Shana Rowan first met her fiance when they attended high school in downstate New York. She says they lost touch when he suddenly left school at the age of 16. Years later, Shana says they reconnected.
Shana says they eventually fell in love and she learned the reason why he had disappeared when he was 16. It turns out that he had been convicted of sexually abusing an underage girl and spent four years in prison. She asked that we not reveal his name for fear over his safety.
"It wasn't a violent crime. It wasn't a forcible crime. Was it a crime? Yes, and I believe he should have been punished. I'm glad he can now see the impact he had on his victim, but he's not a monster. He's not a pedophile. He's not dangerous to children," Rowan told CNY Central's Jim Kenyon.
They are now engaged to be married. When they moved to a home in Oneida County however, her fiance, a level 2 registered sex offender, failed to register his new address on time. He was arrested and faced spending three years in prison.
Though he was able to avoid jail time, the experience provided Rowan with a mission in life. Shana Rowan is the Executive Director of USA FAIR, which stands for Families Advocating an Intelligent Registry. "We do advocate for some sex offenders but our focus is actually on family members because what I found when my fiance was looking at jail time, I felt so alone."
Rowan maintains a website that features extensive research that challenges what she says are society's preconceived ideas about sex offenders. She also lobbies legislators nationwide in an attempt to reform laws regarding sex offenders.
The USA FAIR website features a wealth of information and studies Rowan says clear up the "myths" about sex offenders. Some of those same government studies are also included on the New York Sex Offender Registry under the heading of "Myths and Facts." For instance, one so called myth is that sex offenders are all likely to commit another sex crime. The registry cites one study that only 5 percent of sex offenders were re-arrested for a sex crime within three years of getting out of prison. That as a group, 43 percent of sex offenders were re-arrested for any type of crime. That compared to 68 percent of criminals who are not sex offenders.
Rowan says many of the laws regarding the thousands of sex offenders are not based on reality. "I can understand where the fear comes from because... it keeps being pumped into us by some media outlets and legislators that these are people we need to fear. That is not accurate. That is not true, save for a small minority."
If anything, sex offender laws are getting tougher, often because of high profile cases like that of David Renz. He is accused of murdering Liverpool librarian Lori Bresnahan and raping a 10 year old girl. The shocking crime could lead to a crackdown on the monitoring of sex offenders and legislation to open up their juvenile records.
"We're taking the example of one person and applying it to tens of thousands in New York State." Rowan says.
Rowan says society often does not take into account the impact a "broad brush approach" to sex offenders has on their families. "They're simply not all the same." she says, "They're not all out to get your children. The majority of them just want to move on with their lives with their families."