Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The conference: STRENGTHENING safety for ALL families

I didn’t know it was possible to be as excited about multiple two-connection plane flights in four days as I am right now. In less than two weeks, I will be traveling the thousand-mile plus trek from central New York to Albequerque, New Mexico, for my first RSOL conference. My last column raised some questions and hurt among fellow advocates in the way that I explained my decision to form a new group apart from RSOL. I hope that my attendance at the conference and anticipation at meeting fellow hard-working activists demonstrates my continued commitment to work with all reform groups from around the country.

It may be a bit of a cliché, but it’s true - united we stand, divided we fall - which is why I would like to make it very clear – again – that I value each and every advocate we have in this fight. We need everyone’s talents, abilities and dedication if we want to have a shot at restoring dignity and basic fairness to our and our loved ones’ lives. Those of us in this quest may have strategic differences, but we have a unity of purpose – to fight for reasoned evidence-based laws.

A news piece that aired yesterday referred to the conference as an attempt to “weaken sex offender laws” (watch the video and leave comments here: Unfortunately, this is not accurate and while New Mexico RSOL’s spokesperson did an excellent job explaining the true objectives of the conference, the news station decided to ask random members of the public if they agree with “weakening sex offender laws” and of course they don’t.  Who would?  We are not fighting for weaker laws. We are fighting for better laws that work and that will do a better job of truly protecting the community. That will only come from education and a key component of public education on this issue must come from the families of registrants. The research and statistics are on our side.  We have a unique opportunity to bring faces and personal narratives to those statistics.

We are the best spokespeople to tell the many success stories of the vast majority of law abiding former offenders who have rebuilt their lives and are now good and decent providers to their families. And, sadly, we can also bear witness and tell the stories of how family members have become the victims of the collateral damage of the registry. 

I firmly believe that families will be the catalyst we need to infiltrate the news cycle and combat the myths and misinformation we all know so well. Let this conference be a testament to how strong the bond of family is in the face of ignorance and injustice.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

How I got here

After the rollercoaster summer spent awaiting the outcome of my fiancé’s failure to register charge ended with probation, I found myself finally able to feel emotions other than panic and sadness, and in came the anger. I clearly knew very little about sex offender laws, but I was determined to learn.

The charge that led to Geoff’s probation wasn’t a sexual crime; my fiancée hadn’t re-offended. It was a technicality – that could have put him in jail for years. New York State would have paid God knows how much per year to keep him incarcerated, and for what? Why wasn’t a first offense a violation punishable by a fine or at the most a misdemeanor?  How did the registry morph into an instrument of inflicting ever-escalating restrictions and punishments on people long after they served their sentences?

I turned to the Internet to try and find answers. There had to be other people going through this. I could not possibly be the only 20-something female in love with a wonderful man who happened to be branded with the new “scarlet letters” of S.O. for something he had done years ago.

What I found was much more than I could have ever imagined. First I found an online support group for family members of former offenders. Not only did I find other wives and girlfriends, I found mothers, sisters, brothers, fathers, grandparents and friends of registrants. It was great for sharing, but I needed something more.  I wasn’t content to just vent about these laws.  I wanted to work to change them. This was how I became involved in RSOL, aka Reform Sex Offender Laws – a network of ad hoc state organizations coordinating activities through its website.

I immediately contacted New York RSOL, and quickly became acquainted with Rita, the wonderful woman who acted as the organizer of the group. She and the other members were incredibly giving, smart, and genuine. I felt as though I had found the perfect group with whom to achieve the change I so desperately wanted to see. In a matter of months I became the co-state organizer.

As an advocate for registry reform, you learn to develop a thick skin, as bullying, name-calling and personal attacks are a part of daily life. So when I started hearing anonymous people on the Internet claiming RSOL had roots in NAMBLA, or I was called a “pedophile lover”, I paid no heed.

However, although RSOL never had a connection with NAMBLA, I did learn that they had a founder in common. Alex Marbury, a co-founder of RSOL (now deceased) was a pseudonym for Tom Reeves – a co-founder of NAMBLA.

