DEAR ABBY: As a licensed psychotherapist who has worked with both victims and perpetrators of sexual abuse over the past 25 years, I would like to respond to "Stunned in the City" (Jan. 22), who found her co-worker's name on a website for registered sex offenders.
Registered sex offenders have been convicted and incarcerated for their crimes as well as serving a probationary period upon release. However, unlike other criminal offenses, they never finish "serving their time" -- both in the areas of WHERE they can live and HOW they can live (employment). They continue to serve a sentence that can never be completed and are stigmatized for the rest of their lives.
The reason for this is because of a "one-size-fits-all" approach to punishment, be it a one-time offender or a serial rapist. Most sexual abusers are either members of the family or a close family friend, and most are never reported. Only a small percentage of registered offenders pose a danger and should be under surveillance. The others should be allowed a second chance to continue with their lives without undue harassment.
If "Stunned" reports her co-worker to her employer, she will jeopardize his livelihood, which he needs to redeem his life. -- ALREADY PAID HIS DEBT
DEAR A.P.H.D.: I received mail from mental health professionals, employers, parents and people who are on the sex offenders' list regarding "Stunned's" letter. All of them stated that the range of crimes that can add someone to the list is very broad. The list is no more than a STARTING point for people to begin their own research into public records before telling an employer or another person. Read on:
DEAR ABBY: For more than 20 years I have employed a man who is a convicted sex offender. He paid his debt to society for having sex with a minor when he was in his 20s. It will haunt him for the rest of his life.
The pictures you see online are recent because the authorities require updated photos yearly. I empathize with him because I dated a 15-year-old when I was 19 -- with her parents' approval -- but today it could mean jail time and a ruined life.
There is no demarcation between being dumb and being truly criminal, so everyone is labeled the same. I suggest that we all stay aware of those labeled sexual predators, but approach the sexual offenders case-by-case. -- JUSTICE FOR ALL
DEAR ABBY: Inclusion on the registry can be the result of something that would not pose a danger to anyone -- urinating in public, or having sex with a younger girlfriend when you yourself are a minor.
If you see a neighbor or co-worker on such a list, no one should jump to conclusions before doing more research about the actual offense. It may be nothing to worry about at all, or it might be something to react to. But you won't know until you find out more than a simple listing. -- REBECCA IN SAN DIEGO