Immoral Sex Stings Feed Sex Offender Registry, Destroy Lives
HOW I BECAME A ‘REGISTERED CITIZEN AND IT DESTROYED MY LIFE
(Copyright 2022 by Norman M. Achin, M.A. M.Ed.)
Milestones punctuate our lives in odd, unexpected, uneven ways. Sometimes, though, we call for them. We use them to mark the passage of time. We assign them lesser or greater value, and we even define ourselves by them. And by what we are not, too. Other times they just surprise and delight. But not this time.
My greatest milestone was thrown into my life on Monday evening, July 23, 2018, at approximately 7:15 p.m. My life, career, and future abruptly stopped. I actually saw my future quietly fading away – all my work, hopes, aspirations, future plans, the essence of who I am, drained away. I remember later saying to Det. Bauer, the cop who threw a rock into my life: “I’ll never teach again.”
I sat on a damp ground, wet after a pouring rain. A policeman guarded me, watching as dozens of cops tore apart my vehicle like forceful and energetic ants, gleefully triumphant for their catch. They looked for evidence, but were soon palpably disappointed and disoriented when they found nothing at all. Confused and unsure, the cops huddled nearby. I caught a few words: “No one found anything? Are you sure? Did you check – and —? Yes! What should we do with him? We could take him –”
Oddly, I remained pretty calm, as the wetness seeped through my shorts. I knew there was nothing. I was sure I’d be home soon, and all would be ok. After all, I didn’t do anything, didn’t try to violate any law. I tried to make life better for a young person, just as I had always, naturally, done. But that story never saw the light of day. The cops and the Commonwealth saw to that.
A short time later, at the police station, I rallied. I thought I could count on a reasonable detective. After all, they are trained to understand true crime. I could explain, and they would understand. I readily opened my phone, answered their questions, posed some of my own, pushed back on their outsized notions, which must be how they pressure you. But I was cool, confident. But I was also somewhat confused though, because they would not let me see my phone, use it as a reference to remind myself of the jumbled events of the last few weeks. Bauer kept scrolling through our texts, picking stuff at random and asking me leading questions which did not align with my memory. He would not let me lift the phone up from the counter.
The experience was surreal. Cops wanted me to remember it their way, to see it as they related it, but their version did not make sense. It wasn’t honest, wasn’t true. There were holes in my tormentor – Det. Robert M. Bauer’s – story. I stood firm, and continued to tell the truth. That day, and no day since, has the truth set me free. A weaponized untruth shackled me, squeezing away my life’s work, my reputation, my community standing, my integrity – fading faster than a shadow when darkness fills a scene.
(Fairfax County Police Detective) Bauer questioned me particularly about child pornography. He said he was “concerned” I might have it saved on my devices, but he seemed more excited and hopeful than any real concern. I was horrified. Never would I have done anything to violate trust my students and I shared. Never would I have schemed to harm a young person. Never would I knowingly access child porn, or be involved in exploiting children in any way. But I learned soon that my reputation, the 30-year career in which I had helped thousands of students, did not matter to the police. Public safety wasn’t even the issue. What mattered most to the cops was a win, an arrest, a conviction, and I was to learn soon after that cops had developed a turn-key system that painted me and many others the perv, regardless of the facts. I understood the true meaning of “anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.” Even the Truth. What the nameless they never say is that this is a game, a game where cops seek to score points, even if they have to twist the words around, assign meaning where there was none, or worse. My mistake was not that I violated the sacred trust with kids that I had held for a generation, as the prosecution and cops wanted me and the public to believe. My mistake was that I put my faith in the cops and the system to do the right thing in the first place, and they did not deserve my long-standing, faithful trust.
So, how did I become a sex offender? Because the system crafted a crime around me. They said it was a slam-dunk case of me trying to prey on children. But, let’s look at what I did vs what cops did:
I went on an adult-only dating app first time and chatted with a number of people. Within 20 minutes, the police, impersonating a fellow subscriber, approached me. (Aug. 17, 2018 pre-trial transcript). They did not wait for a crime to occur.
After some 90 messages were exchanged, cops finally mentioned age, “almost 15.” I did not respond with joy and excitement and suggest something sexual. I responded with concern as to why the person was on the site; after 24 hours, I reported the supposed underage user to the system administrator, and took other protective steps. I continued to talk with the youth, as well as others on the site.I hoped to get information with which to go to the cops. I didn’t know they were the cops.
At no time did I suggest or hint at sex, but the cop, Det. Bauer, did. He said he needed money, wanted a relationship with a man, and suggested ways to get together. I rebuffed them all. When I made attempts to move away, he gave more alarming details to keep me talking. Later, he would argue this proved I wanted sex.
