A House of Cards: The Impact of Concealable Stigmas on Registered Sex Offenders
Mingus, William E
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Using data collected from 30 face-to-face interviews with individuals who were, at the time, listed on the Illinois Sex Offender Registry, this study examines how individuals with a concealable (hidden) stigma navigate a daily existence interacting with others who know, others who do not know, and others who may or may not know about the individual’s stigmatized status of being listed on the registry. The experiences of those who were interviewed is contextualized by examining the socially-constructed nature of the category of “sex offender” as well as the social context of legislation, litigation, academic response, and advocacy organizations related to public sex offender registries. The interviews highlight the difficulties faced by those on the registry as they decide whether or not to disclose their status, and if so, to whom, when, where, and how. Various reasons for disclosure are discussed and juxtaposed to studies of other stigmatized groups. Next, the interview data reveal the obdurate persistence of the stigma of being on such a registry and how the stigma encroaches on nearly every aspect of an individual’s life. Finally, this study considers alternates to public shaming tools like public registries. These alternatives include restorative justice, law enforcement only registries, and Circles of Support and Accountability (COSAs).