It is now official. Brad Henry, the governor of Oklahoma, has signed a new scarlet letter measure, Senate Bill 35 into law. Under the new legislation, which takes effect on the first of November this year, will require the driving licences of registered sex offenders to bear the text ‘Sex Offender’. Within one hundred eighty days of the law coming into effect, all sex offenders in the state will be required to surrender their existing licence and receive a new one. This way, everybody who might need the bearer to identify himself will know that he is on the sex offender registry. If the affected person wishes to apply for a job, apply for housing, open a bank account, write a cheque, apply for a loan or credit card, purchase alcohol, rent a car, check in to a hotel, deal with the government, travel by air or any of a myriad other things, he will, in effect, have to inform the people that he is dealing with that he is a registered sex offender. Many people will say that this is a good thing. But is it really?
I had a good long look at the text for this Draconian measure and there was no clause anywhere that prohibited discrimination against a person because of his status as a sex offender. There is no similar law on the books anywhere else in Oklahoma law. We must conclude, then, that it is now open season to discriminate against sex offenders in the state of Oklahoma. A shopkeeper might refuse to sell merchandise to a sex offender. A motel might refuse him a room. Prospective employers might decide not to hire him and landlords migh refuse to allow him to live in their properties. A bank might refuse him a loan. Bureaucrats might become less helpful. To add it all up, it could well mean a life of endless frustration for somebody whose crime may not have even been violent. Somebody who did something foolish as a juvenile might be forced to wear this scarlet letter for the rest of his life.
This new law, along with the already Draconian Oklahoma Sex Offenders Registration Act may make life so difficult for sex offenders that they might make one of two choices. Firstly, they might choose the path of civil disobedience by refusing to get a new licence and refusing to inform the police of their address. In fact, this is already taking place. Law enforcement agencies throughout the state are reporting a decline in registrations. Furthermore, they are reporting that some people, after being told multiple times that their chosen residences are off limits to them, stop coming back. Secondly, of course, a sex offender might decide to move to a different state where registration requirements are not so stringent. Actually, there is a third choice as well. A person might become so frustrated, alienated and isolated from society that he might decide to lash out at that society. He might actually do a lot of harm. Is this ostracism really what we want? Will it really provide the protection that its proponents claim that it will? Not likely. If anything, it will do much more damage than good.