This is the first significant bit of good news we’ve heard on this particularly thorny matter in ages. The Michigan Senate has approved a sweeping reform to its sex offender registry intended to curb the all-too-frequent demonization of harmless acts and the victims who commit them, from teenagers engaging in consensual sexual relationships despite one or more partner(s) being underaged, and others doing such dumb but clearly non-dangerous things as mooning or urinating in public.
From an editorial at The Detroit News:
The Michigan Senate has adopted necessary reforms making Michigan's sex offender registry less brutal and stigmatizing to teenagers. The reforms ought to be quickly adopted by the state House.
We have long argued that the state's sex offender registry is too all-inclusive and damaging to the life chances of teenagers engaged in consensual sexual experimentation.
Currently, all those are placed on the list must remain on it for 25 years. This includes youths who have been convicted of statutory rape after engaging in consensual sex with an underage partner. The age of consent is 16.
A 17-year-old who has intercourse with his 15-year-old girlfriend, if convicted of statutory rape, in which consent is not at issue, can now find himself on a list with rapists and child molesters.
The Legislation adopted by the Senate would prevent such teens from being listed, as long as there is no more than four years between the ages of those engaged in consensual sexual activity and neither of the partners is younger than 13 years of age.
The legislation does not legalize underage sex; the age of consent remains at 16. And those convicted of statutory rape would still have to be on a police list for a period of time. Underage sex, after all, remains a bad idea.
The sponsor of the bills is Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, who noted that federal legislation has spurred this move to change state law.
The federal Adam Walsh Act requires with public sex offender lists to have a tiered process, in which people convicted of lesser, non-assaultive offenses would not be on the public list and could petition to have their names removed from the police list after 10 years.
More serious offenders would be on the public list for 25 years and have to report their whereabouts to the police twice a year.
Finally, we have one state legislature willing to stand up against this long-enduring travesty of justice. Punish the kids all you want for engaging in “inappropriate” behavior (though I personally believe they should be allowed to experiment as much as they please, so long as they’re firmly instructed to use protection), but to include them in a public registry in company with rapists, child molesters and other actual sexual criminals, and thereby impose upon them the sort of social stigma and ostracism reserved for the less desirable denizens of society, is cruel and unfair in the extreme. The same applies to mooners, streakers, public urinators and others who commit such ill-advised but otherwise utterly harmless acts.
The fact that this is happening at all is a momentous event, and the added fact that it appears to be passing with bipartisan support – and with nobody going demagogic over it, no less – is pretty much a miracle. I’m really looking forward to seeing these new regulations implemented and enforced appropriately. All that’s left now is for other states to follow suit and perhaps finally end the silent scourge of moralizing against benign developmental behavior and otherwise non-dangerous acts through counter-productive legislation that all too often ends up ruining the very lives it was intended to protect.