Social rejection occurs when an individual is deliberately excluded from a social relationship or social interaction.
Some level of rejection is an inevitable part of life. Nevertheless, rejection and ostracism can become troublesome when it occurs over a longer period of time. Furthermore, rejection by an entire group of people (neighborhood, community, etc) can particularly have negative effects to the person being rejected.
Does social rejection and ostracism affect people listed on the sex offender registry? Yes, and also, studies show that families of registrants may also feel rejected from friends, family, and neighbors because they have a loved-one listed. In the report, Collateral Damage: Family Members of Registered Sex Offenders, almost half of the families surveyed reported being threatened or harassed by neighbors, 27% had their property damaged, and 7% said they were physically assaulted by someone as a result of notification.
Humans are social animals and they depend upon social relationships to fortify their physical and psychological well-being. We’ve learned from Maslow’s Heirchary of Needs that every human being needs physical and emotional attention. This hierarchy suggests that people are motivated to fulfill basic needs before moving on to other, more advanced needs.
Unfortunately, when an individual is listed on the sex offender registry, they often face stigma and hate from the community. This affects levels of Maslows Hierarchy including, Love and Belongingness and Self-Esteem. In other words, a sort of social “death” has occurred leaving registrants and possibly his/her families feeling isolated from their communities. The term social death has been used by sociologists such as Orlando Patterson and Zygmunt Bauman, and historians of slavery and the Holocaust to describe the part played by governmental and social segregation in that process.
An example of rejection and social ostracism is the recent measure supported by New York Governor Cuomo. The law which passed in 2020, would would let judges ban certain sex offenders from riding New York City’s subways, buses and commuter rails.
Other examples of ostracism are housing and employment rejection, banning from certain Home Owner Associations, non-effective residency restrictions, and an overall lack of support from family and friends.
Reports have shown that social rejection not only hurts emotionally but physically as well. Rejection has serious implications for an individual’s psychological state and society in general. Social rejection can influence emotion, cognition, and even physical health. Sometimes, social rejection leads to violence. In 2003 Leary and colleagues studied 15 school shooter cases and all but two were socially rejected before their attacks (Aggressive Behavior, 2003).
Dr. Kipling Williams is a Distinguished Professor of Psychology in the Department of Psychological Sciences at Purdue University. According to Wikipedia, “Williams has conducted research in several areas, including aggression, group processes and close relationships. However, he has specific research topics that include ostracism, social loafing and social compensation, internet research, stealing thunder, which is a specific tactic used to deflate any negative impact of changing a person’s testimony, law and psychology.”
“Being excluded by high school friends, office colleagues, or even spouses or family members can be excruciating. And because ostracism is experienced in three stages, the life of those painful feelings can be extended for the long term. People and clinicians need to be aware of this so they can avoid depression or other negative experiences.” – Dr. Kipling Williams
I had the opportunity to interview Dr. Kipling Williams in 2016 for my documentary film, NOT FOR RENT! The film highlights the struggles of finding housing for people with a felony record and/or a sex offense. Kipling discusses the effects of social ostracism on the formerly incarcerated.
One study suggested that chronic social exclusion is one of the causes of school shootings that occurred in the US. It is possible that social exclusion damages our ability to control impulsive behaviors including aggression.
People who are ostracized may be more likely to engage in behaviors that increase their future inclusion by mimicking, complying, obeying orders, cooperating or expressing attraction.
“It increases anger and sadness, and long-term ostracism can result in alienation, depression, helplessness and feelings of unworthiness.” – Dr. Kipling Williams.
People on the sex offender registry are ostracized in a variety of ways. This form of community “shaming” doesn’t end when the individual is removed from the registry – the rejection continues because the felony remains on the person’s criminal record (in most cases). To make matters more challenging, the family can also be ostracized from their community.
Below you find a few examples of how people with a sex offense are ostracized and rejected in society.
Rental housing availability is a major issue for registered sex offenders and people living with felonies on their records. Even many years after their release from prison or parole, they face rejection. The lack of rental housing opportunities has affected my life so much I decided to produce a documentary film about the issue.
To this day, even after 15 years from my conviction date, landlords, property managers, and homeowners refuse to rent to me. In my opinion, many landlords reject my application out of fear of what others will think of them for allowing a sex offender in their rental home. They fear backlash from neighbors, friends, and associates.
Luckily over the years, I’ve been resourceful and have been able to find rental housing, but it hasn’t been easy. Since my release from federal prison in 2012, locating an available place to rent is like finding a needle in a haystack. The process is very time consuming and takes a lot of patience. I recommend other ex-offenders completely ignore property management companies (unless you know someone) due to their high standards and strict guidelines for felony records. Work with private landlords if possible.
Another area of difficulty for me has been employment, or I should say “lack of employment.” Since my prison release, I have worked at a variety of places but nothing stable and long-term. Even with my former experience in TV and radio broadcasting, jobs have been a challenge to come by. In a recent video that I did for my YouTube channel, I had applied for hundreds of jobs on Indeed with no success. More recently, I’ve decided to end my job search and focus on self-employment opportunities. It’s been freeing for me to leave my job searching behind. I’m now able to create a legacy for myself instead of relying on outside sources.
I’m not sure what’s to blame for my lack of social life. Is it that I don’t want to meet anyone because they’ll find out about my past? Or, is it because I work from home and don’t have the chance to meet people? I think it’s a combination of several factors including my sex offender status. This is also true when it comes to dating. Though I was married for a few years after my release, the stressors of federal probation had affected our marriage. Today, after numerous attempts using dating apps, I’ve given up on future pursuits of dating and relationships.
Unfortunately, ostracism has affected my life so much. Thank God for my supportive family and the very small group of friends that I do have. Even though social rejection and exclusion are real when living on the registry, your life can still be productive, successful, and happy.