Society refers to those who have committed a sex offense as a sex offender: as if that person always has been and always will be an offender. If you stole a candy bar from a convenience store as a child, do you remain a thief forever? If you quit puffing Marlboros 10 years ago, are you still a smoker?
If you are in a traffic incident, should your driving privileges be revoked for the rest of your life?
Part of de-stigmatizing people who have committed a sexual offense is using accurate language. Persons who have plea bargained may be have executed no illicit acts. The legal bureaucracy sees in black and white. There is wide variation in seriousness of behavior among individuals, but it is never all there is to know about anyone who is a human being. And, in addition, those convicted of any offense become people who have examine their lives and decision making to an extent the average person will never do.
To understand the importance of labels, simply contemplate the psycho-social impact of a lifetime Scarlet Letter. Think about it not only with respect to a Registered Citizen but also to his or her children, brothers and sisters, husband or wife, parents.
We can refer to a person required to register rather than to a registered sex offender. We can refer to a sexual offense registry instead of a sex offender registry. We can also say: Jason is a Registered Citizen who has reformed–or who is now sober. Give it some thought.
Subtle changes in language can support reforming and reformed individuals who are building new, healthier self-perceptions. Would you want to be judged and labeled by the very worst thing you ever did? How can manufacturing stigma ever make us better individuals or a better society?