New Orleans Groups Applaud Change in “Scarlet Letter” Law, Urge Removal of All Individuals Convicted of Solicitation of Crime Against Nature Law from Sex Offender Registry
June 29, 2011, New Orleans – Late last night, legislation eliminating the mandatory sex offender registration requirement for individuals convicted of Louisiana’s Solicitation of a Crime Against Nature (SCAN) statute was signed into law. This change equalizes penalties for individuals charged with solicitation of oral and anal sex under the 205-year-old law with those faced by individuals charged under the state’s prostitution statute. Community group Women with a Vision, along with its allies, have long advocated for changes to what they call an unjust and discriminatory law and say they welcome the amendment. The groups also commend Representative Marchand Stiaes, who sponsored the original bill, for her leadership in bringing about the elimination of the harsh penalties associated with a SCAN conviction. Deon Haywood, executive director of Women with a Vision, will be available for interviews today.
“For over two decades now, people – largely low-income women of color, including transgender women – have been branded with this scarlet letter simply because they were convicted under this archaic, discriminatory law,” said Deon Haywood, executive director of Women with a Vision. “For the women I work with, and for LGBT young people, this has created an almost insurmountable barrier to much-needed housing, employment, treatment, and services. At long last, the legislature has equalized penalties for the two offenses going forward. But we will continue to fight for justice for all those still living under the penalties of the past. There is still serious work to be done.”
In Louisiana, allegations of solicitation of oral or anal sex in exchange for compensation can be prosecuted either under the SCAN statute or under the prostitution statute. Though the conduct alleged is identical, for decades a SCAN conviction has resulted in harsher sentences and higher fines – as well as mandatory registration as a sex offender for periods of 15 years to life. The new law equalizes the penalties for SCAN and prostitution going forward, though not retroactively.
The changes to the law do not offer relief to the hundreds of people currently on the registry solely because they were prosecuted under SCAN, a statute that experts say expresses particular moral distaste for sex acts that are historically associated with homosexuality.
“We welcome this change in the law, which finally brings Louisiana in line with every other state in the country,” said Davida Finger, Assistant Clinical Professor at Loyola. “But the injustice still persists. Almost 40 percent of registered sex offenders in New Orleans are on the registry because of a SCAN conviction. They too should receive the benefit of this change in the law and be removed from the sex offender registry.”
In February, the Stuart H. Smith Law Clinic and Center for Social Justice at Loyola University New Orleans College of Law, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), police misconduct attorney Andrea J. Ritchie and Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP filed a federal civil rights law suit, Doe v. Jindal, on behalf of nine plaintiffs, challenging the disparate punishment meted out under the SCAN statute. The plaintiffs in the case, who have old SCAN convictions, will continue to be required to register as sex offenders for 15 years to life.
“We hope the State of Louisiana will do what is just and extend this much-needed reform to people who are already on the sex offender registry because of one of these convictions,” said Bill Quigley, Clinical Director of Loyola Law Clinic and Associate Legal Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights. “Not only have they been punished enough, but the legislature has clearly recognized that penalties under this law were irrational and excessive.”
“The grassroots and national leadership of Women with a Vision in tirelessly raising this issue for the past three years is nothing short of heroic,” said Andrea Ritchie, co-counsel in Doe v. Jindal, police misconduct attorney and expert on U.S. policing of women and LGBT people. “This victory is a product of collaboration between community groups, legal advocacy organizations and legislators seeking justice on behalf of the women and LGBT youth suffering from the discriminatory effects of SCAN – it is clear that community organizing can make real change.”
The mission of Women with a Vision is to improve the lives of marginalized women, their families, and communities by addressing the social conditions that hinder their health and well-being. We accomplish this through relentless advocacy, health education, supportive services, and community-based participatory research. Visit http://wwav-no.org/.
The Center for Constitutional Rights 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 civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change. Visit www.CCRjustice.org and follow @theCCR.