"This is not happening, this is not happening, this is not happening," Christine Smith recalls thinking after seeing her son led out of a court room in handcuffs, having just been sentenced to 18 months in prison and one year of probation after pleading guilty to possession of child pornography. Her son would also be required to register as a sex offender once released from prison for the sex offenses.
As a mother, she felt helpless. Her 21-year-old son was facing a lifetime requirement of sex offender registration. How would he find a job when he got out of prison? Where would he, legally, be allowed to live? Would he ever date? Who would marry and start a family with a convicted sex offender? Could he legally ever have a family of his own?
As the mother of a convicted sex offender, she also bears part of her son's burden. She wonders if there will ever be a day when he won't be considered to belong in the same category as rapists and child molesters. A sex crime conviction can divide and devastate families, can destroy marriages and friendships and can serve to alienate the convicted person for life.
There are almost 750,000 registered sex offenders in the United States. Some have the support of family, some do not. The existence of a support system - whether family or friends - may be one of the most effective pieces of rehabilitating a convicted sex offender and reducing the likelihood of reoffending.
"Isolation can be a breeding ground for depression and deviancy," according to Nancy Irwin, a psychotherapist and sex offender treatment professional.
Mothers of convicted sex offenders are turning to online support groups to learn ways to cope with the overnight change that a child pornography conviction can cause to a family. Many are also becoming activists, speaking out against what seems to them like a harsh penalty. There is another side to the crackdown on penalties for sex offenses.
"Yes, what my son did was bad. Yes, he should be punished. But he doesn't need to be punished for the rest of his life," noted the mother of a 20-year-old man who served 10 months for downloading child pornography and faces another 15 as a registered sex offender.
Source: CNN.com, "Mothers of sex offenders share responsibility, burden of label," Emanuella Grinberg, May 12, 2012