Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=178523
Story Retrieval Date: 5/21/2013 6:48:15 AM CST
Courtesy of Justin Raxter
Justin Raxter is a 22-year-old college student. He plays guitar and writes and records his own music. He likes watching “The Office” and “Family Guy,” and will eat anything with bacon.
He is also a registered sex offender.
When he was 18, Raxter, of Loves Park, began dating a girl who was 15. The age difference of three years did not seem important at time. He’ll now spend three times as many years listed on the Illinois Sex Offender Registration.
It's a registry he said ruins people’s lives.
“I want to try to inform the public that not every sex offender is the same and not every sex offender should be treated the same,” Raxter said in a telephone interview.
Raxter said he has been unable to obtain employment since being charged with criminal sexual abuse, a misdemeanor in the state of Illinois for which he’s serving two years of probation. He also was charged with child pornography for photos and videos he had of the girl, charges that later were dropped, he said.
After they broke up and he was convicted at age 21, he had to register as a sex offender for 10 years. So, by the time Raxter gets off the registry, he’ll have spent about a third of his life with that label.
Amie Eipers, a licensed clinical social worker in Naperville who knows Raxter, and Catherine Wilson, a clinical psychologist in Chicago, have both worked with sex offenders.
“Society doesn’t want them to move forward,” Eipers said. “Society wants to punish them forever.”
“In any other crime, we’d call them an ex-offender,” Wilson said. “We don’t make murderers register.”
But while Sharmili Majmudar, executive director of Rape Victim Advocates in Chicago, acknowledges that the registry is not perfect, she said it serves a good purpose.
“What they did is illegal,” Majmudar said about newly turned adults having consensual sex with a minor. “People do want to know when someone has been convicted of a sexual offense in their community. While not a perfect tool, it certainly has provided some transparency around sex offenders.”
Raxter’s probation requires him to be employed or go to school. So Raxter takes classes at Rock Valley Community College.
But he’s not allowed to come in contact with anyone under the age of 18. Raxter said he was removed from an online course because a 17-year-old was in the class. And even though they were not physically meeting in the same classroom, it would have violated the terms of his probation.
Raxter also had to get a court order to see his nieces.
“Before I was convicted, my family would always throw huge dinners on the holiday,” Raxter said. “Unfortunately due to all the restrictions, such as no contact with children, we are no longer allowed to have most of the family over, and because of this holiday dinners haven't been the same since.”
Raxter used to play guitar in bands performing every weekend throughout the state and other parts of the Midwest. He also went to the movies so often that it was hard to even name a favorite. These are examples of things he can no longer do for fear that he would violate his probation.
“It is very hard to predict where a child may be present,” Raxter said.
Eipers, Kyle Cushing, a licensed clinical psychologist in Rockford, and Robin McGinnis, a social worker in Mundelein, all offer therapy to sex offenders. And all said there should be different labels for someone in Raxter’s situation.
“I think the biggest misconception is that once they hit that registry, they’re viewed as pedophiles,” Cushing said. “There’s a hysteria, a not-in-my-backyard philosophy. People need to be more educated about what the specific offense was.”
McGinnis said that the “once a sex offender, always a sex offender” label is not accurate.
“In young adults, male brains don’t mature developmentally until 25,” McGinnis said. “So, some engage in dumb, risk-taking behaviors.” But that does not mean that they will always be a sex offender, she said.
All three agree that therapy and counseling can be useful in treating sexual offenders.
And counseling is part of Raxter’s probation requirements, a service the state does not pay for.
“Right now, I just do the group stuff,” Raxter said. “I’m paying $20 per week for that, and one-one-on would be more like $100 per week.”
Raxter said group therapy has helped with his personal life, but that he does not always identify with the other people in the group.
“The age range isn’t the same,” Raxter said, and it is difficult to hear about a 50-year-old trying to have sex with a 15-year-old.
Raxter is getting A’s and B’s in his classes for the first time ever. He said being labeled as a sex offender has made him want to excel in other areas of his life.
He is working with Illinois Voices, a group that is trying to reform state and federal laws on sex offenders from the one-size-fits-all policies. Raxter has visited Springfield to talk to lawmakers about legislation to get those charged with his misdemeanor removed from the registry. A bill introduced last week by state Rep. Robert Pritchard, R-70th, would accomplish that.
Also, MTV is now filming Raxter for an episode of “True Life” about his problems as a registered sex offender.
“It's hard to think how different my life was just a couple years ago,” Raxter said. “I am somewhat starting to get used it, but I don't think being sex offender for a consensual relationship is something anyone should be getting used to.”