Research on sex offender laws and their effects on people and society

Look Who’s a Sex Offender Now!
by Marshall Burns, Ph.D. 
Detailed comments for Q&A # 3: “Should I care about sex offenders? Aren’t they all “perverts” and sexual deviants?”

It’s easy to be complacent about sex offender laws — until one of them comes crashing down out of the blue on top of you or someone in your family. Unfortunately, it’s becoming easier and easier all the time for that to happen — with behaviors that most people consider perfectly healthy and acceptable, like breastfeeding or taking innocent pictures of their own babies in the buff. Here are some heartbreaking examples.

 

Contents

      If you allow your teenager to have sex.
      If you discipline an unruly child.
      If you kiss your naked baby.
      If you breastfeed your baby.
      If you take pictures of your children naked.
      If you’re a teenager taking naked pictures of yourself or your sweetheart.
      If you win custody in a nasty divorce.
      If you get caught taking a pee.
      If you have consensual sex in prison.
      If you kiss a student on the cheek.
      If you take pictures of children in public.
      If you look at children in public.
      If you have consensual sex with a teenager.

 

Okay for your teenager to have sex? You’re a sex offender.

Detroit, 2004. Michael Schrake was arrested, jailed, registered as a sex offender, and forbidden to see his three children because he allowed his 15-year-old daughter to sleep with her boyfriend. He at first believed that the boy was only 18, but when he found out he was 20, he went to the police to complain. But the police arrested both the boyfriend and the father, charging the latter as an accomplice. As far as the police were concerned, the age of the boyfriend didn’t matter because it is a crime to allow a minor to have sex at all.

See Father Faces Charges For Allowing Teen Daughter To Have Sex: Report — Man Apparently Provided Condoms To Daughter, Boyfriend — WDIV-TV (Detroit, Michigan), January 7, 2004 and Local Dad Shocked By Sex Charges Against Him — Man must register as sex offender — WDIV-TV (Detroit, Michigan), February 18, 2004. His name is not in the registry as of December 2007. This might mean that his case was overturned. Still, according to the news reports, he spent time in jail for this and was for at least some period of time not allowed to see his own children!

Georgia, 2002. When Janet Allison's 15-year-old daughter got pregnant, she allowed her 17-year-old boyfriend to move in with the family. For this, she was convicted of being a party to child molestation. Even though the couple later married, she remains a registered sex offender for enabling their relationship. Because of this, she has had to move out of her four-bedroom home, which was too close to a church, and now lives in a trailer.

See Absurdity Breakout: Laws end up targeting not-so-dangerous 'sex offenders', GateHouse News Service, August 20, 2007.
 

Discipline an unruly child? You’re a sex offender.

Chicago, 2005. Fitzroy Barnaby had to swerve to avoid hitting a 14-year-old girl who walked in front of his car. He got out and grabbed her arm to lecture her on safety. The girl complained and the man was convicted of unlawful restraint of a minor — officially making him a sex offender.

See He grabbed girl's arm -- now he's a sex offender (), Chicago Sun-Times, July 1, 2005. His name is not in the registry as of December 2007. In a phone call, his lawyer explained he is not yet on, pending a ruling from the US Supreme Court. The Illinois Supreme Court declined to hear the case, saying that the issue was decided in another case, in which a kidnapper was determined to be subject to SO registration even though there was no sexual activity with the victim. It seems astounding that the court was willing to take a kidnapping as analogous to this case!
 

Kiss your naked baby? You’re a sex offender.

North Carolina, 2005. Charbel Hamaty spent six months in prison for kissing his naked baby on the belly button. His wife was also arrested and she was denied contact with their children for several months for taking a picture of the “abuse.”

See Parents Cleared of Child Abuse in Photo Flap, Associated Press, July 27, 2005.
 

Breastfeed your baby? You’re a sex offender.

Dallas, Texas, 2003. Jacqueline Mercado and her boyfriend were arrested on felony charges for a photograph of her breastfeeding her child.

See 1-Hour Arrest, Dallas Observer, April 17, 2003.
 

