Sex Offender Stigma 1: Should One Label Fit All?

Northland Registered Sex Offender Speaks Out

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There are registered sex offenders living in the Northland, have served time and are now labeled for life – and rightfully so, a majority of society might say.

But should all levels of sex crimes be treated equally?

For example: raping a child versus exposing one’s self in public?

How about an 18-year-old’s sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl?

A Northland registered sex offender does not think so, and neither does a longtime Duluth sex psychologist.

FOX 21’s Dan Hanger brings you an eye-opening, three-part special report: Sex Offender Stigma.

They pick on the most vulnerable people in society — and that occurs both the adult victims and child victims,” said Gary Bjorklund, the head of the criminal division for the St. Louis County Attorney’s Office.

And when it comes to sex offenders, they don’t discriminate.

“They’re very outgoing. They’re very manipulative. They’re good sales type people,” Bjorklund explained.

Right now, more than 800,000 registered sex offenders live across America – in all 50 states, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Kids.
Minnesota has more than 17,000 registered, while Wisconsin has more than 23,000.

“It goes from the … non-consensual touching outside the clothing to full violent rapes with weapons and multiple people involved,” said Bjorklund, who has more than 30 years of experience in the court room.

“Our main goal is to hold offenders accountable, make sure that justice is done in every case,” Bjorklund said.

And like many convicted criminals, a sentence is served and an inmate is released with a goal of re-entering society a better person.
   “There are a lot of other sex offenders living in the community that have done their time and they are low risk to reoffend,” Bjorklund said.

“I think one of the biggest questions we get is why here, why in my backyard or why in my neighborhood,” explained Matt Markon, deputy chief at the Superior Police Department.

Markon handles the community notifications you see on the news for Level III sex offenders – the most likely to reoffend.

“I think the big thing is people shouldn’t be afraid of who is living near them, but they should be informed,” Markon said.

Markon works closely with state authorities to perform bi-annual face to face check-ins with officers.
He says, overall, there have not been huge issues.

“It’s not the stranger danger that makes the very big headlines. It’s someone who they know — usually a family member or a close friend or a neighbor,” Markon said. 

“I committed a sex offense that brought a lot of pain to my family and the person I offended against,” a registered sex offender, who we are choosing to name as “John Smith” in this story.

“I don’t want people to feel bad for me. I don’t want people to feel bad for other sex offenders,” Smith said.

But Smith says he does want to share a perspective from someone who has served time, gotten intense treatment, but still can’t seem to start his life over because of what he believes is society’s one-size fits all label for sex offenders.

“I’m a sex offender and I know there’s people who’ve murdered people who get out into society and who are then able to go on with their lives,” Smith explained.

“You ended somebody else’s life, but I as someone who has committed a sex offense — I’m worse than that,” Smith continued.

Wednesday night on FOX 21 News at 9, Smith will talk treatment, the wide spectrum of sex offenses and what he believes are society’s barriers from becoming a productive member of society again.

You’ll hear from one of the region’s leaders in treating sexual offenders.

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