April 10, 2007

Sex Offender Laws Gone Amok

Wendy Whitaker, 26, had consensual oral sex with another high school sophomore when she was 17 years old. Unfortunately, the boy was two years younger. Ms. Whitaker was arrested and pleaded guilty to a “sodomy” charge. She was sentenced to probation but was required to register as a sex offender. When housing residency restrictions were enacted in Georgia in 2003, she was forced out of the home she owned because it was within 1,000 feet of a church.

If you think that punishment is extreme, consider the case of another Georgia woman, Janet Allison. The 45-year-old mother of five was forced to move from her four-bedroom house into a two-bedroom mobile home in the middle of nowhere because her former home was within a quarter-mile of a church. Yet the registered sex offender had committed no hands-on crime.

Ms. Allison was convicted of being a party to child molestation because she allowed the 17-year-old boyfriend of her 15-year-old daughter to move into the family home. Her daughter was pregnant by the boyfriend at the time.

After Ms. Allison was arrested, three of her children were removed from her custody and put into foster care, and she is forbidden from having any contact with one daughter and grandson. "I didn't touch anyone," she was quoted in a newspaper as saying. "I just thought I was protecting my daughter."

These women are plaintiffs in a legal challenge to Georgia’s registry being mounted by the ACLU and the Southern Center for Human Rights. The lawsuit argues that there is no individualized justice when all sex offenders are treated the same, regardless of whether they are violent predators or teenagers involved in consensual acts. It also asserts that forcing sex offenders out of their homes and off their jobs destroys families and creates social instability that in the long run will harm the public.

Click on the headline, above, to read more and to view a PBS video report on the Georgia law.

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