Editorial: Reject short-sighted child abuse list bills
Michigan made a big mistake in adopting a broad sex offender registry, one that can’t distinguish between a bona fide predator and a teenager who had consensual relations with his girlfriend. It should not compound that error by adopting a similar permanent list of those convicted of child abuse.
A three-bill package in the state House establishing a child abuse registry might be appealing on the surface. But supporters haven’t done their homework or they’d see the myriad unintentional consequences of the legislation.
The bills have been dubbed Wyatt’s Law in honor of St. Clair Shores resident Erica Hammel’s son, Wyatt, who, at age 1, suffered severe brain injuries after he was shaken by his father’s then-girlfriend. It’s a tragic case. The boy was hospitalized for seven weeks in 2013 with temporary blindness, brain swelling, skull fractures and fractured ribs. Today, Wyatt’s speech remains delayed, he wears braces on his legs and has a shunt in his brain.
It’s understandable that his mother is such a strong supporter of the registry.
But lawmakers need to take a step back, remove the emotion and look deeper into the legislation.
The American Civil Liberties Union opposes it on legitimate grounds. Miriam J. Aukerman, a spokeswoman for the ACLU, says the top concern is that instead of protecting children, in some cases it will put them in greater danger. She says parents will be less likely to report a spouse or family member suspected of abusing their child because they know the individual would be placed on the registry.
The stigma of the registry will continue for five or 10 years, depending upon the seriousness of the crime. During that time, individuals may find it hard to get work, and will be severely limited in interactions with children.
This amounts to perpetual punishment.
The child abuse registry will be modeled after the state’s sexual offender registry. That’s a bad example to follow. The registry has not made society safer, but it has made it harder for those on the list to rehabilitate and become productive members of their communities.
In some respects, the registry would be redundant. The Michigan State Police already maintains a list of people who have been convicted of child abuse crimes. The list is available to employers such as child care providers who wish to check out a prospective staff member. Also, people researching for a potential babysitter or an individual concerned about a new significant other may contact the MSP.
It would be wonderful if a registry, either of sexual offenders or child abusers, could enhance public safety. But that has not been the experience in Michigan. And that alone is reason not to duplicate an ineffective policy.