

Do you remember those committee hearings you attended on the Adam Walsh Act (a failed attempt to standardize the complexities of sex offender registration)? Hopefully you paid attention, because sex offender registration laws and compliance with such laws are far more complex than simply avoiding sending nude pics via the wrong phone app. You helped make sure that, over the past decade, registration laws became some of the most draconian laws known to man. 

For starters, should you fail to comply precisely with any single registration requirement, you will receive a new felony sex charge. In many states, it is a felony sex charge to misunderstand often confusing or vague registration laws. The assumption is that you are now as dangerous as your alter ego once made you sound (Mr. Danger) — although research has shown no public safety benefit to the registry (in fact, the opposite). 

Let's say that you decide you want to part your hair a different way, or for some reason you want to get blonde highlights, or you grow a beard for No Shave November. You will be required to appear in person at a registering authority, which is usually a police department, to update your information. These rules vary across the country and range from a required update within 24 hours to seven days. Again, failure to notify the police of your new beard will result in a felony charge, possibly even prison time. 

Why do I know all about this, you might ask? I grew up on the sex offender registry. Why was I registered? For two incidents of touching my sister when we were kids (I was 12). As you have developed your political career over the past two decades, those same decades saw my childhood and now adult life drowning in joblessness, inability to find any place to live, intense terror for my own and my family's lives, and countless educational and life opportunities taken from me. 

I and my family live under the oppressive and ever-expanding weight of the sex offender registry. I was not afforded the juvenile system's intent to assist with rehabilitation. My record, unlike that of youths who murder, steal, commit arson, etc., was readily available to every person with access to the internet. Only a sympathetic judge and a stroke of luck took my name off the public list. Most kids who end up registered do not get that same luxury.


But don't fool yourself for a second; I and my family still bear the weight of this label given to me as a child, and we bear it for life. 

And now you, too, will live under the weight of these laws that you helped pass. These heavy-handed laws with no room for situational discretion will now dictate your entire existence. 

You know what is the saddest thing about this all? Your former wife and your son will suffer consequences due to your choices, and hurt far more than you, through no fault of their own. The hardest part of living life listed is looking at my children and wondering if the stigma consuming my life will pass over them, or if they too will continue to be punished for mistakes I made at the age of 12. 

I hope you have a great deal of money saved up. You will need it. Lucrative employment and housing options are nearly nonexistent for those forced to have their worst moments forever enshrined in what is our modern-day scarlet letter list: the public sex offender registry. 

Even with access to money and connections, you will still share in the stigma that more than 800,000 other people in this country face daily (others registered include those who peed in a park, older teen with younger teen scenarios, kids as young as 9 or 10, those entrapped by officers pretending to be women online using bait-and-switch, as well as the more commonly assumed reasons for registration — assault, rape and child abuse). 

You will probably have restrictions on where you can live and where you can physically be or drive. So many areas are potentially off-limits: parks, schools, places near a daycare or movie theater. Remember, you helped to pass these laws. Will people be any safer now that they are to be enforced on you? 

The public gave you a second chance after your first scandal. You rewarded the goodwill with another scandal. Were I ever as fortunate as you to receive that second chance, I swear that I would not squander it — and my family's future — as thoughtlessly as you seem to have done. 

Maybe you will have a different perspective on useless registration laws, after some time on the list. Sadly, no one is likely to be any safer even with your name and photograph added to the registry. 


Josh Gravens is a 2013 Soros Justice Fellow and founder of Organize Justice in Dallas, Texas. Jennifer Long is his life partner and a justice reform advocate.