Take pictures of your children naked? You’re a sex offender.

Georgia, 2006. Jody Jenkins “took some photos of my kids naked on a camping trip. A drugstore employee called the police -- and my family’s life became a living hell.”

See They called me a child pornographer — I took some photos of my kids naked on a camping trip. A drugstore employee called the police -- and my family's life became a living hell. — Salon, July 18, 2006.

Canada, 2006. Paramjit Singh was charged with attempting to smuggle child pornography into Canada and was denied entry into the country to join his wife and son because he had a naked baby picture of the boy on his cell phone.

See Nude photo labelled porn (), Toronto Star (Toronto, Canada), April 14, 2006.

USA, 1990s. There was, throughout the 1990s, an average of about one case per year that made it into the news of photo lab customers being arrested for taking innocent naked photographs of their children.

See Is this child pornography? — American photo labs are arresting parents as child pornographers for taking pictures of their kids in the bath. — by James Kincaid, Salon, January 31, 2000. Five example cases are briefly described in the article.

Boston, 1996. Toni Angeli was confronted and arrested by police in front of her four-year-old son when they went together to the photo lab to pick up photographs that included some innocent pictures of the child naked.

See No Excuse: Zona Labs and its legal allies should have known better (), Boston Phoenix, February 9, 1996 (More on the case).
 

Teenager taking naked pictures of yourself or your sweetheart? You’re a sex offender.

Tallahassee, Florida, 2004. A 16-year-old girl and her 17-year-old boyfriend took pictures of themselves naked and engaging in unspecified "sexual behavior." One of them e-mailed the photos to the other. They were arrested on child pornography charges. Florida law allows teenagers of that age to be sexual with each other, but recording it is still illegal.

See Police blotter: Teens prosecuted for racy photos, CNet News, February 9, 2007 and A.H., a child v Florida, First District Court of Appeal, Florida, January 19, 2007.

Pennsylvania. A 13-year-old girl is on the sex offender registry for life because she took pictures of herself naked.

See Absurdity Breakout: Laws end up targeting not-so-dangerous 'sex offenders', GateHouse News Service, August 20, 2007.

Virginia. Two teenage girls are on the sex offender registry for life because they took topless photographs of each other.

See Absurdity Breakout: Laws end up targeting not-so-dangerous 'sex offenders', GateHouse News Service, August 20, 2007.
 

Win custody in a nasty divorce? Watch out! You might be a sex offender.

Charleston, W.Va., 2007. Melissa Hicks did not mention any sexual improprieties during the divorce proceedings against her husband, David. But after she was not granted custody of their two daughters, he became the pariah of the neighborhood and was sentenced to 30 years in prison for alleged misdeeds with various little girls.

See West Virginia Man Sentenced To 30 Years In Prison On Child Pornography Charges, US Department of Justice, November 2, 2007 and Letters in support of David Hicks (SL), US District Court (Charleston, West Virginia), April 12, 2007.
 

Got caught taking a pee? You’re a sex offender.

Florida, 2007. Juan Matamoros's charge for public urination was in Massachusetts in 1986. But it makes him a sex offender to this day, which means he has to move his family because he's not allowed to live within 2500 feet of a park, and the house they've been living in is near three of them.

See Sex offender ordinance catches family in legal tangle, News-Journal (Daytona Beach, Florida), March 2007.

Chicago. A construction worker who relieved himself behind a garbage can in an alley was spotted by a police officer, arrested, and convicted of public urination and indecent exposure. As a Mexican immigrant, he was later rounded up for deportation by Homeland Security's "Operation Predator."

See Immigrant sex offenders targeted (), Chicago Tribune, February 24, 2005.

See more examples of people on the sex offender registry for public urination and other types of “indecent exposure” in Q&A # 6 

Have consensual sex in prison? You’re a sex offender.

Ohio, 2001. Tammy Welton used to work at a state prison, where sex is illegal for inmates or with inmates. Consent being irrelevant, she was convicted of sexual battery and spent six month back in prison on the other side of the bars. That conviction now makes her a Tier III (highest risk level) sex offender for the rest of her life.

