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New Tennessee Legislation Will Destroy Hundreds, Probably Thousands, of Families

by Sandy Rozek, NARSOL

In some of our border states, children sit in detention camps, taken from their parents and held for a reason deemed good by some in our society.

Half the country away in the state of Tennessee, parents will be taken from their children against their will, also for a reason deemed good by some in our society.

These parents, primarily fathers, are not being imprisoned or detained by the authorities. While they all have been convicted of a crime at some earlier point in their lives, — some as long ago as twenty or thirty years — they have committed no new ones. They are not guilty of any crime or abuse or wrongdoing against the children from whom they are being forcefully separated.

This forced destruction of families is occurring due to Tennessee SB 425, which was passed by the Tennessee legislature May 15 and became effective July 1, 2019. The brain child of Senator Joey Hensley (R), this bill adds one sentence to the already existing statute 40-39-211(c), which sets out the conditions under which a person on a sexual offense registry may not reside with anyone under the age of 18. The two previously in law are:

(1)  The offender’s parental rights have been or are in the process of being terminated as provided by law; or

(2)  Any minor or adult child of the offender was a victim of a sexual offense or violent sexual offense committed by the offender.

 Item (2) is problematic in itself as it nullifies any attempt at family reunification and restorative justice, two initiatives that, for those who choose them, hold out more hope for healing of victims and perpetrators alike than do incarceration and traditional therapy.

However, item (2) is benign in the face of newly added item (3), the result of SB425.

Item (3) states: The offender has been convicted of a sexual offense or violent sexual offense the victim of which was a child under twelve (12) years of age.

So – a person looked at illegal pornography, one or more images portraying a child eleven or younger – or purported to be eleven or younger; a person chatted online inappropriately with someone who was or who he believed to be a child eleven or younger; a person behaved sexually inappropriately with a child eleven or younger; a person sexually molested a child eleven or younger.

The person could have been a child himself at the time, 14 or 15, engaging in mutual curiosity with a younger sibling or cousin. Or he could have been an adult – anyone 18 or older—committing a serious crime against a child eleven or younger.

Or—he could have been falsely or mistakenly identified and be totally innocent.

He never repeated his offense; he satisfied all court-ordered consequences. His duty to register is for a lifetime, as are the vast majority of those on the registry in Tennessee. He has successfully rehabilitated and is a productive, contributing member of society, or, for some, he is barely hanging on—but has never reoffended. He has married and has a child or children. He is their father and an integral part of their lives. In a few instances, he is a single parent, raising his children by himself.

In a few instances, he is a she.

And now, as of July 1, he is ripped from the home. For all practical purposes his children are left fatherless—or motherless. With some of the situations, the children will enter an already over-burdened child welfare/protective system, most likely separated from siblings and be placed in a succession of foster homes. In this system, the children will be at a markedly increased risk for limited educational opportunities, limited lifetime financial security, substance abuse, physical and emotional abuse, sexual molestation, becoming a runaway, homelessness, being trafficked, and untimely death.

For these families, the family unit, that entity claimed to be the backbone and mainstay of America by the same legislators who voted for this bill, will be destroyed.

At the end of the extremely short bill is this statement: This act shall take effect July 1, 2019, the public welfare requiring it.

Given the fact that only the tiniest percentage of offenders with child victims repeat the offense after serving the court-ordered punishment and living in the community, it is difficult to imagine how the benefit to the public welfare could even begin to justify the tremendous negative impact on families and youth that is sure to follow the enforcement of this statute.

Towards the end of May, registrants in Tennessee who are on record as currently residing with a minor were mailed this notice advising them of the action they must take in order to prevent being arrested and prosecuted for a new crime.

The action to be taken is very specific: Either the registrant or the minor child(ren) must be out of the current residence and living elsewhere before a deadline of July 1.

At least the author of the notice did not hypocritically wish the recipients well.

Note: New York State has passed a very similar bill, which is awaiting the Governor’s signature.

Sandy Rozek is communications director with the National Association for Rational Sexual Offense Laws (NARSOL), a group that opposes dehumanizing registries andworks to eliminate discrimination, banishment, and vigilantism against persons accused or convicted of sexual offenses through the use of impact litigation, public education, legislative advocacy, and media outreach in order to reintegrate and reconcile affected individuals and restore their constitutional rights.

 

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