This week's cover story in The Stranger is a portrait of a sex offender living on the Olympic Peninsula. Using his story, it examines issues related to sex offender registration requirements generally. Eli Sanders, The Offender: The Life and Letters of Jefferson County's Only Level 3 Sex Criminal, Stranger, March 27, 2007.
Erik Mart's crimes are not the most alarming sex offenses -- he didn't abuse children, he did not have sex with the complainants [see update below], he didn't kill anyone. In 1991 he was convicted in California after a drunken incident when he went into his female apartement-mate's room and tried to have sex with her (but was thwarted by her kicks and screams). In 1997 he was convicted in Colorado after an incident (he was drunk again -- as he often was) when he used a key (he was an apartment manager) to enter a woman's apartment seeking sex (but was thwarted by her calling the police).
This record means that he is required to register as a sex offender. The sheriff in the county where he lives has classed him as a Level III offender -- that is, the most likely to reoffend. (I had not realized that it is local law enforcement that assigns a level to offenders who are required to register. One county could call someone a I or a II while another considers him a III. There is a rating tool to guide the decisionmaking.) The community notice about a Level III offender is greater than with others, so wherever he is, it is hard for him to keep a job and stable residence.
Sanders, the article's author, approached the profile with a critical eye and did not take Mart's version of events at face value. Thus, he reveals a harsher past than Mart does.
This observation about the effects of harsh sentencing and lifelong registration is striking:
Alisa Klein, spokeswoman for the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers, says some recent studies have shown reports of violent sex offenses declining in the U.S., and that some see that as validation of the punitive approach. But she emphasized that those studies focus only on reported sexual violence. "I think that we actually have not seen a decline at all," Klein told me. "I think that, in fact, the public policy that we've created over the last few decades has created a situation that pushes incidences of sexual violence underground, instead of motivating prevention and motivating reporting."(emphasis added).
She believes that people like Mart are increasingly reluctant to register. She also believes that victims of sex offenses are increasingly discouraged from reporting such crimes (and from seeking help) because the punishments are now so swift and harsh. This applies, she says, to the mother who notices her son engaging in potentially offensive behavior but is scared to seek help for fear of tagging him with a lifelong label, the wife who is unsure of whether her husband is abusing her children but fears involving child-welfare authorities because of their obligation to involve police in such situations, and the parents who know their child is engaged in a healthy relationship that crosses the borders of the age of consent (say, a 17-year-old dating a 15-year-old) but become fearful of the relationship's potential legal consequences if it ever goes sour.
Update (Nov. 17, 2008)
* In my original post, this phrase was "he didn't succeed in his attempted rapes." Mr. Mart wrote and asked that I change that. Here is his comment, which includes the news that he is working on a book:
My name is Erik Mart. You wrote about my case(s) on your Trial Advocacy site after The Stranger article was published last year (The Offender, March 2007).
While I appreciated your interest in my story, and generally felt your take was fair and accurate, there was one troubling exception. In part of your opening statement you wrote: "…he didn't succeed in his attempted rapes…."
I believe you were not aware of the fact that I was charged with both Attempted Rape and Intent to Rape (Orally) in the first case, and that both these charges were dismissed due to the absence of evidence. I can assure you that had I intended to rape or force my California roommate, this would have been evident in my pretrial examination (where we went over all this) and I would be in prison today. I was not charged with Rape or Attempted Rape in the second trespass. These are important legal points which Mr. Sanders chose not to include in his story, among others.
I would not be concerned about this now, so long after the fact, if this erroneous statement didn't continue to appear on Internet searches associated with my name and legal cases. I feel, therefore, it is not unreasonable to request a small correction to this post. If you are determined the statement should remain (as your opinion) then please make that clear.
For a number of years now I have been committed to living a productive, happy and offense-free life. I am clean and sober, running a landscaping business full-time, building my own home, and I am very active in my community. I have written for sexoffenderissues.org and Z Legal Times: http://zlegaltimes.blogspot.com/ and I am now compiling my legal and social odyssey in a memoir called MonsterMart: How I Joined America's Most Unwanted, which has received praise from a former Simon & Schuster editor as well as a recent offer of representation from a literary agent. I also have a new blog http://monstermartorg.blogspot.com/ which you or your readers may find of interest, where I am posting information about my cases, my status, and news related to sex offender crimes, laws, punishments etc.