During the years preceding the civil war, a netword of abolitionists developed in the United States. These folks helped spirit African-Americans to slavery by forming an underground railroad. It appears that something similar is taking place today, although the goal is far different.
Inclusion on a list of sex offenders is intended to serve as a means of making the unsuspecting public aware of the risk of harm in their neighborhood. The theory goes something like this: If a violent sex offenders moves next door, a person should know about it so that they can avoid the risk of vicitimization. We have a few isolated acts of horrible violence to thank for these laws.
The problem with such laws is that these laws are undiscriminating. We fail to distinguish the dangerous from the benign. It is far too easy to be make your way onto one of these lists. It is almost impossible to have your name removed. The courts, frankly, fail to take responsibility for the havoc these lists cause: registration, we are told, is not punishment.
Tell that to a person on the list who is shunned by neighbors, denied employment and treated as a social pariah. Registration is social damnation, and it often comes with other conditions, too. Sex offenders are often forbidden to live near or with other children. Failing to register, or failing to abide by the conditional liberty they enjoy, can result in fresh prosecution and significant prison.
It is no suprise, then, that something like an underground railroad is emerging in the United States. Ordinary citizens opposed to the madness of treating all sex offenders alike are opening their homes and hearts to those stigmatized, knowing full well that in so doing the sex offender breaks the law. Offenders drop off the radar to live with family and friends who assess them to be no threat at all.
Expect fresh prosecutions for aiding and abetting a felony as law enforcement officers discover these networks. Unforunately, there really is no where to send these poor souls for freedom. At least not in the United States. We're on another moralistic toot that is more hypocritical than ever: We use desire to market everything, but once desire overs steps a boundary, whether in a manner that causes harm or not, we brand the offender.
Lawmakers will soon have a choice. Will they create a separate crime: harboring a sex offender, and require that those found guilty also register by some theory of guilt by association? Or will lawmakers realize that when it comes to justice, one size does not fit all? I am not betting on restraint, at least not yet.
Perhaps when some politicians son is branded for life and treated like a pariah things will change. We're not there yet, so underground shelters will continue to emerge.