Support for family & friends of men incarcerated for sexual offenses & registrants
Having a family member or friend imprisoned for a sex offense involving a minor (or for pornography involving someone under 18) can bring up many difficult feelings, among them
- feelings of protectiveness
- anger at an often unjust or vengeful criminal-justice system
- an impulse to reject the accused son or brother or father or friend
- fear of ostracism
- fear for the future
This site is for family and friends of those incarcerated or who have lost their civil rights through the registry. It offers a place to debunk harmful myths, to reflect, to learn more about the issues at stake. As well, this site points to helpful resources and ways to usefully channel concern and frustration. What has happened to a loved one or friend has also — in a different way — happened to those around him. We welcome your own experiences and reflections.
WITH A BROAD BRUSH, sex offenses today are singled out as the “worst of crimes.” In the US offenders face punishments — registries, civil commitment, residency restrictions, lifetime public shaming — faced by no other category of law breaker, not even murderers. Since the 1980s, a separate — and highly unequal — legal system has developed in this area, exempt from most normal safeguards, such as constitutional prohibition on ex post facto punishment and normal rules of evidence. Not just guilty people get caught up in this system, and even those who’ve committed misdeeds often face far more punishment than they deserve. What has happened bears comparison to the reaction in the US South around race after the Civil War, and often for reasons just as dubious — to channel and cultivate public rage.
But at the same time, protecting people — especially the young, and girls and women generally — from sexual violence and unwanted sexual attention is a vital function every society recognizes.
Even if you believe that the person you are close to deserves some form of retribution, you may agree that in most cases the punishment is not only grossly disproportionate but wholly ineffective.
It hardly needs saying that sexual drives — most urgently felt by young men — can lead to terrible and destructive acts. So can crimes motivated by any appetites — such as lust for money or revenge. An irony of the sexual liberalization since the 60s — the decriminalization of homosexuality, pre- and extramarital sex and abortion, and the welcoming given to transgender people — is that these openings have gone hand-in-hand with a new intolerance around acts or forms of desire that remain illicit. The trend has gone so far that even victimless crimes — possessing a cartoon drawing or a story of about imaginary characters who appear under 18 — can now be punished with years in prison and lifetime ostracism.
Sex offenses cover a wide range of severity and harm. Some are essentially “thought crime” without any victim at all. But the tendency today in the U.S. is to lump all offenses with the most harmful acts. Vital distinctions are lost, with long sentences meted out to adolescent boys involved in “Romeo and Juliet” cases, minors who produce “child pornography” by sexting amongst friends, for possessing illicit cartoons, or merely for sharing fantasies online.
The U.S. has begun to confront the immense harm caused by a generation of mass incarceration — the U.S. with 4% of the world’s population has some 25% of its prisoners. Among the approaches gaining traction are moves toward restorative justice, bail reform, sealing criminal records, restricting or eliminating solitary confinement, reopening cases where the likely innocent have been condemned. There’s a new recognition, even from conservatives, that the criminal justice system needs to embrace concepts such as proportionality, restoration, redemption — and not just wallow in vengeance and retribution. These reforms have only trickled a little into those labelled “sex offenders.” As the injustice, expense, and the sheer waste of lives — family and friends of those targeted by extreme laws can help push vital reforms and also help their loved ones. This site aims to point in the useful directions for learning, organizing, and action.