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April 19, 2012

Are we approaching a tipping point in the modern-day sex offender panic?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this new piece in Stateline, which is headlined "Are sex offense laws too broad?." Here are excerpts from the piece:

Over eight years in the Missouri House, Republican Representative Rodney Schad has gotten numerous phone calls, letters, and emails from registered sex offenders and their families about the damage the registry has caused in their lives — the harassment, persistent unemployment, and community ostracism. Three years ago, Schad decided to start researching the state's registration policy, and what he found surprised him.

"There's no way to tell who's dangerous and who isn't," says Schad. "[People] look up their address and see 10 offenders living or working near their house." In his view, the list is becoming bloated and less helpful to ordinary citizens than it should be.

To try and refine who actually shows up on the public registry, Schad crafted legislation to create a tier system so that only the most dangerous offenders are listed publicly. Currently, anyone convicted of any type of sex crime, from public urination to child molestation, is placed on the list. The bill also creates an appeals process, so that offenders can petition to be removed from the registry after 10 or 20 years, depending on their crime, and removes all juvenile sex offenders tried in juvenile court from the public registry....

Missouri is not the only state pushing back against the strictest registry requirements. Georgia, which had one of the toughest sex offender laws in the nation, scaled back its registration requirements in 2010 for people who had committed crimes such as false imprisonment or non-sexual kidnapping. This immediately removed 819 people from the registry, according to the Atlanta Journal- Constitution.

In Ohio, which was the first state to go along with the Adam Walsh Act in 2007, the state Supreme Court has struck down three controversial portions of SORNA compliance legislation in the last two years: the lifetime registration of some juveniles, the application of the more restrictive Adam Walsh Act penalties to offenders sentenced under previous, less strict laws, and community re-notification requirements for offenders previously sentenced.

Even though opposition to the harshest sex offender policies is brewing, the more common story is still more punishment, not less. The Louisiana House passed a billl this week to exclude sex offenders convicted of computer-related offenses from social networking sites. The Arkansas parole board is considering banning registered sex offenders from using the Internet, and New York has recently distributed sex offenders' email addresses to online gaming companies which are then disabling offenders' accounts.

April 19, 2012 at 10:37 PM | Permalink


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I'm hopeful that more states will follow in suit. The nature of these charges are so debilitating.. I am personally in a situation where I have a pending felony charge against me for possession of child pornography.. with an apparent very small amount of images that came across my computer. 9 months into the investigation I was fired from my job for time and attendance issues.. I now cannot find a job anywhere because my background check shows pending charges. Although we are supposed to be innocent until proven guilty it seems this isn't the case.. furthermore if I cannot find work I will eventually lose my house, my car and may end up homeless. It seems these cases also take a long time to process and if I was to be convicted it seems that I can simply forget about most work in my field (retail). I recently read an article called "65 million need not apply" and found it fascinating. As a society we need to learn forgiveness and allowing people a second chance when it is possible and realistic to rehabilitate.

Posted by: "Adam" | Apr 20, 2012 2:30:59 AM

"Are we approaching a tipping point in the modern-day sex offender panic?"

No one ever has a legitimate concern about sex offenders -- it's just a punitive, emotive "panic."

Personally, I'm not in a panic about sex offenders. Indeed, virtually the only time I think about them is when I read this site. I strongly suspect the great majority of the rest of the population isn't in a "panic" either, although I understand the utility of using that loaded word to belittle those who disagree.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 20, 2012 9:04:08 AM

Adam stated: ".. with an apparent very small amount of images that came across my computer."

And statements like the one above are what create such a stygma against sex offenders. I have been riding the internet train since the beginning and not once did child porn ever just "come across my computer."

People are generally forgiving of those who take responsibility and admit to their actions. Less so to weasels who blame others or portray themselves as victims of "the system."

Adam stated: "As a society we need to learn forgiveness and allowing people a second chance when it is possible and realistic to rehabilitate."

As someone who worked teaching sex offenders for more than a decade, I need to tell you that it is virtually impossible and unrealistic to "rehabilitate" someone who takes no responsibility for his actions. Your statement, "with an apparent very small amount of images that came across my computer" reeks of someone who blames society for your own choices.

If you cannot get a job, it is because of your choices, not society's.