When I did not use any sex talk, cops changed tactics and impersonated someone I had a relationship with. They tried using that against me in court.
Throughout, both Det. Bauer and I had trouble with the wonky app, which closed down unexpectedly, delayed in typing our messages, or worse.
When Bauer realized I had disabled his original fake user profile, he made another one and hunted me down on the app again. He later claimed I knew what he was doing all along, because he said, “I changed my pic.” Actually, he changed his entire profile, including the picture, exchanging it with an emoji.
I could not get enough details to go to police, but the alarming messages continued, suggesting suicidal ideations and even child trafficking. I eventually decided to meet the person to try and get the information. It was potentially dangerous, but my training in child exploitation made me think I could help. I’d then go to police; otherwise, I had nothing. I did not realize that the police were manipulating the whole thing. Why?
When I arrived at a park directly across from a high school, I was arrested. There was no contraband in my car, or in my home, but they seized my vehicle anyhow.
Having nothing to fear, I showed my phone contents. After having my phone for hours, cops showed me a picture of a penis, on their impersonated user’s account, which I had disabled. I have no idea how that picture got there. But they claimed I deliberately sent it. How do you send a picture to an account that is disabled?
At trial, district attorney Elena Lowe (now in Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares’ office), claimed three lies:
a). I deliberately sent the picture to an underage user.
b). I went on a dating app intending to meet a child for sex.
c). I knew all along that the two fake profiles Bauer had illegally made were the same person.
But there is no evidence I knew that until the very end of our online exchange.
It all begs the questions: If child predators are everywhere, as police claim, why do cops set up “proactive” stings on adult-only sites, and then work so hard to create crimes?
Prosecutor Lowe said it was a slam-dunk case. So, why did she strip out all the dates and time stamps for each of the two different fake profiles (AlexVA & Alex), leaving only the word “Monday” as the date? What were they trying to hide from the court?
I received a sentence of three years in prison. All was suspended except 7 months. But my life and career was ruined anyway. I lost the teaching job I loved, I lost my child I adored, I lost an excellent reputation I had spent a lifetime developing. I lost my pension, which I had earned. Their headline read, “He knew the risks, and did it anyway.” But how could I know the risk, when I had no idea police hunted innocent people like me?
I sometimes am asked why I did not go to police right away when I found an underage person online. I am usually asked by people who have little experience going to police to solve a problem. Sadly, I have negative experience going to police to report crimes. They usually will do nothing unless you have concrete proof of a crime. I did not have even a first and last name to go on.
The contrast between my life before and after my arrest is so different. Post-arrest robbed me of the security and stability I needed to be an effective citizen, to be self-reliant, and a fully engaged member of my community. I was left battered and stigmatized in the public eye, a public which was betrayed and manipulated into thinking they had a predator in their midst.
Prior to that, my life was still difficult, but it was getting better. After being financially weakened by near constant court battles over 10 years to rescue my daughter from her abusive, narcissistic mother, I was finally starting to feel free fiscally and socially. I had come off of a wonderful vacation with my daughter two weeks before. I took her to see the John and Abigail Adams residence in Quincy, MA, because one of her early elementary schools was named for the second president, and she had recently studied about the Adams’ in school. We traveled to the beach, to see relatives in Connecticut and Rhode Island, and friends and the beaches in Maine. We went to see friends in the Pocono Mountains enroute home. It was wonderful.
I had a friend who stayed with me days later. He had to return to his home country of Turkey, and giving up an apartment, he had no place to be for three days, so he stayed with me. At the same time, both my parents were to undergo surgery, one entering it, another leaving. I was also tutoring over the summer, and now, trying to hook up online for a little romance too.
My desire for social connections – a very human desire — is not a euphemism for child neglect and abuse or for pedophilia. It is cruel to target people’s desire for connection and closeness. It is cruel and ironic, that my life choices to help people in need – the homeless, those needing blood, girls cutting themselves, boys and girls abused at home, children traumatized from death of a parent, or other needs –were leveraged cynically by cops to make themselves look good all in the name of public safety. Where was and is the evidence that people like me are threats to society? Quite the contrary. And we suffer tremendously for the nefarious fictions woven around us.
The public is becoming more aware of police physical abuses since Rodney King and even much later, through the deaths of George Floyd, Breanna Taylor, Aumed Aubrey, and others, but few can imagine the collateral damage the police cause through their online “proactive” attacks. What I have suffered is also the typical story of suffering for all in my position. Here are some of the pain so-called ‘sex offenders’ experience:
Our reputations are stigmatized and crushed with the release of the initial press release from the police station. This immediately removes any doubt you could get a fair trial, because the police and prosecution frame the argument and you cannot respond without damaging your case.
