I found the FAC (Florida Action Committee) after Jace was convicted over a year ago now. I felt comforted that there were organizations fighting for the rights of persons required to register. I’ve enjoyed reading their articles and have donated to their causes. I’ve volunteered to assist them with projects in the past.
While I have supported this organization, I didn’t feel as if my situation was embraced by them. I feel that way a lot when reaching out to different organizations like Narsol, Washington Voices, WAR, etc. I feel we are a part of them, yet different. Kinda like a ‘red headed stepchild’.
Yesterday I read an article from FAC that was, well, kinda an apology.
Here it is:
Dear Members and Advocates:
When I first became involved with FAC, I fielded a lot of calls and emails from people caught up in “sex offender stings”. These “stings” are painted by law enforcement as operations seeking to catch adults trolling the internet for children to have sex with. Like most of the general public who didn’t know better, I believed these were actually dangerous, predatory people who were actively seeking out children. The people that were contacting us, though, told a different story. Many were on adult personals sites and dating apps looking for other adults. They started speaking with an adult, chats and emails are flowing, conversations become sexual and then at some point in the online relationship, out of nowhere, a minor gets thrown into the mix.
I probably owe an apology to the first few people I communicated with about these stings. When they told me they had absolutely no intention of soliciting a minor – the police pulled a bait and switch on them, I thought they were lying. Sure there are some dangerous predators out there, but as I spoke to more and more people and consistently kept hearing similar experiences from unrelated people, I realized something was very amiss.
Contrary to the scare stories that police were telling, these people were not out trolling the internet for children. These people were on adult classifieds or dating apps which require users to be over 18. They were not seeking out minors at all, nor was there an expectation they would find them on these adults-only apps. In most cases, it was the law enforcement officer (pretending to be a minor) who introduced the fictitious minor and induced the person into what they had no inclination to do in the first place. Then there are the more egregious cases, where the entire sexual conversation takes place while the person still thinks they are talking to an adult and when it comes to the threat of prosecution, the chats get taken out of context.
My next area of disbelief was why, under these circumstances, anyone would plead guilty to this horrible crime. Again, as I spoke to more and more people and consistently kept hearing similar experiences from unrelated people, I got my answer. The defendants were threatened with very long prison sentences unless they took a plea. Some were not given bond or couldn’t afford it, and after months of waiting through pre-trial continuances would take anything just to get out of jail. Most had no idea about the consequences of being registered as a sex offender at the time.
Discovering the truth about these stings taught me a couple lessons. First, sadly, is that you can’t always trust the police. I see Volusia County Sheriff, Mike Chitwood, making headlines for himself in a press conference today over “Operation Deviant Desire” and last month over “Operation Neptune” and have to wonder who is out there solving actual crimes if this guy is so busy manufacturing them. (Oh… and if anyone is wondering about Chitwood’s agenda, perhaps its that he announced a re-election bid a few months ago).
The second lesson I learned was that I shouldn’t pass judgement on anyone. There’s always more to a story and more to a person than this label offers. Whether we’re the ones affected, have a loved one who is, or even if someone randomly forwarded this email to you and you are learning about the Florida Action Committee for the first time, hopefully your eyes have been opened to a tremendous injustice and you’ll join our fight!
The Florida Action Committee