My mother was 15 when she married my dad, who was 19. A month later, he shipped out with the Marines and was gone nearly three years, fighting in the Pacific during World War II. I was born after his return. My parents had a long, happy marriage.

That story would turn out differently today. At 19, John fell in love with a girl 15 years old. Her parents were content with their dating until the girl became pregnant. He was arrested for statutory rape, went to jail, was put on lengthy probation, and had to register as a sex offender.

John and the girl were married and had two other children. As a sex offender, he could not live or work within “1,000 feet of a school, day care, church, park, or any other place where children are known to gather.” Hard to do in the South, where there are churches on every corner. (And what’s wrong with being near a church? You would think they would encourage folks to go to church.)

Sadly, John lost his job. Then came the task of finding another job. Some employers wouldn’t even talk to him because of probation AND the Sex Offender Registry. Those who gave him a chance often let him go when someone complained. The Registry is on the Internet — where you live, where you work, your offenses. ...

John was forced to quit 25 jobs by his probation, because of the 1,000-foot requirement. When he came to me for help, he had been forced to leave his job as a roofer’s helper ... he might have to roof a house with children in it.

Because of the financial stress, John’s marriage ended. His wife could no longer handle the burdens of the Sex Offender Registry. Was justice served? Is this what John’s wife’s parents really wanted?

Had my grandparents approached my parents’ marriage differently, and if the Sex Offender Registry had been in existence, my life would have been completely different. My dad went to college, became a preacher, helping to establish 13 churches.

I became a lawyer. Had I grown up under the Registry conditions, the shame would have ruined my life, too. Do our lawmakers consider the families — the children — of the individuals who are placed on the Registry?

John’s story is not unique. Watch the news. “20-20” ran a story about Kaitlyn Hunt, a high school senior, who fell in love with a freshman on her basketball team. The freshman’s parents had her arrested — probably because they were both female rather than their ages. Kaitlyn went to prison. “20-20” was there to film her release. She talked of her fears, having to register as a sex offender for life.

Is this justice? Is this reasonable?

Charles, a photographer, photographed a family in the nude. The front cover of a popular magazine years ago portrayed such a family. The picture was quite striking, innocent, somehow. I tried to Google it but found sites I feared would get me arrested for child pornography. Under Georgia law, if you click on it, you “possess” it, and there are FBI and state law enforcement on the Internet, searching algorithms for child pornography watchers.

Charles kept one photograph in his studio, someone reported him. He was arrested, went to prison, AND put on the Sex Offender Registry. A man who never inappropriately touched a child.

Charles couldn’t find a job (because of the Registry conditions), couldn’t pay his fine and returned to prison several times. “Probation is a privilege, not a right.” Fines must be paid.

Chris had been out drinking with friends, had to relieve himself and no McDonald’s handy, so he went by a tree. Some young girls saw him, though he never saw them. They reported him, he was arrested and went to prison. Also, the Sex Offender Registry. He’s having trouble finding a place to live when he gets out.

Have we gone nuts?

I don’t consider any of the above individuals to be sex offenders. None of them targeted a child for personal gratification. “A square is always a rectangle but a rectangle is not always a square.” Not every sexual “contact” involving a minor is a crime, or shouldn’t be.

Have we as a society gone nuts?

Remember the witch hunts in New England. Remember Nazi Germany. Obviously, there are those who need to be monitored by law enforcement. Serious sex offenders — rapists, kidnappers, serious abusers. We’ve gone way beyond that.

There are so many offenses included now, the Registry has become meaningless as a tool for law enforcement. Rather, it has become a list for vigilantes who target registrants. The details of the lives of those on the Registry are available worldwide. Houses are burned, dogs shot, vehicles vandalized, innocent children taunted. ...

Have we gone nuts?

Another tool in the Sex Offender Registry box is the lie detector test. Everyone on sex offender probation must go to counseling, which includes the use of lie detector tests, purportedly for assistance in counseling. What really happens is that if a probationer tells the truth about even a minor violation, the examiner tells the counselor who tells the probation officer and a warrant results.

The Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination doesn’t apply if you are a sex offender. “Probation is a privilege, not a right.” The lie detector test is a condition of probation. Fred had his probation revoked for admitting to having one drink with his wife on Christmas. Probation condition — no alcohol.

Have we gone nuts?

In a child pornography case, a Supreme Court justice commented he feared we were “burning the house down to catch a mouse.”

If a legislator tries to back off from this frenzied mess, they are accused of being “soft” on sex offenders, their tenure certain to be shortened. No matter the studies showing that registry is ineffective as a law enforcement tool, since MOST sex offenses are committed by family members or others with a relationship to a child — teachers, preachers, coaches. Should we outlaw juvenile sports because a child might be targeted by a coach? Avoid church? Home schooling? But wait, that’s where most sex offenders are — right at home.

Have we gone nuts?

Many states are making sex offender registration a lifetime requirement. Register or face prison. The belief is if you ever commit any of the prohibited offenses, you can never be rehabilitated, or forgiven. Like Hester Prynne, you must wear a Scarlet Letter. Everyone must know of your mistake and you must be punished for the rest of your life. You can rape, pillage, burn down the village — serve your time, and go on with your life, but you dare not commit a sex offense.

Have we gone nuts?

Sex offenders are targeted in prisons, often kept in protective segregation — locked in their cells 23 hours a day. “Lockup” featured a man in his 20s who fell for a 17-year-old girl and her parents complained. You know the rest of the story. Inmates tried to kill him because he was a sex offender. They didn’t know they didn’t have sex. They were in love, just making out.

Have we gone nuts?

We should spend our resources making our country safe from bigger threats — ISIS, drugs, serious boogeymen. If law enforcement needs a sex offender list, make it realistic. Include SERIOUS offenders — rapists, kidnappers, murderers. Not folks who fell in love with someone younger, or looked at pictures someone else made.

Write to your legislators. Encourage them to make laws that mean something and change laws that make no sense. Encourage them to seek advice and information from sociologists, psychologists, civil rights groups. A good starting place is the Reform Sex Offender Laws group. They have a website at They have the statistics, not just emotional reactions.

Barbara Gale is an attorney in Rome, Georgia.


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