I’d like to make one thing very clear: in dealing with RSOL, I never met one person who belongs to NAMBLA, or who supports lowering the age of consent or ANY of NAMBLA’s other objectives. The people of RSOL today are fellow family members – wives, mothers, children and other loved ones who desperately want to work at bettering life for themselves and their families.   When they found out that Marbury was Reeves, many felt betrayed.

Because the organizational structure of RSOL already exists, many good people decided to remain with RSOL and reshape it in its post-Marbury period.  My co-state organizer and I decided differently.  To us, the Marbury-Reeves deception created an unfortunate distraction that we don’t need to introduce to New York as we work to reform the registry.
Rita and I stepped down as state organizers of RSOL a few months ago, though we continue to network with RSOL state affiliates and other groups as well. In its place, we formed a new group – FAIR New York – an acronym which stands for Families Advocating an Intelligent Registry. We feel that this describes our objectives more accurately.  We will be incorporated.  We will elect a Board of Directors of people using their real names.  And we will make it quite clear that we support age of consent laws – as we and every other reform activist I know always has.

Monday, August 20, 2012

A cautionary tale; a teachable moment

Thirteen days after Geoff and I closed on our first house, disaster struck. I was getting back from walking our dog when a car sped out of our driveway – and my heart stopped. Somehow, I knew it was a bad omen and I was right.  After searching the premises, I discovered the business card of a local police sergeant, asking my fiancée to call her right away.

I knew exactly what it was about. In New York State, sex offenders have 10 days to notify authorities of a change in address. We were both aware of this requirement and even talked about it on multiple occasions – but it didn’t get done.  We foolishly didn’t make it the top priority it needed to be.

A couple of weeks before the closing, it came time for Geoff to go to the police barracks for his three-year photograph update. This required some planning, as the barracks were close to 25 miles from our house, money for gas was tight, and he would have to miss a half-day of work. Regardless, he got it scheduled and done.  While he was there he attempted to give the clerk our new address.  However, because we were still only in contract on the house, she refused to accept it, saying he had to wait until after the closing and advised him to call back to schedule another appointment to come in and fill out the change of address form.

We had so much going on.  Juggling the closing of our house with the end of our apartment lease so we didn’t wind up homeless was an enormous source of stress for both of us. It was also the time of year when Geoff was working lots of long hours, including overnights.  He did call the barracks twice, a fact verified by our phone records, but both times he was told the person he needed to make the appointment with was unavailable and that he should call back.  He didn’t and I will always regret not reminding him to call again. We both take responsibility for what happened.  There were reasons – but no excuse.

Unfortunately, Geoff and I were both unaware that changes of address could be done directly with the New York State Department of Criminal Justice Services via certified mail to Albany.  He didn’t even need to schedule another appointment and lose another half-day of work. 

We also didn’t know that failure to miss the 10-day deadline was a Class D felony that carried a potential one to three year prison sentence.  Once that was confirmed, panic ensued. Without my fiancée, I would lose the house. I would lose my life. I would lose my mind! And he would come back to me an empty shell of a person.  I knew that going back to jail would end him.

Luckily, I have incredibly amazing parents who lent us $3,000 to hire a lawyer familiar with sex crime laws.   After five months, a lot of medication and pure agony, the judge ruled in his case. My fiancée was sentenced to 3 years of probation with a recommendation for early release after 1 year.  The court recognized that given the fact that Geoff had recently appeared for his new photograph and that we had just bought a home several miles down the same road in the same town, that Geoff was not trying to abscond and evade police.

The experience taught me many things, but the most important one by far is to be aware of the laws your loved-one needs to comply with.  If we knew that the change of address could be achieved by simply mailing a letter or understood the full ramifications of not registering within 10 days, I know it would have gotten done on time. 

We must make it our business to become  ”experts” on the registry laws that are a constant backdrop to our lives together.  It was this incident that propelled me to activism.  The fact that it was not sexually reoffending behavior, but the technicality of missing a deadline that almost sent him back to jail is chilling.  The sex offender registry is very serious business, which we learned the hard way.  Going forward, we will work to obey its every provision - as vigorously as we work to reform it.

