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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Sex Offender: The New Death Sentence Label

When we hear the term sex offender, we typically envision a predator: someone who lurks in dark shadows and rapes unsuspecting victims, or who molests and sexually abuses the vulnerable.  But here's the truth: a lot of people labeled as sex offenders in Florida are not bad or sick people.  They are just like you, me, or close friends/relatives.

All right, all right, calm down and put away your torches and pitchforks.  Allow me to explain.

People who have either pled or been found guilty of sexual battery or unlawful sexual activity with certain minors must register as sex offenders.  That doesn't sound too unreasonable, right?  But under Florida law, a person who is 24 years old is guilty of unlawful sexual activity if that person's partner is 17 years old and they are engaged in an vaginal, oral, or anal penetration with the other person's sex organ.  Mutual consent is irrelevant.  Yep, that's right, a 24 year old who has consentual oral sex with his/her 17 year old boyfriend/girlfriend is a sex offender in Florida.

Don't think those cases are prosecuted?  Think again.  All it takes is for someone who has a motive (like, say, Mom and Dad, who have never liked the older partner) or someone who has a duty to report (like a sex education teacher who finds out their student is sexually active with an older partner) to call the police.  And once the police are called, they have to make an arrest.  And once an arrest is made and that information is sent to the State Attorney's Office, good luck getting a prosecutor to drop a sex offender case.  Because, believe me, the State Attorney's Office is politically motivated by the very fact that the State Attorney is an elected position.  And there isn't a single State Attorney in Florida who wants a reporter to expose the fact that several sex offender charges were dropped by prosecutors in their office. It doesn't matter if the young couple are engaged to be married and have known each other for years, or that they are consenting to the activity, or that they love each other and are mature, intelligent people. The best you can hope for when an arrest in such a case has been made is that the prosecutor will allow the person to avoid prison time and to receive probation.

But even sex offender probation is different.  With the label of being a sex offender, you can't live in a lot of areas, you can't work in a lot of professions, and you can't move without updating the registry in that county.  Often times, you have to remain employed as a condition of probation.  Good luck getting someone to hire you once you have been labeled a sex offender.

Life becomes incredibly hard once you have that label.  You become the person all the neighbors hate.  You become the person no one will hire.  You become the person no landlord will rent out an apartment to.  It is a lifelong designation, and you will be hated and reviled by people who don't know the first thing about you.  And why?  Because you were 24 when you allowed your 17 year old girlfriend to perform oral sex on you.

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