The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil,
but because of those who look on and do nothing.

~~~ Albert Einstein

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Romeo set free

As passionate as I am against sex crimes, I have for a long time believed that while the sex offender registry is good in theory- there's a few places where it could be improved. Don't get me wrong, I believe we all should be warned when the rapist moves in next door, or the pedophile decides to make his home near our families. But- there's been this gray area... these Romeo cases where honestly- it wasn't a pedophile preying on a young girl, or a case where some teenage boy forced himself on an unwilling victim. No, there are the cases where two willing and wanting teenagers- no matter how misguided they were, made a choice to be together, landing one of them in jail.

I don't believe that a few years age difference between two fools who believe they are in love should end with one wearing a lifetime scarlet letter. Maybe it's because in my younger years I 'loved' someone a few years older than me, and because of that- I can see not only the silliness in my 'love' but the immaturity in my actions.

I know not everyone agrees, but seriously- a 18 year old with a 16 year old girlfriend shouldn't be our biggest concern, and putting them on the list with sexual deviants and serial predators only belittles the seriousness of the crimes committed against actual victims. Punish them if you must- but don't toss them in with people who groom children, people who are out to victimize others. Most of these Romeo's are barely adults themselves, and pose little real threat to anyone. Despite their lack of proper judgment.

All that being said- I must say that I'm happy to know that the new Romeo and Juliet type laws allowing registered sex offenders whose crimes really shouldn't have put them on the SOR list, are starting give these people a shot at being cast in a light other than being the town perv.

Take Joshua Tomlin, he was 19 when he had sex with his 15 year old girlfriend. He was charged, pleaded no contest and put on the sex offender registry. He's spent 10 years living his life as best he can, raising a family and attempting to make amends for the mistakes he made in the past. He is not a predator, not a pedophile, not a rapist- just a guy who once made the choice to have sex with a girl who he cared about, but who wasn't really old enough. Yes, I know- he could of waited until it was legal. Could have held off and saved himself a conviction, and the stigma of having to be labeled a sex offender. But he didn't. And he's paid for it ever since... well up until now.

So when he found out about a new law giving him a chance to have his name stricken from the state's registry of sex offenders, he planned to use his income tax return to get a lawyer.

Last week, after a court hearing in which state prosecutors agreed that he met all the criteria set out by the new law, Tomlin became the first person in Sarasota County to get his name removed from the state's registry, usually a lifelong stigma that follows convicted sex offenders.

He is the 20th person to be granted relief under the "Romeo and Juliet" law, intended to separate those convicted of certain teenage sexual activity from other sex offenders. There are more than 43,000 men and women registered as sex offenders or sexual predators in Florida.

Few sex offenders qualify to have their name removed from the registry under the new law. The victim in the case must be between 14 and 17, a willing participant in the sexual activity and no more than four years younger than the offender. The offense must be the only sex crime on the offender's record.

Look, I'm not saying that he should be awarded- or that anyone who violates the law should be, I'm just saying that sometimes teenagers have sex. It's not rape, it's not grooming- it's just sex. We can try as hard as possible to stop it, but it's going to happen. And we really need to sit back and decide whether it's more important to protect our children from pedophiles, our sisters from rapist etc, or if it's more important to punish a teenager for doing what teenagers do. I don't know about you- but I'd rather the real threats to our society be on the lists, and the love lorn teenagers be kept off it. We've got enough problems deciphering what the SORs are saying about the demented perverts on the list, we don't need to add to the trouble by putting people on there that shouldn't really be.