PLEASE go to Facebook and "like" I Love a Sex Offender, where I share graphics like these almost every day!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Second Thoughts and a New Approach

I’d like to go back to some remarks I made in a previous entry, “Child Safety Zombies,” on August 2, 2012.

The tone I used to write about Marc Klaas was not acceptable. Mr. Klaas and others, such as John Walsh, are people who have suffered terrible, unthinkable losses. Some of the policies they have pursued to achieve a safer society are not what I believe are the most effective, however, I have no doubt they are driven by love and compassion above all else and to even imply otherwise is frankly wrong. I apologize for these remarks and similar ones that I might have made in the past.

This raises the broader issue of how we should interact with those who have different views than the reform community – specifically the anonymous bloggers and posters – many of whom spew hate toward people required to register and at times their loved ones. 

I myself have been the target of many such attacks, even death threats, for speaking out on this very emotional issue.  Hate sites have even falsely accused me of being tied to NAMBLA, a common smear painted on all reformers – despite the fact that I and every activist I am working with supports age of consent laws.

I think we need to change our approach.

First, I think we need to stop calling our online opponents “trolls”, “vigilantes” or “zombies”.  They are people who are misinformed.  If we were to put ourselves in their shoes and actually believed that every person on the registry was a powder keg looking to go off and sexually abuse someone at the first opportunity, many of the policies they advocate would be understandable. (As opposed to the violence that many threaten, which is never acceptable.)  We know the truth – that sex offenders have one of the lowest rates of recidivism of all offender groups in the criminal justice system.  Our mission is to educate the public to this fact and to tell our stories to those who are willing to listen.  Which brings me to my second point…

We need to disengage from this online war of words.  These people are not willing to listen, so there is no hope of educating them to the facts.  Engaging with these people online only empowers them and wastes out time.  As someone who has responded to them in the past, I know it leaves a momentary feeling of satisfaction, but it is an illusion of activism – not true activism.  Any energy we expend acknowledging these individuals is energy not spent working to bring about real change; such as lobbying our elected officials, reaching out to the media, commenting on news articles, writing blogs or organizing ourselves online.

So I am done using terms like “zombies” and will no longer engage in the virtual world of hate.  I hope others will join me.  There is much good and important work to be done in the real world.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

America is abusing its own children

Is there any politician, law enforcement or journalist out there who wants to offer a response to this?

We will never be quiet until our families are safe. Family safety should be a basic right for all Americans, not just a few. How do you know YOUR family is safe?

Shana Rowan NAMBLA Shana Rowan Shana Rowan Oneida Shana Geoff Boudreau Geoffrey Boudreau

Thursday, August 9, 2012

No more sex offender laws until we fix the ones we already have

It's really that simple.

I'm getting really sick of hearing about Governor Cuomo's "crackdown on sex offenders" and "making New Yorkers safer." Know why? Because it's one of the best examples of a knee-jerk reaction to a scary and heinous case ever.

The laws themselves aren't bad - that's what's frustrating. His new law, sponsored by my own Senator Joe Griffo, now requires Level 3 sex offenders to go in every 90 days for a new photograph, or whenever they change their appearance. What most don't know is that this was really already the case, according to many local jurisdictions and municipalities. All Cuomo did was turn it into a state law, in response to a twice-convicted rapist who went missing, evaded authorities due to an outdated mugshot, and in turn raped and murdered an elderly hotel owner in Utica. 

I even explained to a local newscaster that I didn't necessarily think this was a bad law. It simply needs to be thought out, which it probably hasn't. Many municipalities already struggle to keep up with the photographs and information updates from registrants in the area, and with this new requirement, they will need additional help - which means more money. Is this really the best way to "keep New Yorkers safe" - or might we want to review the existing policies we have, that already cost money, and haven't done a thing to make us safer?

THIS New Yorker would like to see a report on the effectiveness of E-Stop, for example. How many crimes has that prevented? How many children were saved? Actually, I want to know how many non-sex offenders were charged with internet-related sex crimes against children since E-Stop was enacted. I want to know how many non-sex offenders have been charged with gaming-related sex crimes against children since "Game Over" was enacted. I want to know how many sex offenders have re-offended in New York state compared to how many new sex crimes have been committed by first-timers in a certain period of time. Oh wait, I already have that!

