Hot Button Question: Sex Offender Laws

I’m pretty sure none of you would want to run for Congress if you realized how many issues there are, and how many are really difficult to answer honestly, without fearing huge backlash.

I got an e-mail from a constituent who asked my position on the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act. It’s a very complex issue, with tough decisions, but, because I believe in transparency and honesty over campaign rhetoric, I’m answering it as honestly as I can.

These laws scare me. Here is what Human Rights Watch says:

US: Sex Offender Laws May Do More Harm Than Good (Human Rights Watch, 12-9-2007)
“Human Rights Watch shares the public’s goal of protecting children from sex abuse,” said Jamie Fellner, director of the US program at Human Rights Watch. “But current laws are ill-conceived and poorly crafted. Protecting children requires a more thoughtful and comprehensive approach than politicians have been willing to support.”

In many states, registration covers everyone convicted of a sexual crime, which can range from child rape to consensual teenage sex, and regardless of their potential future threat to children. Unfettered public access to online sex-offender registries with no “need-to-know” restrictions exposes former offenders to the risk that individuals will act on this information in irresponsible and even unlawful ways. There is little evidence that this form of community notification prevents sexual violence. Residency restrictions banish former offenders from entire towns and cities, forcing them to live far from homes, families, jobs and treatment, and hindering law-enforcement supervision. Residency restrictions are counterproductive to public safety and harmful to former offenders.

Putting scarlet letters on people is not a solution.

There is a case in Troy Ohio where a sex offender found a place that was across the river from a school. It was deemed that he was within the radius- even though the only way was to swim, and would have to move.

There are sex offenders living in my neighborhood. There are also crack heads. Which causes more problems? The crack head. Both need treatment, neither are being handled properly.

Although other candidates will attack this stand, I still believe that our Constitution has protections against double-jeopardy, and that these laws aren’t the answer. No, I am not for letting child molesters and sex offenders off- but, there has to be some sensible way for them to reintegrate into society. Either that, or we may as well just start killing them off instead of sentencing them to a life sentence in the court of public opinion.

It’s hard enough to go from convict to citizen (see my post on prisons) but, these laws, often applied retroactively, are questionable both in their intent and their effectiveness, often creating more problems than they are solving.

Ouch. I’m sure by being honest, I lost the election. But, as I say: in an advertising campaign, if you lie, you get sued. In a political campaign, if you lie, you get elected.

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7 Responses

  1. Stine February 27, 2008 / 9:16 pm
    It’s a reasonable opinion.

    One major problem with sex offender laws is how easy it is for one to get on the list. I’ve read stories of <18yo girls who have taken nude pictures of themselves and posted them on the Internet. These girls were charged with distributing child pornography and sexual abuse … of themselves. The Genarlow Wilson case is another example.

    These laws are being misused. The main point isn’t protecting children from predators, but to promote a specific moral view and punish those who don’t fall in line.

  2. Shannon February 27, 2008 / 9:24 pm
    Once again, This is why you have my vote. See if Jane or MT will give us a straight forward, honest answer on another “Hot Button Question”.
  3. J.R. Locke February 28, 2008 / 1:01 am
    Someone will get a hold of a snippet of anything you say and use it against you. Gonna happen anyway no matter the issue or how much you write.

    I am always amazed how these “high profile” (ie white children from middle to upper class family) cases provide such political inspiration and fervor despite the rather limited occurrences. Didn’t Matt Walsh get taken out of a department store? How often does this really happen. Child molesters are far more likely to be someone that is familiar (just like most sexual abusers). Priests, fathers, uncles, brothers etc….

    Wouldn’t it be amazing if we had the equivalent of an amber alert for corporate crime and corruption? the Ken Lay alert? Burlesconi alert?

  4. Juan February 28, 2008 / 7:08 am
    Yeah, JR – Genarlow Wilson’s case sure fits your example of a white kid from a middle/upper class family. We’re taking points away from you if you have to Google his name!

    Well, David, Hell is freezing over yet again! I couldn’t agree more with you about these laws getting out of hand. Stine is absolutely correct about how easy it is to end up on these lists (no – I don’t know this from personal experience! ;)). Things that were common as a prank when we were teenagers, such as streaking or mooning, have been known make people end up on a list. After all, some precious kiddie could have been exposed to a hairy ass going down the highway.

    There was a bill making it’s way through the Ohio Statehouse recently which was going to require sex offenders to get special, flourescent green license plates for their cars to make them easier to identify. Can you imagine what a target that would make them for vandelism while shopping at Krogers? It’s a throwback to the Scarlet Letter days.

    For the record, I don’t care much for the special DUI plates but at least these special plates are connected to something (the car) in which the offense occured. In most cases, a sexual offenders car has nothing to do with the offense.

  5. Mark March 3, 2008 / 11:54 pm
    As a Reagan Conservative, I will be voting for Mr. Esrati because he supports and defends the Constitution of the United States. This is the foundation of our republic and nation. Politics on any other matter pale in the face of constitutional attacks by our legislators. When elected officials so irresponsibly violate constitutional provisions and rights of any citizens, it is time for us to force them out, regardless of party or politics. Please join the fight at constitutionalfights.org
  6. Susan December 7, 2009 / 2:31 pm
    One big issue with these convictions, particularly with the less extreme cases is that, once accused, the law assumes you are guilty and the accused needs to prove innocence…even though our constitution states we are innocent until proven guilty.  You can be convicted on an accuser’s statement alone, without the case being proven. Under current laws, even if the sentence is “only” a year, it is virtually a lifetime sentence…plus factor in that the accused has lost his job/home/money/car,  with a difficult post release in terms of finding  housing and employment. The current reporting laws also breakdown neighborhoods and communities because houses near the offender will be either unsellable or way below market…owners may decide to rent, which could bring in less invested neighbors.  I am not a bleeding heart, but some of these convictions are situational and not a danger to occur again and I believe some are false….I think only the worst proven convictions should require notification, and should include  murderers and robbers etc.  Under current laws, all you need is an angry ex wife or girlfriend and you can be in a heap of trouble that you had better take seriously, no matter how innocent you are.

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