Image Is Everything: How The Anti-Registry Movement Has A Potential Public Relations Image Problem

Today I read in the news where an elementary student in Florida was bullied for creating and wearing a homemade version of the University of Tennesee shirt for a “college colors day” school event. But what happened next was a complete surprise for the student at the University of Tennessee adopted his design, making it an official design which has been the highlight of anti-bullying sales. It is where negative development suddenly became a positive experience for both the student and the community. Mainly, it was an excellent lesson learned moment in how to image and public perception quickly manifests into a unique public relations opportunity.

But anti-bullying sometimes has a two-way street. A discussion with doctorate students tackled how the sex offender registry seems to be along with the same tactics of bullying towards a specific group of people — mainly registered offenders. However, many in the discussion group also emphasized where anti-registry organizations tend to become rather intimidating in return towards the opposition. But an interesting sociological research discovery has quickly identified that anti-registry advocacy websites, in dates ranging over fifteen years, are defined as targeting its primary membership or followers. Rather than emphasizing policy indifferences, the discovery of rhetoric or discourse became personal in nature and parliamentarian. This led to further discussions that anti-registry advocacy, in general, isn’t focused upon the core legislative or policy of facilitating open dialog. Anti-Registry members often create quasi-registries identifying individuals within their advocacy. I was unsure how to approach this because of my relationships within anti-registry support and being harassed by a specific individual from the past. But the consensus of the doctoral level discussion group left me with a feeling that anti-registry organizations have a public relations snafu on its hands, and the internet is not very forgiving upon removing past discussions. It is viewed in the interim moment as a disgruntled group of people that seem to cannot come together to remedy a complex issue. A core reason to take away from our discussions over the past three weeks was anti-registry groups appear solidly disgruntled in general. This was a disturbing revelation to me and provided me insight on how the future of anti-registry movements must become more diplomatic and rational in discussions to maintain a close dialog with leadership rather it be opposite or within scope.

Sociologist, psychologists, communications, and policy scholars researched the internet and media sites deeply to discuss our topic of registry image and effect. The assignment provided research tools from an outside perspective that presented insight that I was unaware of. Rather than guiding others on how they viewed the sex offender registry, I wanted to gain knowledge of how they saw the registry by seeking “anti registry only materials or websites.” What the group discovered was a dark and often vicious bully styled dialog or information about the opposition or policy. There was little to no alignment towards sharing commonality or similarities that would perhaps open a dialog towards “being in the same room” to discuss how to remedy many situations where registrants may have a voice. Instead, scholars came to the same conclusion that anti-registry advocates don’t appear to want to facilitate change or chip away at issues. Instead, the consensus was it was an all or nothing gamble with an amplified noise effect of laying claim to victimization. I am unsure if I agree with these assessments. But as a researcher, I must keep an open mind that our image is our cause. One nasty comment or bullying tactic from within about others reflects upon us all and will ultimately set back any hopes of navigating forward.

To best address negativity within the anti-registry movement, there must be an act of forgiveness for the actions of others. This began with lengthy discussions with various members of Congress, state representatives of multiple states, and candid dialog with sheriffs, attorney generals, and pro-registry organizations. This is a reset for the organization I represent but also how I can influence change among a persuasive university. So far, the motion is working, and some legislation has been tabled, deleted, or challenged. Is it an absolute win? Not always. But the open doors has managed to develop into a transparent dialog and small steps towards better resolution and outcomes. The days of bullying one another have significantly ended. Congressional, state and municipality leadership now has credible representation to perform diplomatic relationships where each side has a value in being heard and respected. The outcome has both positive and negative results. However, the benefit is that there is an opportunity to be continually heard without the need for bullying, petty name-calling, and allowing discussions to be facilitated among professionals rather than amateurs. This is where mastery level and higher scholars collectively agree that anti-registry organizations must do more to expand among other organizations that have dotted line influences to determine best that registry advocacy and its effects are among all walks of life, race, religion, and gender.

