Monday, November 10, 2008

Sex Offender Registries are Stupid

Sex Offender Registries are Stupid. Of course, since they are about "protecting the children" they include some of the most ridiculous over-reaching, over-reacting nonsense we see in the criminal law. They can make it almost impossible for someone on them to find a place to live or work. "Good riddance" says the community. Except that they do need to live somewhere. Recently, an overly broad registry law was curtailed for Halloween, but that is the exception, not the rule.

Setting aside all of the ridiculous restrictions that make it nearly impossible to live if you are on the registry, there is a more basic problem with them. There are juts too damn many people on those registries who have no business being on them.

One of the main justifications for the registry is that we have to "protect children from pedophiles" and that pedophiles will always be pedophiles and children will always be vulnerable. There are also claims that they have high repeat rates. This makes a certain sense. If you can only get off with children, given the strong sex drive most people have, odds are, a pedophile will at least be sorely tempted again and again. There's just one problem with this argument in support of sex offender registries - the registries are not limited to pedophiles. If they were, I'd find them much less objectionable. Instead, anyone who commits any even vaguely sex-related crime gets put on them. It could be a seventeen year old having sex with a fifteen year old. It could be indecent exposure for peeing in a public park (when the bathroom is out of order). And yes, even rape of an adult - a horrible crime, but not one that involves children and not one that indicates pedophilia. And lest anyone think I'm trying to give rapists a break, note that if you avoid sex and just murder someone, you do NOT end up on the registry. Because murder isn't a sex offense.

While I'm dubious about the whole "scarlet letter" deal with people who have served their time still being branded and prevented from living in society, at the very least, we ought to limit this to the pedophiles. And not based on convictions, either. I'd set up a system for, after conviciton, giving an evaluation to see if someone really is a pedophile, and only then would I put them on the list. As it is now, it is a mindless, stupid bureacracy that puts people on these lists and then it is almost impossible to get off of them.

I tend to think that this is part of a general phenomenon of wanting to label people, particularly people you otherwise don't know. You see this on-line in discussions where someone (particularly someone who is disagreed with) is very quickly slapped with some sort of negative lable that then gives permission for everyone who disagrees to immediately dismiss the person forever. I'm of the opinion that no one word can describe anyone. And no one is defined by a single action.

As a final note, I have no sympathy for those who commit crimes against others. They need to be prosecuted and punished. But then, we need to let them out and at least try and integrate them back into society. And if they truly are too dangerous to let out, then lock them up for life. Stop playing games. And this is really important: stop buying into the religious right notion that sex is somehow a far worse thing than say, murder. There is no registry for violent offenders (though there is a registry for child abuse in Michigan - but that is just about children, just like my registry would be). Again, if it is too dangerous to let someone out, then don't.


Erin said...

The problem with the "let's make a list of pedophiles" idea is, unless you're willing to do all the evaluating yourself AND everybody agrees that you're just the man for the job, you risk getting evaluators who replace "pedophile" with "people I don't like or trust."

DBB said...

Well, it would still be an improvement - it would be limited to actual crimes against children done by adults and it would also be done by doctors, with clinical criteria for pedophilia that need scientific proof. At least that's what I envision.

Erin said...

I definitely agree that our reaction to sex vs. violence is inexplicably skewed. MPAA ratings are a great place to see this: movies with just violence are consistently rated lower than movies with just sex. And if that sex is portrayed as something less than the semi-sleazy attitude of a soap opera, or if (heaven forbid!) there are people masturbating or people are engaging in sex because it feels good rather than out of some romantic feelings, or to get back at someone, or whatever, well, that's just unacceptable. Portrayals of sex are supposed to have some element of danger to them, I guess, to pass muster.

Samiro Discher said...

I am living in Europe, and I am very glad not to live in the US, particulary for laws like this. I think these laws make even harmless people like me quite dangerous and everyone easily vulnerable. Say, some women would want to bring me on such a list just for walking nude in public because it makes her feel harassed, then I would commit a real crime to stop her from doing that, given that she actually got a good chance of success. There must have been some very stupid people working out these laws, uglifying your society like that.