Why Are So Many Black Women Being Forced to Register as Sex Offenders?

February 17, 2011

According to the Center for Constitutional Rights, in Louisiana’s Orleans Parish “seventy-five percent of the people registered as sex offenders for solicitation of a crime against nature (SCAN) conviction are women, and 80 percent of them are African American.” What’s SCAN, and why is it putting so many Black women on the sex offender registry?

Louisiana’s SCAN statute increases existing penalties on soliciting oral or anal sex in exchange for money, and classifies them as a serious sex crime. As a result, a SCAN conviction forces women to register as sex offenders, putting those women at risk for the loss of their jobs, children, and homes, as well as other forms of harassment and violence. Additionally, the people most likely to be charged under the SCAN statute are women engaged in survival sex and street economies — low income women, women of color, and transgender women.

Women With A Vision, the New Orleans based advocates for women’s reproductive and sexual health and justice and a recent Third Wave grant partner, have been working to educate the public about the effects of SCAN on their communities:

“Since our founding in 1991, Women With A Vision has been standing with the women of New Orleans no questions asked. We’ve been let into worlds that few others see, and trusted with stories that traditional public health workers rarely, if ever, hear. But little could have prepared us for that day when ‘J’ arrived at one of our Our Space events. Barely saying hello, she pulled out her photo I.D. card, which read ‘SEX OFFENDER’ in block red letters. She is only 23 years old, and one month clean from a heroin addiction; the ‘sex offender’ label will remain on her ID until she turns 48.” - Women With A Vision, “No Justice

This week, supported by Women With A Vision and their “No Justice” campaign, the Center for Constitutional Rights has filed a Federal civil rights suit challenging the constitutionality of the SCAN statute. Women With A Vision’s executive director, Deon Haywood, said in support of this suit:

“I work with the people directly affected by this statute every day: the toll it takes is devastating. Many of these women are survivors of rape and domestic violence themselves, many have struggled with addiction and poverty, yet they are being treated as predators.What this law does is completely disconnect them from our community and from what remains of a social safety net, making it impossible for them to recognize and develop their goals and dreams.”

We’ll be following the developments in this case closely and letting you know ways you can support Women With A Vision to protect the rights and freedom of low-income women, women of color, and transgender women. Their policy brief “Just A Talking Crime” was released this week.

Posted in: Blog, Criminalization, Women With a Vision

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  1. Is Louisanna still FRANCE? This is nothing less than a witch hunt.

    Comment by phyllis love — February 18, 2011 @ 9:04 pm

  2. This is nothing less than a witch hunt. I thought Louisana became a state many years ago. It’s not France anymore people! Have you people heard of the “Louisana Purchase?” This makes me want to vomit. It’s so WRONG. As IF life isn’t hard enough for these women, ALL, but especially trans women. Come on CHRISTIANS….and you know you are! Have you heard of human dignity ???

    Comment by phyllis love — February 18, 2011 @ 9:16 pm

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  4. For many many years, men have been forced to register as sex offenders, for the most trivial of reasons. Yet feminists never bothered to complain.

    Now black women are getting some of the same treatment, and suddenly it’s a scandal. Welcome to equality, girls!

    Comment by Evil Pundit — February 22, 2011 @ 4:03 am

  5. Now you care. . . now that its women who are getting screwed by this messed up law that was forced down our throats by feminists.

    Abolish the registry. It protects no one.

    Comment by Anon — February 22, 2011 @ 5:17 am

  6. Ostensibly the Sex Offender laws were to protect children from predatory adults. Looks like a case of unintended consequences…or “just as planned.”

    I don’t understand. Should we discourage prostitution with punitive measures, or encourage prostitution under survival economies so that these women can make a living?

    Comment by RS — February 22, 2011 @ 6:54 pm

  7. Seems pretty logical to me that someone convicted of a sex crime (prostitution in this case) would be classified as a sex offender. I don’t see the problem.

    Comment by Reason — February 22, 2011 @ 8:53 pm

  8. While I think I have to agree in theory that women who perform sex acts for money should probably not be placed on the same offender list as rapists and pedos, are they not in the end still engaged in sex crimes? Do their actions not serve to debase women further? Are they not contributing to the decline of the communities around them? These same women are causing neighborhoods to become unsafe for children and they perpetuate the “whore” mentaility in men. Perhaps women selling deviant acts in public to anyone who crosses their path including children (my own experience in Metairie, LA) should at least have some deterrant and shame for their actions. Just because someone is disadvantaged does not mean that laws do not apply to them or that they get a free pass. This is the road to perpetual lower classes with no thought of moving up.

    Comment by Castricv — February 23, 2011 @ 9:16 pm

  9. @RS, that’s a really fair point. There can be a big gap between how a law is written, how it is enforced, and how that comes at cross-purpose to how the law may have been intended.

    In the case of the SCAN law, the challenge brought by Women With a Vision and CCR is focused on disparate punishment and its consequences. It isn’t a challenge based on the part of the law that concerns prostitution per se. I don’t see the challenge raising the question, “does SCAN encourage or discourage prostitution?” — but asking, “how does criminalizing a class of people in this way violate their constitutional rights?”

    I’m not sure we can say the laws discourage or encourage prostitution, but they do have the effect of giving hundreds of people in Louisiana a criminal record, which can make it difficult if not impossible to find work outside the informal economy.

    Comment by Melissa Gira Grant — March 2, 2011 @ 4:12 pm

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  11. […] month, a coalition of advocates, including Women With A Vision and the Center for Constitutional Rights, filed a federal lawsuit challenging the statue: Eve, who asked that we not reveal her real name or […]

    Pingback by Louisiana Law Forces Many Sex Workers to Register as Sex Offenders — The Curvature — March 22, 2011 @ 5:30 pm

  12. […] a federal civil rights suit is being filed by Women With a Vision and the Center for Constitutional Rights; let’s hope it succeeds, and kudos to those two organizations for working so hard to get […]

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