When Meaghan Ybos was raped in 2003, it was the sort of assault you see more often in cinematic crime fiction than in reality. A stranger, wearing a ski mask, broke into her home, held a knife to her throat, and forced himself on her.
Twenty years later, Ybos is president of Women Against Registry, an organization dedicated to ending sex offender registration across the country. Ybos’ advocacy started down that unorthodox path when her rapist was finally caught, nine years after the attack. She then learned that the Memphis Police Department had neglected to test the majority of the rape kits it collected, including hers. Since then, she’s been pushing back against the myth of the rape kit “backlog,” pointing out that in much of the country it isn’t actually a backlog. The police departments simply weren’t testing thousands of kits.
In May, Reason‘s Billy Binion interviewed Ybos by phone.
Q: You are a victim of rape. So what is it that inspires you to get involved with something like Women Against Registry?
A: I think a lot of law enforcement programming is a scam, and my experience with my rape case and my rape kit definitely, I feel, had many elements of a scam. A lot of it is just political theater to get certain people elected, having no relation to safety. I consider the registry to be another facet of that. It’s not living up to what politicians and law enforcement claim about it, using victims like me as a currency.
Q: Some might say your work with Women Against Registry is exhibiting compassion for the type of person that totally upended your life. Is that how you would describe it?
A: I don’t really see it having anything to do with my rapist, because most people on the registry are not like my rapist. And that’s part of why I regard it as such a scam, because I’ve seen firsthand how the police can fail to investigate or apprehend actual dangerous people who commit violent crimes.
Once my rapist was caught, he got 178 years in prison. He will die in prison, and he will never be on the registry. A lot of people on the registry are on there for consensual behavior, things I think many people agree shouldn’t be crimes.
To answer your question in another way, I do think that once someone serves their sentence, then it should be done. So I wouldn’t support my rapist, if he got out of prison, having to go on a registry.
Q: Your experience confers a specific credibility to your argument.
A: A lot of times the retort to people arguing against the registry is, “You should tell that to so-and-so who was raped when she was 16 by a stranger.” OK: Well, I was. That was my case. I actually have a rare type of stranger rape that doesn’t even happen to that many people, and I’m still against this.
Q: If you’re talking to someone who disagrees with you about this, what do you say?
A: Is it good for a society to be able to punish people after they’ve served their punishment? Is it good for our society to accept the government keeping lists of people for whom constitutional rights can be suspended? I think especially people who think the FBI was politically retaliating against Donald Trump should be able to see the potential for abuse and cultural corrosion that comes with vesting law enforcement agencies with that kind of power.
Q: Can you outline some of the barriers that the registry creates that may even encourage someone to re-offend?
A: It destabilizes people completely. It can limit where people can live, if they can live with their families, where they can go. They can’t live or be near a church or a school—and in some places, like Memphis, there are churches on every corner, essentially. It impacts where someone will be able to work. They will be excluded often from staying in shelters when their registry location restrictions make them homeless. So it cuts people off from their families, their support systems, being able to earn a living. The evidence suggests definitely that the registry is counterproductive as any supposed crime reduction goal.
This interview has been condensed and edited for style and clarity.