If you lose your house, it is because of your choices, not society's.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Apr 20, 2012 9:50:06 AM

Panic is not just a word blithely bandied about. I think a panic is an ever-escalating fear, not rooted in evidence, of some perceived harm. It's one thing to want a rational, just, and evidence-based response to a problem like sexual offending--that is what I think society should demand. But the proliferation of punitive law after punitive law, typically for political gamesmanship and with no hearings or study whatsoever, and the hysteria and disgust that now and historically attends anything sexually deviant, make this a classic panic. If we didn't panic, but approached the matter rationally, we would not have bloated, useless registries, homeless sex offenders incapable of tracking, swarms of people nedlessly excluded from the job market, and families destroyed. Moreoever, we'd actually improve public safety and reduce sexual offending, as many studies have found. This panic, while it may satisfy our desire for revenge and outrage, actualy harms both offenders and victims.

Posted by: AnonymousOne | Apr 20, 2012 10:28:27 AM

all i can say is "NO SHIT"!

you noticed this three years ago! Hell 1,000's of us realized it a hell of a lot longer ago.

Posted by: rodsmith | Apr 20, 2012 1:22:14 PM

My favorite article on the subject:


Posted by: Bill K | Apr 20, 2012 2:26:51 PM

Sorry, have to disagree with the majority of what the former treatment provider for sex offenders has to say. If anything, your experience probably makes you more biased than anyone else.

Specifically regarding child pornography, the arrests and convictions for CP-related charges have increased by thousands of percentage points in the last several years. No, this isn't because we're experiencing some kind of mass increase in pedophiles. It is because of the prevalence of peer to peer networking and file-sharing programs. Are some convicted of CP charges actively/knowingly seeking these images? Of course. All? Absolutely not.

I also have to agree wholeheartedly with the blog author in terms of the public panic. Why else would society blindly accept myths as facts, when the information is so readily available? Why is the nickname for the registry the "pedo list" or the "perv list", when the majority of sex offenders have not committed crimes against children? When people are scared they will believe anything that promises to make them safe. What better way to do that than a magical list of "bad guys"?

Posted by: Shana Rowan | Apr 20, 2012 5:51:41 PM

Bill --

I would disagree with you, especially when, for examples, legislators in states like Louisiana are almost tripping over themselves to pass legislation that they know damn well to be unconstitutional all in the name of hating on the sex offenders, which is a sure-fire way to win votes.

Of course it's all about fear. Stranger danger and punishing people for what they might or might not do to the tune of "if it saves just one child" is still very much the order of the day. If people, and politicians, thought rationally about these laws then we could perhaps have a system that is much more focused and beneficial for society.

People aren't thinking rationally about it, of course, because it's hard to think rationally about something when you're smack dab in the middle of a witch hunt / sex panic.

That's not to say that sex offenders aren't blameless, but neither is any other criminal. But SOs serve their time for the crime and are then themselves on the receiving end of ever-changing and ever-tougher legislation that has no bearing on actually protecting anyone, but just makes people feel better.

So...as I said, I'd have to disagree with you. It's still very much a "panic." A very good friend of mine is a SO -- he had a consensual relationship with a 17 year old girl. He had a good job in the hospitality industry, and was a hard worker. He even recently won employee of the year. Then someone found out about his SO status and he was fired, even though he never lied about it and never tried to hide it, it's just he was never asked.

Of course it's a panic, Bill. People thinking rationally don't do those sorts of things.

Posted by: Guy | Apr 20, 2012 10:53:26 PM

To add to my own prior comment and to Guy's, the Kafkaesque nature of constantly changing and increasingly--and draconianly--punitive measures taken against sex offenders, typicall with no empirical basis whatsoever, is precisely what a panic is.

Posted by: AnonymousOne | Apr 20, 2012 11:11:19 PM

Now I wonder what it will take for the witch hunt to end.. and for the panic to end... eventually we need to fix our society or we're doomed!

Posted by: "Adam" | Apr 21, 2012 12:32:48 AM

Well, it is natural to react negatively to "Adam"'s lack of responsibility, but he is pre-trial, it would be idiotic for him to admit guilt on the internet. If he was convicted and still trying to speak so passively, that would be a different story.

The problem with child porn charges is that the punishments are severe, even for people who have never harmed anyone. Scientific research and statistics have shown that, contrary to the public perception that all pedophiles are predators, and all persons with CP are pedophiles, that neither is true. While a large majority of people with CP are probably pedophiles, some people just have morbid curiosity and like to look at taboo things, whether that be snuff videos or CP. Secondly, studies have shown that there is a large body of pedophiles out there who have not sought out real victims. While it is natural to find pedophiles to be repulsive, as long as they don't prey on children, we shouldn't be destroying their lives. Our current system is built on false assumptions.

