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Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Public Sex Offender Registry System: Ineffective and Wasteful - By Sandy Rozek


"Mark B." (a pseudonym) is a Virginia RSO that contacted me 6+ months ago, and I notified all 140 Virginia Legislators, the VADOC and the Administration of how his listing on the VSP Registry and his VADOC Probation restrictions were barriers that make successful re-entries for VA's RSO's and him an impossible goal.

Mary


Public Sex Offender Registry System: Ineffective and Wasteful, October 31, 2016
By Sandy Rozek

In 2009, Mark B. was convicted of a sexual crime, served 13 months in prison and put on the public sex offender registry. Fearing he would be unemployable at any meaningful job, Mark started his own company traveling to antique shows to take old-fashioned photos for people. The business was successful, and he was proud to provide for his family and be a contributing member of society. 

In 2016, it fell apart. An unknown person sent anonymous emails to his largest clients telling them of his status and sending a link to his public registry listing. The resulting emails to Mark severing the business relationships alluded to "public safety" and "parent concerns." The anonymous emails continued, and Mark faced bankruptcy. He is slowly rebuilding, but living every day fearing his new accounts and the old ones he still has will receive a similar email and cancel as the others did. 

Proponents of the public sex offender registry say it's needed to help parents protect their children from sexual predators, but there is no evidence it does that. Very few registrants meet the criteria for predation. Furthermore, the vast majority of sexual crimes, especially against children, are committed not by those on the registry. They're committed by those close to the victims in trusted, often familial, positions. Re-offense by those on the registry living in the community has always been, across the board, in single digits before Megan's Law and afterwards. 
 

Academic analyses and research studies have consistently failed to show a public safety benefit, or any beneficial results, from public notification — no reduction in sexual offending by rapists, child molesters, recidivists or first-time offenders.
 
Due to its failure to benefit public safety, the current registry system is wasteful. It's impossible to estimate the totals spent because expenses are covered both by the federal and local governments. Even by conservative standards, many millions in taxes are squandered with no meaningful return. 

A forensic psychologist and longtime critic of the public notification and tracking program, Bill O'Leary, put it this way: "One of the most unethical pieces of the situation has been saying that we need to do this to prevent sexual abuse when we know statistically that this has nothing to do with preventing sexual abuse." 

Academics have been writing about the failure of the public sex offender registry system to accomplish its stated goals for many years, and yet the system proliferates. Just as scholars and research have shown the failure of the current system, they also show what's needed to effect any meaningful reduction in sexual crime. The focus must shift to reintegration, education and prevention.
 
The sex offender registry must revert to its original, intended purpose: A law-enforcement tool, not a punish-and-shame tool in the hands of politicians and a largely uninformed public. 

After punishment, former offenders must have opportunities for research-based treatment, stable housing, employment and family and community support. Former victims must have access to services that focus on healing.  

Strong, research-backed programs of education and prevention must be implemented in schools and communities.

A year ago, the National Coalition to Prevent Child Sexual Abuse & Exploitation called for the creation of a stable funding stream dedicated to preventing child sexual abuse and exploitation. In an indication of just how unbalanced our child protection priorities have become, the group wants that funding stream to get at least 1 percent of the millions currently spent on "after-the-fact" responses like sex registries and civil commitment. The funding hasn't happened. 

No one disagrees that lowering the rate of sexual crime and protecting children from sexual abuse are priority goals. The current system has had more than 20 years to meet these goals, but failed. It is time to let evidence lead the way in reforming the system. We can't afford to wait any longer.