12/07/2008By CARYN TAMBER - Daily Record Legal Affairs Writer
Sandy Kennedy hates that her husband’s
picture is on Maryland’s sex offender registry.
Elected officials and victims’ advocates say tough sex-offender
laws are necessary to protect society from dangerous criminals. But some offenders and their relatives, like Kennedy, see
the restrictions as overly intrusive and unnecessary.
Her husband has served his time and is a danger to no one, Kennedy
“In Salem, they had a witch-hunt, and in America, we’re still having a witch-hunt,
and the witch-hunt is just different
,” said Kennedy, a Parsonsburg nurse. “It’s
the sex offender
.”- Not sure if this was worded wrong or what, but Salem is in America.
The witch hunt is always brought out in certain moral panics, to justify the punishment and torture of someone, who are the
scapegoat for the societies worries.
Kennedy runs a blog called Sex Offenders and Their Wives
, where she vents about the difficulties of living with sex-offender restrictions and debunks what she said are myths about
offenders, like the high probability that they will re-offend and their imperviousness to treatment.
She also heads
the Maryland chapter
of the national group Reform Sex Offender Laws
. So far, there are only three other members, she said.Out eight years
Sandy Coulbourne, now 48, met
Michael Kennedy, now 53, in 2007 at a bookstore. Both were browsing the murder mysteries.
After only a couple of dates,
Michael Kennedy sat his new girlfriend down and told her he had spent 20 years in federal prison for rape and murder before
being paroled in 2000. He hadn’t done it, he insisted.
She cried at the thought of an innocent man imprisoned
for that long. The two married a few months later, despite his parole officer spending 45 minutes trying to convince her not
to go through with it.
People ask how she can love a killer and rapist, but the man she knows could never have done
those things, Sandy Kennedy said. She can recite the details of his case, pointing out police, prosecution and witness errors
along the way. In fact, it took three trials, with two hung juries, to convict him.
She was spurred to activism when
Michael Kennedy was required to register as a sex offender earlier this year, even though he had been out of prison for eight
The directive to register came out of a recent federal law that Kennedy and other convicted sex offenders are
She started reading about sex offender laws on the Internet and found that lots of offenders, their family
members and some advocacy groups agreed the restrictions had gone too far.Human Rights Watch released a study last year
arguing that registration laws are overbroad, that registries have led to violence and harassment against registrants
, and that residency restrictions “banish offenders from entire urban areas.”
Like Sandy Kennedy’s
blog, offender-advocacy Web sites argue that the majority of registered sex offenders are not monsters who repeatedly kidnap
and rape children — or, as Baltimore criminal defense lawyer Thomas P. Bernier put it, “some lecherous guy pulling
10-year-olds into a van.”
Many don’t pose a continuing threat to children, Bernier said; some never did
in the first place.Challenging the premiseFred Berlin
, founder of the Johns Hopkins Sexual Disorders Clinic
and an associate professor of psychiatry, said sex offender monitoring laws and restrictions are predicated on the premise
that offenders are more likely than not to commit another offense.
Recent studies have shown that, at most, 20 percent
to 30 percent re-offend, a lower rate of recidivism than other criminals, he said. (Other sources point out that different
types of sex offenders re-offend at different rates, and that this statistic only covers reported offenses.)- I have more studies here, and here, that show the rate of recidivism is lower, around 5.3% to 3.5%. It's not an exact science, but throwing all RSO's
into one large group is wrong. They should be evaluated on an individual basis.
Annapolis lawyer Thomas
A. Pavlinic said few offenders need to be monitored for life, although many are anyway.
“There are these evil
people,” said Pavlinic, who specializes in defending accused child molesters. “Those are violent sexual predators,
people from whom the public has to be protected. There are a lot of people who have in the course of their life simply made
a mistake, either with their own children or because of the age difference.”- Why call
them evil? Everyone, even murderers, are entitled to representation, regardless of what they are accused of.
They “get treatment and then they never do it again,” he said.
Sandy Kennedy suggested that the
government register criminals with a higher risk of recidivism, like drug dealers.
She said she is not opposed to all
sex offender restrictions, just the pointless ones.
“I’m not against totally what they make us do,”
she said. “I know there’s a reason people need to be protected. But come on, that Halloween stuff was a joke.”
was referring to a widely mocked Maryland effort to get certain sex offenders to post “no candy” signs on their
houses, turn off their outside lights and ignore knocks on the door on Oct. 31.
The signs were provided not only to
child sex offenders but to those registered as sexually violent. So Michael Kennedy received a sign, even though the crime
for which he was convicted did not involve children, his wife said.
Elizabeth Bartholomew, who runs Maryland’s
Sex Offender Registry, said the effort was merely a “request” on the state’s part, designed to protect the
offenders “so the community knows that they’re trying to make sure everyone’s safe.”Opposing
“Safe,” though, was not what Sandy Kennedy felt when a local newspaper published her
“[O]ur hick town’s little newspaper, decided to use a full page to report every sex
offenders name and address,” she wrote on her blog. “I’ve read about the vigilantes who prey on sex offenders.
We are small town Delmarva and I could just see some red neck get his buddies loading up in his pick up and start working
on the list.”
Vigilantism is one reason some activists oppose putting offenders’ identifying information,
including pictures, on Internet registries.
Paul Shannon, a founder of Reform Sex Offender Laws
, said registries encourage people to target sex offenders, citing the 2006 murder of two Maine offenders by someone who found
their names online. (Shannon would like to see public registries abolished; information about truly dangerous criminals should
be shared among law enforcement officials, who would decide whether to alert the community.)
One of the men killed
in Maine had served time for having otherwise consensual sex with his girlfriend when he was 19 and she was a few days shy
So-called “Romeo and Juliet” offenders shouldn’t be required to register as child sex offenders
alongside pedophiles, Shannon said.
“Virtually all adolescent sexuality is now criminalized,” said Shannon,
who said he is not an offender or ex-offender, just a civil liberties advocate. “This is a serious attack on children
and their right to grow up.”
ABC reporter John Stossel did a series earlier this year on offender laws gone overboard;
among other people, he featured a man who had, had sex with his girlfriend when he was 19 and she was 15. Twelve years later,
they are married with four children, but he must still register as a sex offender.