Our initial findings quickly identified that anti-registry movements must promptly develop a strategy to reach out to media outlets to discuss the problematic stigmas but also reasonably address how to facilitate effective public policy. Merely throwing a target to media that the registry must be abolished was not the most effective methods in starting that conversation. Next, there must be a face representation and aligned embodiment of the same language, script, and calm delivery that changes the stigma that all registrants are angry individuals with a motive to shout down legislation or policy leaders. Again, the consensus was that anti-registry issues had to become personal where others are deeply affected, but those individuals would be required to come forward to advocate from their perspective. Lastly, image means everything in today’s media-filled world. The delivery must be polished and well-rehearsed. Too much data doesn’t get the message delivered. The public image wants to visualize rehabilitative, reformed, and well thought out diplomatic individuals willing to calmly work with the most strenuous opposition. There must always be a methodology of cohesiveness and respectful disagreement but complimentary as not to alienate from within or the intended audience. Again, image and easy to follow scripts are the keys towards successful and credible conversations. If the public relations perception fails to change, then so will the same result become increasingly clear that the registry or similarly policy-driven initiatives will remain for decades to come.

Disclosure: doctoral-level students of law, public policy, sociology, and communications researched in depth about sex offender advocacy websites to best determine if they could understand the cause and effects of registrants, families, and allies. Their findings were not influenced by myself. The research group studied scholarly and anti-registry organizations solely based upon web-searches The assessment presented is only based upon their discoveries and document sharing. No interviews were necessary for this academic workshop. The purpose was to learn how credible information may be introduced, and the impact researchers can be emotionally influenced as a particular cause may have significant issues that distract from the core cause of the organizational framework. This is not a scientific published study. However, the communications and sociology departments have discussed perhaps pursuing a scholarly project. 

Advocacy Is A Buzzword

Over the summer, I have been enrolled in doctoral courses to meet my educational requirements towards the completion of my Ph.D. in Public Policy. I have had the interesting ability to collaborate with various universities. During a recent conference call, we managed to discuss the particulars of research that we are currently engaged with or wish to pursue. Many students took a moment to review the various organizations they have been connecting or collaborating. There were discussions on how to better understand the perspective. Are the usefulness of information, advocacy, and how the organizational framework is useful towards a community or audience? One identifying issue kept repeating itself. That issue is that organizational fractures are common. Perhaps a reason that many causes or concerns never officially get off the ground is actionable working agendas, or motivational advocacy are too involved in personal issue or squabbles over petty things.

I too struggled over the past few months within organizations that, to me, seemed to be the best insightful methodology at quickly identifying issue or concern. What may be considered petty politics are often blown way over the proportion of the realities that either nobody cares or people are concerned with the microcosms of office politics. But a departmental professor brought up a very valid point that “advocacy is a buzzword that projects an interest mainly with one-sided viewpoints.” I had to let that sink in for a moment to grasp the concept. But perhaps the professor is right? Public policy, at least from my skill set, should be about the approach of balance from both sides. It doesn’t imply that I should discard my advocacy or belief systems. Instead, I should allow discourse to learn, strategize, but use compromise as a way to tweak towards results-driven deliverables.

There is much research, data, and scholarly information readily available if one looks deep enough. At times there may not be relevant data on a larger scale. But when I seek databases to drill down far enough, I can obtain the data to start something or allow an issue to expand by updating the results or findings. After all, that is, research in general.

What is missing from sex offender registry advocacy is professional quantitative research methods. Sure there are informational sites that show various statistical data, but rarely, are available by journal sites. However, for the sake of fairness, there is plenty of sex offense data from federal and state publications. While that particular data may be discouraging to sex offender advocacy, the data is credible and adequately peer-reviewed. But I pose this challenge to seek out a specified research method and bring that into the academic arena. Only then will that information become credible, listened, argued, and scholarly enough to gain traction. Perhaps this is why sex offender policy is stuck in the mud. There is only the emotional data rather than equity of research methods that may be introduced into an academic and shared among those that practice law?

Until state or local sex offender advocacy organizations begin to utilize comparative analysis and research methods within its structures, it will continue to fall upon deaf ears. Primarily because that particular data is a buzzword of credible information that fails to meet the credibility standard to the academic community. Now is time to begin shifting the burden of knowledge to scholars, professionals, and laypersons to deliver that message striking a chord of compromise and discourse.

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