Governor Cuomo, Attorney General Schneiderman, and the rest of you rich guys in Albany: how about some REAL safety for New Yorkers - all of them - AND their families? We've had enough of your feel-good politics and refusal to respond to questions from your constituents about the effectiveness of your policies. The longer you hold out, the worse the backlash will be.

Monday, August 6, 2012

All sex offenders are not pedophiles. Here's the proof.

A quick one, I promise, but apparently very much needed today. Sadly there are some out there who cannot distinguish the difference between a pedophile (someone diagnosed with a mental illness) and someone convicted of a sex crime (over 200+ offenses, many not child-related - very informative list for those who are interested, offenses listed by state.) Again, let's remind those who aren't aware that children can and are arrested and convicted as sex offenders. According to the US Dept of Justice, children are responsible for 36% of all crimes against other children. (See the study here.)

I know I'll still get the "your boyfriend is a pedifile" comments, and of course the "you are sick and gross and please don't ever procreate" BS, but that is fine. For those who are actually capable of learning, this is for you:

Again, remember there is a wealth of information accessible by clicking on the "resources" tab, at the top right of the page. 

Sunday, August 5, 2012

An uncomfortable truth

I'm sure someone(s) will find a way to become offended by what I'm about to offer, and that's fine. Let me know in the comments.

How long ago was it that African Americans were thought of as sub-human and dangerous to white people? For centuries they were kept as slaves and endured horrific, inhumane treatment at the hands of many prominent people who were very much in the public eye - based on bigotry, intolerance and myth. Eventually, slavery was abolished, but less than 60 years ago, we had segregated water fountains, bus seating, schools, and bathrooms. Parents tried to keep their children away from African Americans (unless they were maids or chauffeurs), believing that they were dangerous and would bring harm upon them.

The name Adolf Hitler does not need much explanation, as we all know of the torture, suffering, and slaughter of millions and millions of Jewish people he ordered during World War II. But he did not act alone. He convinced nearly an entire nation of people that Jews were dangerous, impure, and worthy of extermination. He believed he was "doing the work of the Lord." He didn't listen to logic or consider/care about the collateral suffering he imposed on those affected by his actions. The extensive reasons behind the genocide he enacted could be debated for hours, but the truth was not among them.

When the suffragettes were fighting for the right to vote in the early 1910's, they faced an unlikely opposition: women who were against the right to vote. There were various social arguments among the female offense, and one was that it would disrupt the woman's role as subservient in the household to her husband and in society to other men. As the suffragettes eventually won the battle, the fear and anger that drove the opposition was overcome. Sadly, this is rarely the case - and the fact that the opposition existed at all is a bit disappointing, yet a very accurate portrayal of our society's fear-based policies that apparently have not dissipated much at all.

Are there differences between these oppressed groups, and people on the registry? Of course. African Americans, Jews, and women have not all committed crimes, sexual or not, upon children or adults. Some have. It just isn't the reason that they faced such intense scrutiny, torment and prejudice. To look at things from a darker perspective, one could probably say that by oppressing African Americans, Jews and women, some crimes were probably prevented - but simply because they were all human.

Based on fact, logic, research and science, some sex offenders are dangerous. Most are not. Yet our society has allowed fear, myth and pure hype to govern how we legislate not just sex offenders, but their families and children as well. Most people do not even know what a "sex offender" truly is. Most people will assume the worst. That is precisely why registrants, as a group, fit right in with the examples above.

For a link to research on sex offenders and sex crimes, go here: My Library of Research.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The child safety zombies

I know I shouldn't stoop to this level, but it's hard sometimes. And I'd like to believe that they are zombie-ish because they really do, or want to believe what they are saying or believing. I can understand how taking someone's word on a Facebook commenting board or Disqus discussion - regardless of the facts they present - might be difficult for some. Even if there are links to studies. Studies that I and other advocates did not "create". Studies and findings that are the result of university, state and federal governments.

