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Alexandria, Virginia, USA
September 18
I'm a liberal secular humanist who enjoys writing, reading, playing video games and watching sports. I am a former member of the Armed Services who now enjoys the sweet sweet freedom of civilian life. My blog will be centered mostly on politics, football and video games. I'm not a professional hater, but I am a highly ranked amateur. Also, yes, I am a girl.


Editor’s Pick
AUGUST 12, 2009 3:49PM

Your Scarlet Letter Now Applies to Facebook

Rate: 19 Flag
Your Scarlet Letter Now Applies to Facebook

The governor of Illinois just signed a bill into law that makes it illegal for registered sex offenders to use social networking sites. In other words, no perverts allowed on Facebook.

On a emotionally charged level, it sounds good, because yeah... no one wants little Sally or Jimmy getting pop up chat messages from Danny the Child Molester. But consider the latest Economist cover article, which argues that the definition of "sex offender" is so broad in the United States that a lot of innocent people are going to get caught up in this.
Many people assume that anyone listed on a sex-offender registry must be a rapist or a child molester. But most states spread the net much more widely. A report by Sarah Tofte of Human Rights Watch, a pressure group, found that at least five states required men to register if they were caught visiting prostitutes. At least 13 required it for urinating in public (in two of which, only if a child was present). No fewer than 29 states required registration for teenagers who had consensual sex with another teenager. And 32 states registered flashers and streakers.
Imagine getting drunk one night when you're a stupid 21 year old. Imagine that in your drunken stupor you drop trou and pee on the side of a building in an alley. Along comes a cop, and boom! now you're a registered sex offender. And now you can't use Facebook anymore.

The Economist article is really quite well done - I highly recommend that you all read it. In the meantime, anyone concerned with free speech had better hope that the courts have some sense and strike this new law down as unconstitutional.

One of the more interesting points brought up in the article points out that the lack of granularity in the enforcement of sex offender laws ends up wasting a lot of time and money for local government.
If there are thousands of offenders on a registry, it is harder to keep track of the most dangerous ones. Budgets are tight. Georgia’s sheriffs complain that they have been given no extra money or manpower to help them keep the huge and swelling sex-offenders’ registry up to date or to police its confusing mass of rules. Terry Norris of the Georgia Sheriffs’ Association cites a man who was convicted of statutory rape two decades ago for having consensual sex with his high-school sweetheart, to whom he is now married. “It doesn’t make it right, but it doesn’t make him a threat to anybody,” says Mr Norris. “We spend the same amount of time on that guy as on someone who’s done something heinous.”
Now factor in the fact that in Illinois, SOMEONE has to actually enforce this law regarding social networking. Will the state waste money hiring people to troll Facebook all day, attempting to match profiles there against known sex offenders? How can you be sure that someone's account is actually matched to a real life sex offender?

Smart criminals will easily circumvent this - it's ridiculously easy to set up a Facebook account under an alias. Anyone can go to an Internet cafe to hide their digital footprints, should authorities go so far as to monitor the network activity of each and every sex offender at home. Meanwhile, perfectly innocent people who made the mistake of having teenage sex once upon a time run the risk of being punished for logging on to Facebook to share pictures with their adult friends.

It's easy to revile sexual predators because we all assume they're all monsters, just waiting to pounce again. And certainly some of them are. But the current classifications are simply unacceptable, and hopefully people will start realizing that some of our laws are borderline cruel when it comes to how we treat sex offenders. A paroled murder might have a body count of a half dozen or more on his record, and he's allowed to move in next door to me, with nary a peep. But a guy who hired a hooker - well, he has to do the walk of shame up and down his neighborhood, announcing his crime to every single person. His name is in a database that anyone can search, including his employers, his friends and any person looking to enact a little vigilante justice on a "scumbag."

Look - this is like being scared of rabid dogs, and then deciding that you should kill any and all small mammals you see, just in case (including cats and bunnies and so forth). It's insane.

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I've actually heard of a man who is registered as a sex offender because he was 18 while his girlfriend was 17 and her father called the cops on him. Now they're happily married, but tend to have issues when they move to a new neighborhood.

We need to redefine the sex offender definition.
Well, considering that the past two governors of Illinois are either in prison or facing jailtime, I don't know if I give the current holder of that seat much cred.

HOWEVER, their Legislature should take a look at this. Kneejerk reactions to "bad" things nearly always have a deeply unsatisfactory result; and legislation designed to garner votes or confidence is rarely well-formed. But keep knocking on their towers; somebody might listen.
Intelligent post. You know the pendulum has to swing both ways, and I believe this is an example of how far in one direction it goes...I'm just afraid it will swing back equal distance before there is any equalibrium...on many issues actually!

America's never-ending drive for harsher penalties and more inclusive definitions of crimes depresses me. In Florida, sex offenders are now living in shanty towns under a bridge—which they may be evicted from soon—because there is no place for them to legally live.

So little of our sentencing and certainly none of out sex offender registry programs are based on actual data about who is likely to become a repeat offender. And this all definitely does make people less safe by putting resources into looking after people who have no greater likelihood of committing crimes than the average non-convict.

But to stand up to any of this is so difficult for a politician, who will almost certainly be smeared by taking a reasonable stance on any of this.
IMHO to have to register as a sex offender, you'd have to do something really bad, like forcible rape, child molesting, the like. Peeing by the side of the road doesn't make you a danger to society.

