Our lives changed nine years ago when my husband, in his mid-20s at the time, was arrested in an internet sting operation involving an undercover officer going into an adult sex chat room and posing as a sexually-experienced 15 year old seeking out sex with older men.
I was 7 months pregnant with our first child at the time, and my husband was told he could be facing 20 years in prison. When they offered him a plea that carried 5 years probation, he jumped at it. At the time, he was told that, once his probation was over, he could apply to have his record expunged.
About a year after his arrest, after the Jessica Lunsford case made the news and stories were abounding about all registrants being compulsive child molesters who might murder your child, we were forced to leave the apartment we were living in after management told us that threats were made against us and they couldn’t protect us.
We eventually found a neighborhood where we have had no problems with our neighbors, but that fear is always there.
A few months before my husband could have applied to have his record expunged, the state changed the law and added a number of crimes (both sex and non-sex crimes) to a list of non-expungable crimes, including his.
It’s now been nine years. My husband is a good father to his three children. He has a clean record other than this offense, and is a responsible, law-abiding citizen. He has completed a doctorate and maintained steady employment. He is a man who made a mistake when he was younger but learned his lesson and turned his life around.
We don’t even resent his arrest. It was a wake-up call he needed about how far problems he was having with compulsive internet use and particularly compulsive online sexual activity had taken him. We both feel that the two years of probation he ended up serving was a just punishment for what he did.
But it is not fair that he has to spend two and a half decades on the registry for his mistake. And it’s not fair that the legislature can arbitrarily decide, after people take plea deals, that certain crimes can never be expunged. If it’s at all possible to give somebody a second chance, we owe it to them to give it.
I hear so much about protecting children, but what about our three children? What about their right to live without ridicule and harassment? What about their right to not be tossed out of their home because somebody finds out what their father did before they were born? What about their right to have their father attend events at their school and take them to the park? The registry has been proven to have no impact on the safety of the community at large, but it does have a negative impact on the many, many children whose parents are listed.
And, what about the world my children will be growing up in? I want them to live in a world where actions have consequences and wrongs are punished. But I don’t want them living in a society where mistakes young men make in their teens and twenties are branded on them and their families forever, where we just keep punishing people more and more, where we don’t allow second chances. I don’t want my children growing up in a world where people are defined and destroyed based on their worst moment.
Mostly, my family lays low. We don’t trust easily. We keep to ourselves. My husband doesn’t attend events with families and stays away when we have families with kids over. I get to know people, but only so far. Right now, we can do this, but when our kids are older, when they and their friends are surfing the internet freely, it will be so much harder. We hope to move to a state where my husband won’t be on a public registry, but I know that’s not enough. Our situation has opened my eyes to the injustices of not just sex offender laws, but our entire criminal justice system, and I increasingly feel like I can no longer keep silent and do nothing about what is the most pressing moral issue of our time.