A Call for Sex Offender Laws that Make Sense

August 19, 2009 at 2:23 pm 3 comments

Miami Sex offenders forced to live under a bridge

No doubt about it, sex offender laws are popular. It’s hard to find a citizen or politician who wants to relax laws that keep sex offenders away from schools, parks, and daycare centers. Drafting and selling these laws to the public is easy because, as a society, when we hear “sex offender” we immediately think of socially awkward, overweight, men with thick glasses, who slobber over child pornography in cave-like basement apartments and wait in the shadows around elementary schools. But the truth of the matter is much more complex.

Due to a myriad of varying state and regional crime classifications, there are many sex offenses that technically designate an individual as a sex offender who poses virtually no risk to society. A drunk college student who makes the mistake of urinating in public can be arrested for public lewdlness and labeled as a sex offender for the rest of his life. An 18-year-old girl can have sex with her 17-year-old boyfriend, be arrested for statutory rape and labeled a sex offender for the rest of her life.

This is not to say that these offenses are okay. Clearly committing these offenses is against the law, but does the 18-year-old girl deserve to show up on a sex offender map 15 years later, when she is a happily-married housewife? Should the college kid be arrested for living too close to a public park (violating a sex offender residency restriction law) for a dumb, youthful indiscretion?

The problem is that current laws do not differentiate between violent sex offenders and people who made stupid mistakes, and there is a growing backlash against such laws. Recently, Miami-Dade County’s sex offender residency restriction laws forced 100 sex offenders to live in a homeless shantytown under a bridge, creating a public health and safety hazard that ignited a media firestorm, garnering national attention. As well, Andrea Cassanova, mother of a woman killed by a sex offender in 2002, founded a non-profit organization to research and combat useless and harmful “headline legislation” surrounding sex offenders restriction laws. Even Lenore Skenazy, “free-range kids” advocate, recently told parents to “burn your sex offender map,” arguing that sex offender maps are useless.

In addition, today there is a story about North Carolina man who was arrested for going to church. The man is a sex offender because of an offense against a teenage girl, six years ago. Since the church runs a daycare center during the week, county deputies arrested the man for violating sex offender restriction laws for going to church. Also in North Carolina, another church graciously moved its daycare center off premises so that a single sex offender could attend services on Sundays.

Forcing sex offenders to live under a bridge or keeping them from seeking rehabilitation through faith-based worship and counseling are not solving any problems. In fact, the further restrictions imposed on sex offenders, the greater the possibility the offender will break parole, abscond, and create a new life in a new neighborhood without anyone knowing who they are or what they have done—which isn’t good for anyone. Sex offenders who have absconded are less likely to seek treatment, and community members will be completely unaware of their past crimes, opening themselves up to future attacks if the offender has a violent past.

Fortunately, Miami-Dade County has found a temporary solution to the homeless sex offender colony and is finding affordable housing in the county for these individuals. But legislators and citizens need more information on recidivism rates and sex offender classifications. As well, law makers need to approach these problems in a less reactionary way, looking for solutions that keep tabs on violent, dangerous sex offenders, and stop punishing individuals that pose no threat to society. At the same time, there needs to be more emphasis on rehabilitation and counseling, and less emphasis on pushing sex offenders to the fringes—increasing the chances that they will go underground, reoffend, and hurt more innocent people and children.

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3 Comments Add your own

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  • 3. Virginia  |  August 24, 2009 at 10:12 pm

    I think it should be the responsibility of landlords or renter businesses to find out who their renters are. They ask for credit checks why can’t they ask for sex offenders checks and also the mail dept. can keep track of them. We Need to keep our kids safe at all costs. It could mean the trauma for the rest of their lives if they live through what sex offenders do to kids! We need to do all we can. Notify your congressman to get some laws in place to protect kids.


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