However, I would imagine it difficult for even the most dedicated, hardcore zombie to ignore the words of real, live child safety advocates - those who actually have devoted their lives to working with real children, in real circumstances, and promoting policies that truly help them.

Unfortunately, it's usually the more wealthy "charities" - National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, Klaas Kids, and proponents of laws named after children or teens who were brutally killed that get the most press. But with notoriety comes increased scrutiny. For example:
  • Ernie Allen, CEO of NCMEC, admitted under oath in December 2009 to the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission that the center had fabricated statistics about the number of children actually "missing." (He also makes over $1.3 million a year, as of 2009.)
  • Thanks to Marc Klaas of Klaas Kids, law enforcement is now forced to interview every. single. sex offender. in the area in the event that a child is abducted - even though overwhelmingly, children are abducted by family. His website's guide to Megan's Law is full of inaccuracies and not one source is provided to back up the information (see for yourself: Sex Offender Fallacies.)
  • Megan's Law, Jessica's Law, Adam Walsh Act, and the Jacob Wetterling Act - all federal mandates adopted by most states as of 2012 - are based on scenarios that are heinous, yet extremely rare - and two of the four (AWA and JWA) were not sexually motivated crimes at all. But sensationalism sells - so the zombies latch on. 
Ironically, though, many true child advocates are staunchly against this type of misleading, ineffective tactic. Here are some surprising quotes from some even more surprising people: 

“Let’s use our resources on programs working to prevent child sexual abuse, not on public notification efforts that research has shown to increase recidivism and make our communities and children less safe.” – Jetta Bernier, executive director of Massachusetts Citizens for Children and End Abuse Campaign

“All sexual assault survivors deserve protection from fair laws that effectively punish offenders. Instead, the current distribution of resources addresses just 4% of all sex crimes, leaving few resources to improve treatment, address prevention, and investigate and prevent the complex issues related to sexual abuse within families. Armed with a more accurate picture of the complexities of this population, practitioners, law enforcement and policymakers can more effectively target the risk factors that lead to sexual abuse crimes and reduce the number of victims who live with the consequences.” - Melissa D. Grady, Ph.D., L.C.S.W., University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Child Advocacy Center 

“The registry lists represent a small proportion of sex offenders in any community, since most sexual abuse, nearly 88 percent, is never reported. So, the police and the courts can't warn us about the people responsible for most of the abuse that is committed across the United States. They don’t know who they are. But most likely, we do. Chances are, those most at risk to abuse our children are people we know in our families and in our community, who have horribly lost control.” – Stop It Now

“Initially, the [Jessica’s Law] proposals may seem to carry merit, but after closer examination all three have flaws so serious that their implementation may result in communities that are less safe.” – Texas Association Against Sexual Assault 

“Should you think that I am soft on violent and sexual crime, let me assure you that there is a dark painful part of my soul that wants people who hurt other people to never take another comfortable breath. However let us be intelligent. Given that we are a society of law, let us demand that the laws we do enact achieve their intended mission. Let us stop creating a false sense of security and wasting our precious resources on laws that simply do not work.” - Andrea Casanova, Founding Director of the ALLY Foundation, Mother of Alexandra (Ally) Zapp, who was sexually assaulted and murdered 

“[Jessica’s Law] was a knee-jerk reaction that went against almost everything we know that is effective in dealing with sex offenders.” - Robert Coombs, victims’ rights advocate and former chair of California’s Sex Offender Management Board 

“I’m worried that we’re focusing so much energy on naming and shaming convicted sex offenders that we’re not doing as much as we should to protect our children from other real threats…many states make former offenders register for life, restrict where they can live, and make their details known to the public. And yet the evidence suggests these laws may do more harm than good.” – Patty Wetterling, mother of Jacob Wetterling and founder of the Jacob Wetterling Foundation 

Why do we continue to listen to the ranting and raving of people who have something personal to gain - lawmakers, politicians and legislators - as if they are experts in the field? I cannot claim to be one, not by a longshot, but I can read, and I can comprehend the disconnect in our society between real solutions and ones that are proposed for one reason only (not being child safety.)