Being on the register makes it near impossible to imagine where I’ll be in the future, it affects every choice I will make and not just mine but people I want to stay in my life. I can’t see myself having a girlfriend, who would want to be someone who is a registered sex offender? I can’t see myself being a father. Who would want their kids to grow up to find out their dad was or is a registered sex offender? I can’t see what career I’ll be in, who would hire a registered sex offender? How many jobs can I not do at all because of the register?
Those who find themselves on the Sex Offenders Register find themselves continuing to pay a price long after they have completed the punishment for the crime they committed. The harsh and controlling requirements of the register influence the way that they live and the sort of decisions they are able to make about the future. For those who find themselves on the register for consensual sexual activity with a young person, that happened when they themselves were very young, they wonder whether they can even have a future.
On the 1st of March 2018 the law in the Sex Offenders Registration Act 2004 changed to allow certain people to apply to be exempt from the requirements of the Act. What this would allow is someone to be taken off the register of sex offenders.
Recently, I went to Court in order to make my first application of that kind, on behalf of a young client.
The exemption order is only available in very narrow circumstances. The person has to be 18 or 19 at the time of the offence, and the victim has to be older than 14. The Court has to be satisfied that the person represents no risk or a low risk to the sexual safety of the community.
The exemption process was designed to allow young people who had found themselves on the register because of consensual sexual activity with persons close in age to them, but below the legal age of consent, to be removed from the register.
My client was the perfect candidate for the order. He was sentenced for a consensual sexual encounter with a 15 year old girl that occurred when he was 18. When he was interviewed by the police it was obvious that he did not even know that the legal age of consent was 16. He had never before done anything wrong and has not committed any other offences since.
My client has been on the register for the last two years. The experience has had a terrible psychological impact on him.
In his own words:
Being on the register has changed my life completely, It has brought me continuous stress and anxiety, knowing it’s hanging over my shoulders.
I am struggling to live, I don’t know how I can even live a life worth living with this register staining my name and my life. I love my family more than anything in my life, and I don’t even see them that often because I’m ashamed of the register, it makes life miserable knowing I have to tell police whenever I visit my cousins, nephews, family members who are children.
The register always makes me feel life is unfair, cruel, and hard thing. It makes it so difficult to see and embrace the good things in life. It has broken me time and time again. Yes I am stronger now because of it, but I will never be the same again because of being of the sex offender register.
As part of the application new risk assessments were carried out by Corrections and Victoria Police. Predictably they assessed my client as a low risk of re-offending. All the relevant material was filed with the Court. In the end the police did not oppose the application to take my client off the register.
This morning my client and his parents arrived ready to go to Court. They were anxious about what the result would be, even though I advised them that in all likelihood the order would be granted. They were anxious and withdrawn because they were afraid to let their hopes get too high. My client didn’t think he could deal with the disappointment if he got his hopes up.
At Court the Judge gladly granted the order. Rightly, he recognised that this power was introduced because of cases like my client’s. My client and his parents were all in tears. This moment meant so much to them. In my client’s eyes, he was being given his future back.
Judges always should have been given the discretion they now have not to put certain people on the register. They are the ones who are given all of the information and best placed to make such decisions. In our case, had the judge had this power two years ago my client never would have been placed on the register at all.