And the internet pervs aren't trolling Facebook and MySpace looking for your little darlings (though it's good to teach your kids to be cautious online anyway). They're going into chat rooms and the like where the kids are specifically looking to get into unwise situations. They aren't wasting their time on unlikely prospects.
There was a young high school kid here in Georgia a few years ago who spent a year in jail because he had consensual sex with a 15 year old. He lost a year of his life and a nice football scholarship.

The law was changed shrtly after he got out of jail.
This new law sounds like another one of those laws that we shouldn't have and will have a hard time enforcing.
Good post. Pat Quinn, Blago's successor, is actually a pretty good guy in a terrible, terrible job. But defending Illinois politicians is like spitting into the wind . . .
Why do we keep passing unenforceable laws? My guess -- political grandstanding.

Excellent piece. Rated.
I had to do background checcks as head of a pop warner football team. I know a guy bagged because someone complained he had peed on a golf course. I used to do that ALL THE TIME.

It is terribly unfortunate there is not better gradations. At least in Massachusetts, there are levels 1, 2, and 3, with 1s NOT listed in registries for what I believe to be minor infractions such as what I mentioned above.
In the US, there are kids as young as ten on the "sex offender" list. In California, a 12-year-old boy was registered for fondling his stepbrother in the bathtub. "Sex Offenders" have become for opportunist politicans what Jews were in Nazi Germany--easy targets for insane laws made by irrational powers.

Sex Offenders aside, I understand that 1 in 4 Americans are now in the teeth of the justice system, at some level. That is everything from Armed Robbery to Driving Without Insurance, but that figure is astounding. Law Enforcement has become a growth industry in this country...what kind of State are we building here?
With all due respect to victims of sexual assault/violation/violance the current definition os sexual offender is totally insane. Sometimes I just want to leave the planet (not really - but you know what I mean.) I'll sleep better now knowing that I have nothing to fear on Facebook anymore. Phew!!
Yeah, when I was in Colorado we couldn't tell who was a danger to society and who was caught peeing in the woods during a hiking trip. It's insane and it diminishes the real criminals and victims.

We have 2 million people in our prisons, with private prisons being built almost everywhere. Whom do you think is going to fill them?
"HUGE AND SWELLING sex-offenders' registry"? Sounds like one writer better be careful if he wants to go on Facebook.

Who was the guy in Dickens who said the Law is a ass? I'm less scared of sex offenders than I am of cops and legislatures with too much time on their hands.
Scoubidou-You said, "Sex Offenders aside, I understand that 1 in 4 Americans are now in the teeth of the justice system, at some level. That is everything from Armed Robbery to Driving Without Insurance, but that figure is astounding. Law Enforcement has become a growth industry in this country...what kind of State are we building here?"

Welcome to Prisons for Profit. Sounds like health care to me. When people make profits from something, they tend to like laws that create more market for their product.

Great post, mad_typist--I've always maintained that the registry has such serious flaws it is as "useless as tits on a boar-hog," to quote my mother.
A young man in Georgia to whom I was once a foster parent is in jail now awaiting the decision of probation officers as to whether he will serve a stretch in prison. As a 17 year old, he had consensual sex with a 16 year old, who was afterward persuaded to report it. Now he is a (statutory) rapist and registered sex offender.
He cannot live anywhere within half a mile of a school, public park or playground. A couple of local homeless shelters are the only places in this county where he can legally reside.
At some point a few months ago when the shelters reported themselves full and not expecting to have an opening for a few more weeks, he simply moved back in with his infant child and their mother, and went back to work as a mechanic, and stopped reporting.
Eventually he was apprehended as passenger in a car during a traffic stop. There have to be hundreds of people in this very situation in this state, literally not allowed to live anywhere because of these horrible "sex offender" status laws.
There's an iPhone application that takes (free) data on the location of 'sex offenders' near you and maps it for you. This is sold as a way of protecting your children from molestation; it is not totally unreasonable, as someone who has molested a child is in fact much more of a risk...than the average citizen.
---the average citizen---
But the application is really concerned with potential predators, and if it looked at statistics, then it is markedly defective: it doesn't ask for the locations of all the members of the child's immediate family and their good friends.

We want to see the Devil (or the Buddha) on the road-side, so we can keep on imagining that we couldn't be him.
Duh. 'be him'-->'be he'---I've adapted myself to spoken English too well, it seems.
Doesn't that negate the entire purpose of Facebook?

The Internet is for Porn

Present site mostly excluded. Except for when it's not.
The pendulum swings in crazy arcs, no? Paranoid fantasies have always grabbed the attention of the American public. Think about the Salem witch trials in the 1600's and fast forward to the witch trials of the 1990's. Not much difference, I'd wager. Fear is a growth industry and I wish I'd got my foot in the door a long time ago. Of course, these people that decry the lack of protection for their kids are probably the same ones that turn a blind eye to "Uncle Tickles". Look to thine own house etc. etc. etc. Bah! It sits in front of them but they prefer not to see it. Our kids have about 100 times the chance of being hit by lightning than getting grabbed by a stranger. This culture of fear of the other is knee-capping our kids and society as a whole.
@ Bobby - Mr. Micawber (From David Copperfield)...