As New Times discovered earlier this year, there isn't a subject touchier than the laws outlining the rights — or lack thereof — of sex offenders. The uptick of laws determining where sex offenders can and cannot go, along with the rise and ubiquity of information on the sex offender registry, has created a tricky balance between the rights of the many against the rights of the few.
One national group that stands against what it perceives as the harshness of these laws says it's prepping a pair of federal class-action lawsuits that could shake up the status quo. It's the same group that's been the frequent — and lonely — critic of Lauren Book, the Florida victims' advocate and possible future politician.
WAR — the Missouri-based Women Against the Registry — describes on its website its mission: "Through peaceful demonstrations, educational forums, and political events we will present compelling evidence of the dangers and damage to American society caused by excessive, unconscionable sexual offense registries." In a release sent out this week, WAR's president, Vicki Henry, announced the group is gearing up for two federal legal actions.
One would be on behalf of registered sex offenders, and the second would be on behalf of families of registered sex offenders. Their aim is to dismantle the registry laws — laws that effectively brand an offender for life, redemption or rehabilitation be damned, and also cause the offenders' families to live with a similar social stigma.
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"Women Against Registry has begun gathering and preparing information for lawsuits with a major focus on the collateral damage we see and hear about day in and day out," Henry tells New Times in an email. "When you have children beaten up, harassed, ostracized, wives fired, families essentially being placed on a public 'hit list' in the form of a registry or sign, all because they have a loved one on the registry, it is time to push back for them as well as those who have been adjudicated, paid their debt to society, and are living a law-abiding life."
Henry says if there are 819,218 offenders on registries across the nation — with 65,153 listed in Florida. That spins out to affecting more than 3 million family members.
"The lawsuits are our way of indicating we have had enough of the punitive and unconstitutional treatment to our families and will be taking it to the courts, the federal courts," she explains. "The question becomes, are ALL children important, are we as responsible citizens concerned about preserving the family structure or not? When does redemption begin? How is that accomplished when the wife has to tell her graduate that their father is not allowed to celebrate that as a family event or tell junior that his dad can’t attend his soccer game now or ever."
Florida has some of the most intense sex offender laws in the nation. WAR plans to take a particular stand in the Sunshine State next week. For the past month, Lauren Book has been on her Walk in My Shoes charity event. The 1,500-mile trek between Key West and Tallahassee is meant to raise awareness about sex offender issues and victims' rights. WAR will be posted at Monroe Street and Apalachee Parkway on April 22 when Book arrives in Tallahassee for her walk's final event. "[W]e will be counterprotesting the 'scorched earth' policies put in place by the Florida legislators and lobbyists who are annihilating our families," Henry says.