Shana Rowan's journey to become Executive Director at USA FAIR has been a unique one.
After spending nearly five years in an abusive relationship as a very young adult, she reconnected with her childhood friend and now-fiancée, Geoff, who gave her the strength to escape the relationship and reveal the abuse to her family and friends. Through his caring and support, Shana fell in love with Geoff.
Geoff is a registered sex offender. When he was 16 he was taken out of school and arrested for sexual abuse of his younger half-sister. As their relationship grew, Geoff revealed to Shana the sexual abuse that he himself endured as a child from his mother.
Shana has witnessed both the aftermath of sexual abuse and the impacts of living with the sex offender registry.
She and Geoff had hoped that their traumatic pasts where now firmly behind them, but that hope changed in May 2011 when they bought their first home together and moved down the road from where they’d been renting. Geoff neglected to file his change of address form within 10 days and was arrested for failure to register. Fortunately, because Geoff had appeared at the police barrack only a few weeks earlier for an updated photo, it was clear to the court that he was not trying to abscond and he received probation.
To Shana, it was a wake-up call revealing how serious the sex offender registry laws are – and how drastic their consequences can be. Geoff could have been sentenced to prison, which would have devastated their life together. It also became clear that she and Geoff would never be able to fully put Geoff’s adolescent mistakes in the rear view mirror. The registry doesn’t let you do that.
It was this experience that led Shana to become an advocate for registry reform. She immersed herself on the Internet, reading everything she could about sex offenders and the history of the registry. She learned that the laws that now impact her life all came about in response to rare but high profile heinous crimes involving the abduction and murder of children. This angered her because she knew that Geoff had nothing in common with these monstrous criminals, but she also learned that the registry paints all registrants with the broad brush of the worst offenders.
What Shana found most disturbing was the incredible disconnect between how the media reports on sex offender issues and the findings reported in every study she read. Like most people, Shana thought that the reason there needed to be a registry was that sex offenders were very likely to reoffend and therefore needed to be monitored in ways that other former offenders were not. She was shocked to read study after study that all showed the same result: Sex offenders have one of the lowest recidivism rates in the criminal justice system.
Shana started her advocacy by creating a blog called “I Love a Sex Offender.” Now involved for over a year, she has met or spoken with hundreds of families of registrants across the country. She has heard their stories, felt their pain and shares their desire to improve existing laws based on facts and evidence – not irrational fear.
As Executive Director of USA FAIR, Shana promises to work as hard as she can to fight for law abiding former offenders and their families and to insure that their struggles and successes are reported by the news media. And she pledges that she will not quit until the myth of high sex offender recidivism is erased from our culture and our registry laws are based on reason.