I have a friend, we’ll call him Rick, who made a terrible mistake when he was 24.
He solicited a prostitute, had consensual sex with her, then got in a fight with her over the price and beat her up. She then accused him of rape.
He deserved to go to jail for beating her up. He knew that. So when his court-appointed lawyer talked him into copping a plea, Rick agreed. He thought he was pleading guilty to battery, but in fact he pleaded guilty to rape, and was sentenced to 45 years in prison.
After 20 years and a master’s degree earned behind bars, he was paroled. Being labeled a sex offender made it nearly impossible to get a job, but he finally found work as a tutor at a half-way house, met a wonderful woman with young sons, and married her.
They joined our church. Rick got involved in the community, and was a model citizen. He confessed his criminal past in public one morning, asked for forgiveness which was granted, and tried to move on. But the frustration of so many doors closed to a labeled sex offender grew.
Depressed one night over the wasted years of his life, he struck up a conversation with a woman at a bar who turned out to be an undercover cop. She accused him of soliciting. He claimed he only wanted to talk. It didn’t matter – he was back in prison without a trial or hearing. Parole officers can make that happen.
He paid a lawyer the little money he had, but the lawyer did nothing. Heroic efforts by two other women who had become family friends finally got him out after two years.
One day parole officers came to his wife and told her if she didn’t wave her right to a search warrant at any time, her husband would go back to prison, so she signed.
A few weeks later when Rick was at work, they showed up unannounced, ransacked the house, and found a pornographic video in the closet of one of his stepsons that Rick had no idea existed.
He was returned to prison without a trial or hearing, where he sits today – parole officers can do that. Rick is an educated man trying desperately to do good, convicted of rape though not a rapist, labeled a sex offender but posing no threat to anyone.
Sexual assault is a serious crime, and society must be protected, but there has to be a better way to distinguish the truly dangerous from the wrongly accused. And that decision shouldn’t be left to parole officers, or anyone else who behaves like a bully just because they have the power to do so.