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(WNN) New Orleans, U.S.: The Eastern District Court of Louisiana Doe v. Jindal case is now bringing attention to the current injustice brought against women who have been convicted of crimes through the CANS – Crime Against Nature Solicitation statute; a law that still exists in regions across the United States.
“The roughly 400 people who remain on the sex offender registry solely as a result of a Crime Against Nature by Solicitation charge are largely poor Black women, including transgender women, and gay men who have themselves experienced violence and discrimination their whole lives, and they deserve a second chance,” said attorney Andrea Ritchie, co-counsel in the Doe v. Jindal case.
In spite of recent changes in the State of Louisiana legislation, the law that is now set to give offenders less of a lifetime of burden, has been called “still unfair” by human rights and legal advocates alike. But is the change enough for those who have been previously affected by the law and the life-long stigma and personal damage that comes with it?
Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) police misconduct attorney Andrea Ritchie, with the Law Clinic at the Loyola University New Orleans College of Law as well as the legal team at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton are bringing the issue before the court. Arguing their case on August 10 for a remedy for individuals who must continue to legally register as sex offenders in their region for periods of 15 years to life, they work to gain human rights for those who are often unprotected and unrepresented.
The Crimes Against Nature Solicitation law outlines details in the nature of the sexual service that was given resulting in a conviction. It is part of the problem in a law that has been on the books in Louisiana for over 200 years.
Questioning the ‘morality’ of those convicted, the misuse of the law has been compared to the dispensing of a modern-day ‘Scarlett Letter” on those who advocates already consider to be ‘victims of society’ where the date of one’s CANS conviction, if it is prior to the change in the CANS law set to come into effect on August 15, is a big part of another challenge.
Individual ‘plaintiffs’ who are being represented in the Doe v. Jindal case who have been forced to publicly register as sex offenders because they were charged, prosecuted and convicted of offering oral or anal sex for compensation (before the new law takes effect) have faced what is considered by legal advocates to be “a more severe punishment.”
Attorneys argued before Judge Martin Feldman that the nine individual plaintiffs convicted of CANS prior to the legislature’s official removal of the offense earlier this summer should also no longer be mandated to register as sex offenders. The term ‘sex offender’ is one that haunts those who must endure the title.
“The women and transgender women of our NO Justice Project live with the scarlet letter of ‘sex offender’ on their driver’s license, some of them for over 20 years,” says Deon Haywood, Executive Director of New Orleans’ Women With a Vision. “It is time for them to experience walking their kids to school and gainful employment, and to have access to safe housing without judgment. Simply put, it’s time for the State of Louisiana to give them justice.”
Branded as ‘sex offenders’ under Louisiana state law statute they face harsher punishments than those who have been convicted of prostitution alone. A legal argument that this treatment may be ‘unconstitutional’ under the law challenges the limits on the new legislation.
While the change in the law is groundbreaking, those left behind who were prosecuted before the new legislation takes effect will continue to suffer. Many of them are women who live as a ‘single head of household’ with little career training to help them move forward in society.
“We welcome this change in the law, which means that these unconstitutional and unfair conditions will no longer be imposed on people who are convicted of a Crime Against Nature by Solicitation in the future,” said Alexis Agathocleous, staff attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights. “But the injustice still persists for those with old CANS convictions. Our clients – along with hundreds of others – remain registered as sex offenders. We are here today because they, too, should receive the benefit of this change in the law, and be removed from the sex offender registry.”
Some of those who have been hurt by the system of injustice in Louisiana include detoxed New Orleans heroin addict twenty-three-year-old “J” who’s driver license states in bold capital red letters that she is a “SEX OFFENDER,” a label that continues to hurt her.
“Our clients are mothers, daughters, veterans, and more. Yet, they live on the fringes of the community, disconnected from many support systems, putting them at risk for violence, reincarceration and other harms,” continued Haywood.
Women impacted by the CAN solicitation statute often live at the very bottom of society. Desperate for money or down on their luck, with little opportunity or resources, they often experience vast exclusion and discrimination from the larger middle-class to affluent communities in New Orleans.
The mission of Women with a Vision New Orleans (WWAV) seeks to improve the lives of marginalized women. Through work to help families and communities, by addressing the social conditions that hinder their health and well-being, WWAV brings ongoing advocacy, health education, supportive services and community-based participatory research to those who are often forgotten.
The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented members and leaders of the black civil rights movement in the United States, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change.
A final decision on the case, that will determine a long-range outcome in the lives of nine plaintiffs and many others who are now living under the difficult title of ‘sex offender,’ is being weighed and reviewed by U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman.
In a WWAV – Women With a Vision New Orleans press conference, attorney Andrea Richie and other legal advocates explain the case against those who have been ‘wrongfully’ placed on the sex offenders list in Louisiana. Ninety-seven percent of women who are listed on the sex offenders registry are there because of ‘Crime Against Nature’ charges. A majority of them are African American women. WWAV works with women who have resorted to prostitution due to desperate life conditions to bring them opportunities that include career training and dignity.
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