In an effort to encourage a more equitable system of justice in this country — something to which any number of legislators, unprincipled prosecutors and judges seem opposed — I believe it would be in our best interest to treat all those charged with sexual harassment and sexual misconduct the same way we treat all sex offenders.
While the term “sexual misconduct” has a rather benign sound to it, it nevertheless can include anything from sexual assault to sexual abuse.
It doesn’t matter if it’s Matt Lauer, Al Franken, Roy Moore, Bill Clinton, Georgia H.W. Bush, Charlie Rose or John Conyers doing the touchy-feely thing or some other form of sexual harassment or misconduct. Unwanted touching or misconduct of a sexual nature constitutes sexual battery and/or assault (laws differ from state to state) and deserve to be punished in the same manner as all other sex offenses.
To that end, I am proposing that each state be required to create a Sexual Harassment/Misconduct Registry modeled on the existing sex offender registries.
The SHMR would work something like this:
Anyone for whom the preponderance of accusations indicates they may have committed some act of sexual harassment or misconduct would be placed on the registry and be considered on probation for all legal purposes.
Proof beyond a shadow of a doubt does not matter in these cases, just as it does not in many sex offense cases; all that’s needed is an accusation of one person, no matter how questionable the accusation or the accuser might be or how poorly law enforcement investigates the allegations.
Just last week a large number of University of Tennessee football fans demonstrated how rumors and innuendo about sexual misconduct can ruin careers and lives in the time it takes to post on Facebook or Twitter. The school announced it planned to hire Greg Schiano as its new football coach. But the self-righteous UT fans decided they didn’t want him in Knoxville and began looking for ways to discredit him with something more than his mediocre record as a coach at other schools.
They discovered Schiano had coached at Penn State University at the same time as Jerry Sandusky, who was convicted of sexually abusing young boys. Schiano was never accused of anything related to Sandusky case, although it appears that someone may have told someone who heard from someone else that Schiano may have heard something.
So the good folks of Tennessee painted on a rock on campus this message about Schiano: “Covered Up Child Rape at Penn State.”
When it comes to sex harassment or abuse, especially alleged child sex abuse, the social media lynch mobs care not one whit about proof or due process. It’s the 21st century version of the Salem Witch Trials.
And that’s exactly why we need a registry for all those accused of sexual harassment and sexual misconduct; so we can forever condemn them and stamp them with a scarlet letter for their sins, whether real, concocted or simply imagined.
After all, the Salem Witch Trials marked a high point in this country’s history of jurisprudence and we seem to be heading steadily back in that direction.
As part of the SHMR registry, the names, home addresses and photographs of everyone placed on the list must be published on the internet so that anyone anywhere in the world can have access to that information and drop by their homes occasionally to harass or threaten them as often happens now with those on the sex offender registry.
SHMR registrants would be prohibited from living within a certain distance (usually at least 1,000 feet or more) of schools, parks, churches, playgrounds, day care centers or any place where members of those classes of people they are accused of harassing congregate.
If it means they have to go live under a bridge or in squatter camps in the woods as do any number of people now on the sex offender registry, so be it. We all know these people are not worthy of living in polite society because they can’t control themselves, even though studies have shown fewer than 5 percent of those convicted of sex offenses recidivate, a number far lower than almost all other crimes.
For men on the registry, holidays such as Christmas and New Year’s must be spent at the local county jail so as not to be tempted to harass women, or would have to be spent at home alone without any holiday decorations or festivities, again to remove the temptation to harass anyone.
That’s what those on the Sex Offender Registry have to do on Halloween. Depending on the state in which they live, they have to either agree to house arrest without lights or decorations or voluntarily turn themselves in to local law enforcement and submit to extra-judicial arrest usually for six to 12 hours.
That’s because someone somewhere decided that children in costumes somehow ignite sexual desires, even though the National Association for Rational Sexual Offense Laws has shown that children are more at risk of getting hit by a car on Halloween than they are of getting grabbed by a sex offender.
SHMR registrants would be required to have their passports marked with a special warning to officials in other countries that declares: “The bearer of this document is a sexual harasser or has committed sexual misconduct.”
We should also consider creating registries with the same sorts of restrictions for those accused, but not necessarily convicted, of domestic violence, driving under the influence and drug abuse. These registries would create separate and distinct underclasses of people that can be easily identified and earmarked as dangers to society who are not worthy of redemption or a second chance.
It’s sort of like when the Nazis forced the Jews to wear the Star of David on their clothing.
Having these additional registries would create an untold number of jobs at the federal, state and local level to monitor the registrants, bring in millions of dollars in fees and fines and make it easier for the government to track all the ne’er-do-wells among us.
If all this sounds ridiculous, it is.
But this is what those on the Sex Offender Registry go through no matter the nature of their crime, no matter whether they have actually committed a crime or have just been accused of one.
Sex offenses, real or concocted, constitute the one class of crimes that require no hard evidence beyond the mere allegation. There is no presumption of innocence with sex crimes; there’s only the assumption of guilt.
Repentant murderers can find public sympathy and redemption. So too can drug and alcohol abusers.
Not so for accused sex offenders. Once tarred, forever scarred.
This is not in any way an effort to excuse or condone actual sex offenses or sexual harassment or misconduct. The intent is to demonstrate the incredible lack of equity of justice created by any sort of registry that essentially seeks to govern through the unsubstantiated fear of crime, as one law professor has called it.
Trevor Hoppe, assistant professor of Sociology at the University at Albany-State University of New York, writing in “The Conversation,” an independent academic journal, stated that registries do nothing more than “provide the public with a false sense of security.”
Registries may seem like a good way to control bad people, until you find yourself or a loved one on one of them. Only then does it become clear how useless and constitutionally questionable they are.
Unfortunately, that is likely to become evident to lawmakers and judges only if some celebrity abusers and harassers have their names included on one of those registries.
Ron Martz is Marine Corps veteran (1965-68), journalist and former educator whose commentary appears monthly. He lives in Northeast Georgia; email.