The words on the email burned through my computer screen: “I’ve lost more conventions today. My business will not survive this and I don’t know if I will find a way to pay my bills. I have no choice but to try, though. To be honest, if it wasn’t for the fact that I have a woman that loves me, I would probably have ended my life today. Her love is keeping me going.”
I first became acquainted with Daniel last year. In desperation, he contacted NARSOL – Natl. Assc. for Rational Sexual Offense Laws — through our website when he, a person on the Virginia Sex Offender Registry, became the victim of anonymous vigilante emails informing some of his most important clients of his registry status. His business is in total compliance with his conditions of registration, and, in spite of years of a law-abiding life and an excellent record as an honest, fair, and upright provider of a photo service at graphic novel and comic book conventions – which earned him the respect of every client he had — he lost many accounts due to the emails. They trusted him, his clients said, but they couldn’t afford the publicity.
There was nothing we could do, of course, but empathize and console, and I kept in touch with him. He held on to a few accounts and managed to add a few, and he was slowly, painstakingly rebuilding his business. In the few emails we exchanged over the past year, he was cautiously optimistic about the future.
Then on April 10, Trae Dorn at a blog called Nerd & Tie saw fit to publish the entire story again, giving a “reminder,” he said, that a registered sex offender was actually daring to run a business and earn a living. He named conventions that had employed Daniel. He gave Daniel’s full name and the name of his company, and he suggested that anyone who hired him was putting their clientele at risk of harm, a claim for which there is not a scintilla of evidence and is in fact contradicted by his former clients and the courts. Dorn even included a link to Daniel’s entry on the sex offender registry, something that the original, anonymous, vigilante e-mailer had also done.
Within hours, Daniel had received cancellation notices from virtually all of the accounts he had left. He faces bankruptcy; he is already dealing with disgrace and, even worse to him, the indignation of not being able to meet his obligations or to support himself.
As the email quoted above shows, he is desperate to the point of ending his life.
I was filled with equal parts fury and incomprehension. Why would anyone do such a thing? Could anyone actually believe that a person who has lost everything and is jobless, hopeless, quite possibly homeless, would be less of a potential danger and more of an asset to society than a person who operated a thriving business, had strong, solid connections to his community, and prided himself on his reputation?
The next day, Daniel sent me this: “And two more conventions have dropped me just today. I have no more work for the rest of this month and only one convention toward the end of next month. Even so, the rest of the conventions I have will probably drop me, too. It’s just a matter of time now.”
And then later the same day, he received this email message sent to him through his company’s website contact form: “just give up already Pedo bear” with a link to his public registration entry. Ah, vigilantes — they just don’t stop.
Our justice system demands two things from those who err. First, it exacts punishment. Secondly, it expects rehabilitation. Rehabilitation is measured by a turning from the errant behavior and exhibiting behaviors that benefit society – behaviors such as committing no more offenses, obtaining gainful employment, building healthy connections and relationships, and maintaining a good character.
Daniel did all of those things. Every single one. And then, in no more time than it took some vicious, cruel person to compose an email and send it, in no more time than it took a thoughtless, malicious, arrogant blogster to write and put up a gratuitous post – everything that Daniel did was meaningless. His years of work and effort, his reliability and his spotless reputation, were wiped out, destroyed, with a single sentence: “He’s on the sex offender registry.”
Daniel and NARSOL are being interviewed as part of an NPR special series about the consequence of our society’s current approach toward the management of those convicted of sexual offenses. We will have follow-up posts as they are needed.