This month Human Rights Watch released a report that unambiguously demonstrates that our policies regarding sex offenders are seriously flawed. If you have time to read the 146-page document, you're probably less stressed than we are. If not, we present some of the most revealing excerpts.
Unfortunately, our research reveals that sex offender registration, community notification, and residency restriction laws are ill-considered, poorly crafted, and may cause more harm than good:
• The registration laws are overbroad in scope and overlong in duration, requiring people to register who pose no safety risk;
• Under community notification laws, anyone anywhere can access online sex offender registries for purposes that may have nothing to do with public safety. Harassment of and violence against registrants have been the predictable result;
• In many cases, residency restrictions have the effect of banishing registrants from entire urban areas and forcing them to live far from their homes and families.
The evidence is overwhelming, as detailed in this report, that these laws cause great harm to the people subject to them. On the other hand, proponents of these laws are not able to point to convincing evidence of public safety gains from them.
Human Rights Watch also points the problem of juvenile offenders.
Again, from the report:
But children are also subjected to sex offender laws for conduct that, while frowned upon, does not suggest a danger to the community, including consensual sex, “playing doctor,” and exposing themselves. Some of the conduct reflects the impulsiveness and perhaps difficulty with boundaries that many teenagers experience and that most will outgrow with maturity. In some cases it seems nothing short of irrational to label children as sex offenders.
Human Rights Watch also makes the point that the United States is "alone in the world" in its policies vis-a-vis sex offenders.
Sexual violence and abuse against children are, unfortunately, a worldwide problem. Yet the United States is the only country in the world that has such a panoply of measures governing the lives of former sex offenders. It is the only country Human
Rights Watch knows of with blanket laws prohibiting people with prior convictions for sex crimes from living within designated areas.
To our knowledge, six other countries (Australia, Canada, France, Ireland, Japan, and the United Kingdom) have sex offender registration laws, but the period required for registration is usually short and the information remains with the police. South Korea is the only country other than the United States that has community notification laws.
For more on this report, go here.