Currently in the works for Michigan, is one of the biggest and most controversial laws ever proposed by lawmakers. The child abuse registry is a searchable database including the name and personal information of every person ever convicted of child abuse in the state. A good idea, right? After all, as a parent, who wouldn’t want to have the opportunity to be sure of your children’s teachers, coaches and friend’s parents.
But what about those who were falsely accused? Individuals convicted because the jury allowed fear to cloud their judgment and now those people must live with the stigma of a lie for the rest of their lives? What would a registry of this nature do for them? Nothing good, that’s for certain. So this begs the question…is Michigan’s potential child abuse registry a good idea, or a bad one?
An editorial published in the Detroit News recently explained why this was a horrible idea. And they had some very interesting points. For example, one argument was that the sex offender registry here in Michigan has destroyed a number of people’s futures simply by not clarifying who is actually a sex offender. After all, a teenaged boy who has consensual sex with his teenaged girlfriend should not be labeled a sexual predator.
And nor should someone who got drunk and urinated against a tree in a public park. No one is saying that underaged teenaged sex and public urination are good things, but they shouldn’t be categorized in the same box as rape and molestation and child pornography.
Another concern addressed the fact that, in light of the registry, people may be less likely to report family members for fear of that person being placed on the registry. Placement on the registry could make it nearly impossible for someone to get a job in the future, or live without stigma for the rest of their life.
After all, that has certainly been the case for people who are on the state’s sex offender registry. They are forever labeled “perverts” and “predators”, denied any opportunity to rehabilitate themselves or pursue productive lives.
Because while the sex offender registry does provide a little information about the crime in question and which “tier” it falls into, most people don’t see that, and don’t care. They see someone’s name on the sex offender registry and all bets are off. And so someone who’s crime was nonviolent, or non-sexual (public urination), or simply the impetus of youth (consensual sex between teenaged partners), are punished for decades. Sometimes for life.
But it is hard not to sympathize with Erica Hammel, the mother of Wyatt, for whom the new law would be named. Hammel was convinced that her son was being abused by her ex’s new girlfriend, but had no way to prove it. Had she had a searchable database available to her where she could have discovered the woman’s multiple prior child abuse convictions, she could have proven her suspicions were true. And saved her son a lifetime of struggle.
Wyatt sustained a permanent brain injury at the hands of his father’s girlfriend, which has left him facing innumerable brain surgeries and years of extensive therapy. One can hardly blame her for her anger and heartbreak. But is a child abuse registry going to solve the problem? We’re not so sure. What do you think?