Sex Offender Sues Va. to Keep Name off Web

By Theresa Vargas
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 11, 2006

John Doe is 31 years old, received degrees in philosophy and psychology from the University of Mary Washington and is an aquatics coach in the Washington area.

He does not want you to know his name or that when he was about 18 he was convicted of having sex with his 14-year-old sister. The sex started, police said, when she was in second grade.

Now that Virginia's online sex offender registry has been expanded to include all sex offenders -- not just those considered violent -- people such as Doe are being told that they must register or face arrest. That means that their names, photos and professions will be posted on the Internet amid the rapists and child molesters already there. Hidden under the cloak of a pseudonym, Doe is taking the fight to court.

Today, Doe's attorney will stand on one side of a Prince William County courtroom, asking a judge to allow him to remain anonymous and safe from arrest. On the other, attorneys for the defendants -- the county and the state -- will argue that the public has a right to know who Doe is and where he lives and works. And that he was convicted of incest, a misdemeanor.

"The whole purpose of the registry is public notification and tracking," said Sandra Sylvester, a Prince William prosecutor. "From our point of view, it's not the ones we know about, the ones who are compliant, that worry us. It's the ones we don't know."

Although the registry requirements changed in 2003 to include incest, it wasn't until this year that the information was to be made public online. In July, Doe filed suit.

"Any requirement for Mr. Doe to register as a sex offender now, more than eleven years after his conviction, would not serve the community in the fashion that the legislators intended," his attorney, Melinda VanLowe, argued in court papers. "The registry would severely damage Mr. Doe's ability to maintain or gain employment, his standing in the community and general livelihood, causing irreparable injury that cannot be compensated by monetary damages." VanLowe would not comment further.

On the registry's Web site is this disclosure: "Effective July 1, 2006, this website will contain information on all sex offenders required to be registered in the Commonwealth, both classifications of offenders, the violent sexual offender and the sexual offender."

County and state officials said they predict that many more nonviolent offenders will challenge the stricter regulation.

Tucker Martin, a spokesman for the attorney general's office, said it is unfortunate that a registry is needed. But with the high recidivism rate among sex offenders, he said, awareness is a community's best protection.

"The question becomes: Do you let the feelings of a convicted sex offender outweigh the safety of Virginia citizens?" Martin said. "Law enforcement must work in the world we live in, not in the world that we wish we had."

Since July, Virginia State Police have added the names of about 2,800 nonviolent sex offenders to the online database, Lt. Thomas W. Turner said.

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