News outlets pick up the police angle on the story. They write splashy and misleading headlines to increase clickbait and draw public interest. No one contacts you or your attorney for comment before, during, or after trial. The police narrative is treated like gold, and police tactics are not questioned.
We are suspended without pay. If you are in the upper echelons, however, you keep your pay.
We are fired, finding it hard to gain meaningful employment. You fight to get back to your earning potential before; most never do. You lose your income, your health insurance, benefits, professional reputation.
If you are a public figure in Virginia, you lose your pension. It does not matter all your years of faithful service; the Commonwealth greedily claws back the retirement money they contribute to your pension, though I earned every penny.
When we are released from prison/jail, we are placed on the sex offender registry, despite never having any contact, any sexual talk, exchanging any photos, with any young person. It is about how effectively the police and prosecutors spin your story and lie about you. Period. hey have the majority of the power - not you, your attorney, or even the Constitution or laws. You realize that what you learned in civics/government class is not true. Feelings of betrayal increase.
No one will hire you, even before you have your case heard in a court of law. Employers do social media searches and use unfair and senseless algorithms. They don’t like what they see. And they believe it all. Between October, 2021, directly after I was released from jail, until February, 2022, when I finally found a job, I had applied to over 850 jobs. I was interviewed for maybe two dozen, and rejected for nearly every one when they learned I had been placed on the sex offender registry. I finally found a job that would take me when a friend interceded with management, but I must rent out rooms in my house to even afford my mortgage payment. Many are not even that lucky.
We lose friends, business contacts, and relationships with family are severed or damaged.
When we demand a “due process” hearing before you are fired from a public service job, you learn that ‘due process’ means only that they give you a hearing. They can and do railroad you. All they have to prove is you were convicted of a felony! But that wasn’t enough. In my case, school officials who did not know my work, my grueling daily schedule, or my relationships with students, staff, and parents, nevertheless took it upon themselves to claim I had been having sex with students in and around my classroom. Their evidence? As one said, “I just think so.” She was relying, she said, on what she had been told third hand by Det. Bauer, whom the federal appeals court had branded “a liar” for similar conduct years earlier.
A probation officer (PO) now enters your life, and you realize that they have no interest in helping you, though they will tell you they are here to ‘rehabilitate’ you and help you ease back into society. They do little or nothing to accomplish that. Others will tell you the same. Watch your back! Mine put me back in jail twice on trumped up charges. The first time, vigilantes who thought I should be in jail (I was out awaiting the results of my appeal) lured me into a park on false pretenses, and attacked me. I reported it immediately to my attorney, the police, and probation officer. Instead, the PO had me arrested! A second time, she accused me of using a public library computer to download pornography (no evidence), and a hotel to meet children for sex (I was in the hotel lobby, on camera, using the business center computer to apply for jobs and write my book). That, too, resulted in my arrest. I had to pay $500 to be released on bond.
We must take psychosexual evaluations. I took three. All three indicated NO interest in pedophilia or paraphilia. Despite those results, I was forced into ‘treatment’ programs, both poorly constructed and useless, run by counseling ‘professionals’ acting on their lucrative contracts with the Department of Corrections.
Meanwhile, we fall further into debt, and must rely on public assistance, friends, family, and risk homelessness and further humiliation. In my case, I had to fight the Fairfax County Schools for months to finally receive unemployment income because they did not want to pay. After all, they said, I had not been fired. Yet.
Your creditors line up and begin to sue you because they want their money. They do not care that you have none. My 2018 credit card had $2,500 on it. By the time of this writing, I have many thousands I cannot pay. Credit card companies won judgments, and put liens against my property.
Four times during this ordeal I nearly lost my home. The renters I have brought in to take up the bedrooms in order to pay the bills, do not always treat my home well. Some have to be evicted for non-payment. Many steal from me, from money to silverware. I have damage to my home because renters do not care.
In summary, institutions like the police and prosecution – institutions which exist to protect us – actually have their own agendas, and they do not care who they crush in order to look good. Why do they create lies about you in order to secure a conviction if the truth about you is so terrible? Because it makes their job easier to gain a conviction, and they know they can get away with it.
My goal since my initial arrest was to win my case on the truth and facts, but I soon learned the court did not care about either. So, my goal since 2019 has been to expose them for the frauds, liars, and cheats they are. My forthcoming book spells it all out. My advocacy work seeks first to build a platform for change, and to bring together like-minded people here in Virginia who might be willing to fight for change. One thing is certain: it will not happen without a dedicated group doing a little to accomplish a lot. If you want to know more, or to join the cause, please feel free to contact me at (703) 590-7162, or at firstname.lastname@example.org. There is a plan in place to fight these stings. We need a large group of activists and we need a platform to take the fight to the real perpetrators – the cops and the system they are a part of.
~Norman M. Achin, M.A., M.Ed.