by Ed Lyon
Seventy-two-year-old grandmother Vicki Henry has a mission in life. Because of what she perceives as injustices affecting her son, who is serving a 25-year sentence on child pornography convictions, she aims to do away with all public sex-offender registries. She heads a small group of like-minded women who unite under the moniker of Women Against Registry (“W.A.R.”).
Henry, of Missouri, has a toll-free number that convicted sex offenders and their friends and family members can call. She fields scores of calls every month, giving advice and support to help others in need.
She is not alone in her belief and willingness to help others. There are two more W.A.R. soldiers who have extensions on the toll-free line who also offer consolation and advice to sex offender registrants and those affected by registration laws.
Southwestern Law School professor Catherine Carpenter agrees with Henry concerning sex-offender registration laws. “At its heart, the registry doesn’t work,” Carpenter stated, adding that “it’s a failed experiment.”
It is an experiment that nevertheless carries with it the force and effect of law because, like it or not, sex offender registration is the law. At the federal level, registration is legally required for child abusers, sex traffickers, and those who create, distribute, or possess child pornography. State laws include offenses as picayune as urinating in public as a sex offense that requires registration as a sex offender.
Camille Cooper is vice president of the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network public policy division. She defends sex offender registries as transparency vehicles that give “the public information they have a right to know.” She stressed the statistic that over 90 percent of child abusers are already known by the child they are abusing “so parents need to be cautious.”
Caution versus compassion. Rancor versus forgiveness.
Henry has always considered herself a Christian and a Southern Baptist. She became appalled at the church’s perceived notion that redemption and forgiveness do not extend to sex offenders.
“We’re not saying that people shouldn’t be punished [when they commit a sex crime]. We’re just saying they shouldn’t be annihilated.”
Still identifying herself as a Christian, Henry points out this about her church: “there seems to be no forgiveness,” Henry stated.
The lack of forgiveness is among the least of Henry’s worries. “W.A.R. argues that the registry can prevent registrants from living with supporting relatives; it can bankrupt families and invites vigilante attacks.” There have been documented and prosecuted cases of assaults and even murders of sex offenders whose locations were published in sex offender registries. Henry’s worries are well founded.
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