See Next Comes Burning at the Stake: Is Ohio getting too tough on sex offenders?, City Beat (Cincinnati, Ohio), August 15, 2007.
 

Kiss a student on the cheek? You’re a sex offender.

England, 2006. Alan Barrett resigned from the school’s board of governors after he gave a 10-year-old girl a kiss on the cheek in the course of publicly congratulating her for improving her performance in arithmetic.

See Vicar steps down for cheek kiss — A vicar has stepped down as a school governor after kissing a primary pupil on the cheek to congratulate her. / A police inquiry found the Rev Alan Barrett had no case to answer. — BBC News (United Kingdom), July 13, 2006, Kiss goodbye to innocence, Times (London, England), July 16, 2006, and You must remember this . . ., Times (London, England), July 18, 2006.
 

Take pictures of children in public? You’re a sex offender.

Troy, New York, 2006. Jean Hetman was forbidden to take pictures of her daughter figure-skating because of a new policy instituted by the arena to protect children from pedophiles.

See NYCLU threatens to sue city over new photo policy (SL), Record (Troy, New York), May 9, 2006.

England, 2005. Alastair Macaulay went for a walk on the beach on a beautiful summer day. He had his camera with him and photographed a group of children making sandcastles. An hour later, he was reported to the police and arrested.

See 'The CCTV recorded me taking two photographs: one of a group of children' — On an idyllic summer's day, a theatre critic goes for a walk on Scarborough beach. He has a camera with him and photographs a group of children making sandcastles. An hour later, he is reported to the police and arrested. Here, Alastair Macaulay relives the horror of that moment and of the years of pain and paranoia that followed — Telegraph (United Kingdom), March 19, 2005.
 

Look at children in public? You’re a sex offender.

Florida, 2007. An unidentified man was questioned by police after he spent more than an hour watching a children’s karate class.

See Creepy incidents at Collier karate class - not so creepy, WBBH-TV (Fort Myers, Florida), July 17, 2007.

New York City, 2005. Sandra Catena took a break from her dance lessons and sat down in the park. She was given a ticket by police for violating a law designed to keep out pedophiles — that adults are not allowed in the park without children.

See Ticketed For Sitting on a Park Bench?: Law Designed to Keep Pedophiles Out of City Parks, WABC-TV (New York, New York), September 27, 2005.

New York City, 2005. Nicholas Stix was walking in his neighborhood when he found that a schoolgirl was eyeing him suspiciously for looking at her. When he smiled to try to assure her he was friendly, she seemed even more afraid.

See Child Molester Hysteria in New York, Men's News Daily, February 1, 2005.
 

And, of course, the big taboo:
Have consensual sex with a teenager? Obviously, you’re a sex offender.

Maine, 2002. Nineteen-year-old Bill Elliott had sex with his girlfriend days before she turned 16, and he served four months in jail for it. Five years later, his and another man's names were pulled at random from the sex offender registry by a Canadian vigilante, who shot them to death in their homes before taking his own life.

See Sex Offender Registries: Putting Lives At Risk? — Double Murder of Maine Men Sparks Debate About Online Sex Registries — ABC News, April 18, 2006.

Illinois, 1998. Kristin Perk was just shy of 15 when she “came on” to her 35-year-old guitar teacher, Mark Perk, whom she married five years later in 2003. They now have two children, whose father is a registered sex offender because he had sex with their mother when she was too young.

See The witch-hunt continues: House Bill 5523 by Mark Zorn, Chicago Tribune, March 27, 2006 and Murders Put Focus on Sex-Offender Registry Policies, All Things Considered, National Public Radio (U.S.A.), April 21, 2006 (Audio report).
 

For more examples

For a similar list of cases, most of them different from the ones given here, see You Might Be a Sex Offender If … by Derek Logue.

 
This report posted on January 10, 2008, updated January 15, 2008, January 24, 2008, January 28, 2009.
This page copyright © 2007–2014, Marshall Burns. All rights reserved.