Saturday, July 29, 2017

Everyone Keeps Asking Me, Why Don’t You Take a Vacation? Life as a U.S. Registered Sex Offender isn’t Just a Posting on the Internet, its One Arbitrary Misstep Away From a Felony.


It’s July, smack-dab in the middle of vacation time. 

Everywhere I go, everyone asks me what we are doing this week, this weekend.  
Are you going somewhere for vacation? 
Are you doing something fun this weekend? 
Have you been anywhere exciting recently? 
No,  No,  And NOOOO! 
Years ago we had talked about a trip to Alaska to see icebergs and polar bears. 
We used to ski. 
We had planned to travel to Ireland and Scotland to visit castles and ruins for our 20th wedding anniversary which would have been 2012. 
If we leave our home in Virginia for a either a short or a long vacation, it comes with too many questions and risks. 
Even a job related training conference out-of-state is no longer an option; even if not attending could possibly result in termination. 
As a Virginia Registered Sex Offender staying in another State means we must find out what all the legal restrictions, regulations and mandates are ahead of time and there is no single place to find that information.  
Just traveling through a State my spouse could be required to register with every authority in every county/city we pass through, or face a felony. 
Just traveling through a State my spouse could be required to avoid any public street or sidewalk within a certain distance from a school, daycare facility, library, park, playground or athletic field, or face a felony. 
Just traveling through a State my spouse could be required to avoid fast-food establishments and malls w/ playgrounds, or face a felony. 
When we arrive to our destination he might have to register with the authorities, give his fingerprints, be photographed or even give a DNA sample. In some States the rules are statewide in others it’d by county/city it could be within 48 hours like in Las Vegas or it could be by the fifth day like in Florida. Then uniformed officers could possibly visit our hotel, condo, beach house or relative’s home to confirm the location he's registered is accurate. This could include an elderly grandmother’s home or college roommate’s house would be added to the Sex Offender Registry, guessing we wouldn't be invited back for a second visit after this humiliation for them. 
Oh, an ignorance of the law is not a defense. 
He could be legally banned from lakes, beaches, movie theaters, golf courses, ski resorts, state fairs, carnivals, amusement parks, water parks, zoos, pools, fitness centers, churches or more. That State may or may not advise the visiting RSO’s of the areas they are prohibited from and if we made one unintended error, he’d face a felony.   
Or like Disney World or Six Flags, they could have a No RSO Policy and once they scan his drivers license swipe-strip, deny him entry no if's-ands-or-buts after we traveled all the way there. 

Each State’s Public Registry posts a variety of information including ALL your phone numbers, e-mail addresses, instant message identifications, vehicle and license plate information, tattoo and scar descriptions and photos AND in Texas your shoe size (yes, shoe size) so as a visiting RSO information that is not public today could easily become public because of a vacation. 
Then when it’s time to go home he might be required to advise the authorities that he is leaving, they might require it be done 12 hours ahead of time or on the way out, but our travel plans may not coincide with their hours of operation so we’d have to change plans to avoid a felony and comply with their hours. 
Even after leaving a State, there are some State Sex Offender Registries that leave you on their list forever, with outdated information and all, like Florida. Why do they keep old vacationers and deceased RSO’s on their registry, who knows but they do so my spouse could be listed forever in other states. If we ever get him removed from Virginia’s Registry in 2023 when we petition in 2022 we’d also have to go back to any state we previously visited and petition to get him removed from there too, no thanks 
So if traveling in the U.S. is so difficult for RSO’s some of you might be thinking how about a cruise or traveling abroad? 
Per Federal law all RSO’s must inform Homeland Security 21 days ahead of International travel (or face a felony) of where they are going, who they are traveling with and all the places they plan to visit and stay while abroad. Then ICE notifies the country of your plans to arrive for a visit and when you get off the plane that country can either deny your entry and send you back to the U.S. or allow you in knowing you are an RSO. As for cruises to the Bahamas, Mexico or Alaska many cruise lines are now checking their passenger lists against the U.S. Sex Offender Registries and if they find a match they contact the customer/passenger that they are not allowed to board their ship and cancel the reservation. 
Even taking a short trip within the State of Virginia is risky. AirBNB checks guest’s names against the U.S. Sex Offender Registries to deny them access, so who knows if hotels are doing it too. 
And this isn’t just about vacations for those of you who might think Registered Sex Offenders shouldn’t be allowed to vacation.  
Everything I’ve listed off above applies to an RSO trying to attend/participate in weddings, funerals, baptisms, monumental family member’s birthdays or anniversaries, graduations and retirements. Plus emergencies, illnesses, mandatory training or conferences for work or school. 
I know that the people who have encouraged us to take a vacation to get away from the undeserved RSO cloud-of-shame that we live under everyday is a positive thing, but its actually a negative. Telling us to go somewhere fun and exciting just reminds us that we’re trapped, our lives are not our own and we may never be shed of this label of shame that everyone and anyone can Google. 
So for our 10th summer we are “the shut-ins”, who aren’t anti-travel, but who can’t travel because the felony-risk and additional public-humiliation is just too great. 
If you know someone who is an RSO or whose loved-one is an RSO before you tell them to go take a vacation as if they can just pick-up without a care in the world consider all the issues that I’ve listed above and remember that one small misstep comes with a felony punishment.
Mary Davye Devoy