As far as other sex crimes, the problem with sex offender registration lists is simply that they are overly broad. All 50 states NEED to have the right to a judicial weighing of the facts, with appellate review, before people can be listed. There should be tiers with non-public registrants for limited times, versus serious offenders on public lists. Instead, what we have now is automatic registration for long lists of crimes, many of which involve no predatory behavior or threat to society. People with child victims (under 14) and actual rapists should be on these lists, but instead we get (1) teens and guys in their 20s in consensual relationships with teens, (2) people who are drunk in public and take a whiz, (3) people who masturbate in public restrooms or their car with no desire to be caught/seen, and (4) exhibitionist couples who have sex in public or semi-public places.

It is easy to pretend like there is no problem because it doesn't affect you personally. But a lot of people who have done far less than "Adam" have had lives destroyed. Even in "Adam"s case, even if he is a pedophile, the real question is whether he is the kind of person (generally sociopathic) who would ever attempt to victimize a real child. If there is no evidence that he is, if there is no evidence that he is a threat to society, why is clogging the registration list with his name helpful to anyone?

Posted by: lawguy | Apr 21, 2012 11:35:07 AM

I don't think the terrorists behind the SEX OFFENDER witch hunt are in a "panic". Do they really sit around and worry about people who are living down the street from them? Maybe. They are morons.

No, I think they are just pathetic, un-Americans d-bags. That's all. I have been wondering more and more lately if there are any rational people left who are actually speaking in favor of the Registries, etc. Doesn't seem like it.

I also don't really care for the discussion that the Registries are "bloated", that only the truly "dangerous" people should be on there. No, since the Registries are counter-productive, those are exactly the people who should not be on a Registries. We shouldn't have Registries. Informed people know that.

Lastly, I can't believe Georgia decided not to Register people who were only convicted of holding people against their will, sometimes at gunpoint. That alone is enough proof that the Registries are moronic. You seriously think we should Register people who might try to "groom" someone and not someone who would point a gun at someone. Really? That's what the Registry Terrorists think, apparently.

Posted by: FRegistryTerrorists | Apr 21, 2012 11:28:59 PM

The witch hunt against "sex" offenders is becoming preposterous.

All stemming from a mother who, 31 years ago, decided shopping for lamps was more important than keeping tabs on her son in a Sears department store, and another "victim" mom in Ohio that whined and moaned to lawmakers because she didn't know her neighbors and her child was murdered while she sat watching soaps most likely. Now we have the 33-year-old Etan Patz case back in the spotlight stirring up dust and indirectly pointing fingers at sex offenders.

I find it truly sad that America has become a nation of sheep and
cowards that will sacrifice the rights and basic humanity of others in order to garner a false promise of security.

This is not about protecting or "safeguarding" children, it's about fear mongering and profiting from it. Registration and community notification laws are ineffectual when it comes to protecting society and enhancing public safety. Knowing where someone lives does NOT prevent crime; nor does it protect ANYONE, much less save lives. Millions wasted on laws that amount to little more than security theater and the illusion of safety and awareness.

Posted by: hadenuff | Apr 22, 2012 12:59:36 AM

"Sex Offender Panic" has been created by the Politician's. Why don't you people wake up. The whole Adam Walsh Act is a front so the Politician's can keep their jobs and look like they are concerned about YOUR and YOUR CHILD's safety.

Your stupid if you have not figured that out by now !!

Posted by: Book38 | Apr 22, 2012 1:48:28 AM

Sex offender identification and conviction has also become a money maker for the Government. In US V Hull (8th circuit, 2010) a man who used his computer for a child porn offense lost his 19 acre farm to the Gov. The court found that because the computer was in the house, and the house was on the farm,that the entire farm facilitated his crime, therefore he lost the farm to the Government. The court also found that this did not violate the 8th amendment. In looking at if "punishment is too broad" this should be considered---again against the varying degrees of conduct. I'm not against appropriately punishing sexual offenders, per se, but I am against the every broadening application of Forfeiture Laws. This forfeiture sanction was WAY too much!!!

Posted by: folly | Apr 22, 2012 8:47:48 AM

Well, slap my face and call me flabbergasted. A rational red coat?

Posted by: Truth | Jun 11, 2012 10:24:03 PM

Lawguy: The problem with child porn charges is that the punishments are severe, even for people who have never harmed anyone. Scientific research and statistics have shown that, contrary to the public perception that all pedophiles are predators, and all persons with CP are pedophiles, that neither is true.

There is also no evidence whatsoever that suggests viewing pornography of any kind will make someone commit a sex crime. Which is why some federal judges don't like the mandatory minimums, and some have sentenced well below the guidelines.

Posted by: Truth | Jun 11, 2012 10:35:24 PM

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