Since the passage of legislation such as Megan's Law and the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act in the mid-1990's, all fifty states have adopted some form of a sex offender registration law as a means to protect children from pedophiles. Such laws require convicted sex offenders to register with local law enforcement every time they change their address. But in Georgia, anyone convicted of kidnapping or false imprisonment of a minor, regardless of whether or not any sexual contact ever occurred, must be placed on the sex offender list.
Take Darnelle Harvey for example. At the age of 17, Harvey robbed a Georgia Dairy Queen. In the process he ordered a 16-year-old patron to lay on the ground; this netted Harvey a false imprisonment of a minor conviction, landing him on the state sex offender registry. Harvey is now 36 and told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he's tired of being labeled a lowly sex offender instead of average Joe criminal.
"I'm no saint, I know that," Harvey told the Journal-Constitution. "What I did was bad, stupid, and I spent years in prison regretting it every day. But I'm not a sex offender."
Harvey recently had to quit a steady job as a handyman at a Georgia ranch, but not because he couldn't handle the work or he was incompetent at his job. The ranch Harvey worked at hosted parties attended by school groups and in Georgie, registered sex offenders are prohibited from working at businesses that cater to children. The state felt that Harvey, who has never been accused or convicted of any type of sex crime, posed a sexual threat to the children. Little did they know it was the ice cream they should be worried about.
Some lawmakers in the Peach State sympathize with Harvey's situation.
"We need to concentrate solely on those who really are sex offenders so we know where they are to keep them away from children," State Senator Seth Harp told the Journal-Constitution. Harp, who sponsored SB-157, has been trying to reform the state's sex offender laws to do something fairly radical -- keep track of sex offenders -- not armed robbers, not burglars, but actual sex offenders.
Ever since the Adam Walsh case gripped the nation almost 3 decades ago, cases of missing or abused children have become something of a morbid national obsession. Kids like Jon Benet Ramsey or Lisa Steinberg became household names for all the wrong reasons, and the public outrage was understandable. For every situation there is an acceptable reaction, and after much debate the vast majority of the American public decided sex offender registries were an acceptable reaction to the threat of these crimes. Labeling anyone who committed a crime where a child was either directly or indirectly involved a sex offender is not only an overreaction, it's also a monumental waste of state resources, as that person must be tracked the rest of their lives. Darnelle Harvey is no more a sex offender than Bernie Madoff is a murderer (one victim committed suicide after learning he lost $1.5 billion from a hedge fund he managed).
What Darnelle Harvey did nearly two decades ago was wrong, but it had nothing to do with any sort of sexual perversion. Being tough on crime is one thing, requiring people to register as something they are not at a public cost is quite another. That's best left to the politicians.
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