Hazel and Rick and their two children have had a target painted on their backs since Rick went on Illinois’ sex registry in 2008.
It all started in 2000 with Rick’s relationship with his 15-year-old girlfriend. He was 17, and when the girlfriend’s parents found out they were dating and having sex, they got upset and called the police. Shortly after Rick turned 18, he was arrested for criminal sexual conduct.
There was just one problem for the authorities–at trial, the girlfriend testified that Rick had never forced her to do anything and that she had been involved with him of her free will. But the girlfriend’s mother was furious and forced her daughter to recant.
The jury believed the girlfriend’s second version of the story and found Rick guilty. The judge sentenced him to six years in prison and 10 years on the sex offender registry. Shortly after he got out in 2006, he was a day late in registering a change of address with the authorities. A court sentenced him to another two years in prison.
Hazel met Rick when he finally got out of prison for good in 2008. They lived together for four years before getting married in 2013. Hazel’s own family was wary of Rick when they found out his situation and closed them off for about a year. But once they got to know Rick and absorbed the details of what actually happened, they opened up. Now they accept him completely, Hazel says.
Rick had two children from a previous marriage—a boy age 13 and a girl age 7–and they’ve taken the brunt of the consequences of Rick’s presence on the registry. They’re isolated and bullied in school. One day 2013 for example, their son was surrounded by four or five boys at a table in the school cafeteria. “Your dad is a Chester the molester, and you’re going to turn out the same way,” they taunted. When her son came home to tell Hazel, he burst into tears and didn’t stop crying for an hour.
Another day, their daughter came to Hazel to say that some older boys had told her that their dad was going to do to her “what he did to that other girl.” “What are they talking about?” her daughter asked Hazel. Hazel had no idea what to say.
They feel the town’s ridicule in other ways. “If I’m in a store, I get dirty looks,” Hazel says. When Hazel and her kids come out of their house, the neighbors rush their children inside.
It doesn’t help that the police seem to always be hovering around their house. A police officer sits at the end of the parking lot of their condominium every day. Three times a year, the sex offender unit of the police force shows up to do an unannounced compliance check. The last time they came, their daughter asked Hazel why they were there. Hazel got upset, walked out with the cops and, bursting into tears, asked them “What am I supposed to tell my daughter? My husband lives here. He stays here. Why can’t you just let it go?”
Like many families of those on registries, their housing choices are limited, which has meant they’ve taken a financial hit. In early 2012, they decided to move into a shared house with another family to save money. They split the rent, paying $300 each. It was going great–they were all happy about the arrangement and everyone got along, says Hazel.
But then the state’s Department of Child and Family Services found Rick’s name on the registry and showed up suddenly at the house one October day. They told Hazel and Rick’s friends that because Rick was on the registry, if they continued to live there, the department would take away their friends’ six-year-old child. They gave Hazel and Rick a few days to move, which they did. Now they’re back paying double the rent they did when they were sharing a house.
“It’s horrific–we deal with it every single day,” says Hazel “We are all outcasts.” They discuss moving to a city, where they wouldn’t be so conspicuous, but Rick shares custody of the two kids with his ex-wife, who lives in town, so they can’t leave.
Hazel had a woman approach her to ask, “How could you be married to such a monster?” When she gets questions like that, she tries to explain the circumstances of his conviction. And she tells them that she loves her husband for who he is, not for what he did 10 years ago.
She’s also been to the school numerous times to get the bullying of her son to stop. The principal is supportive and has intervened with both kids and teachers. But it’s a constant battle she says.
The irony of her own children being put in the cross-hairs by a system ostensibly meant to protect kids isn’t lost on Hazel. “Come hell or high water, I will do what I have to for those kids,” she says.