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Boon or bane?
Written by Editor   
Tuesday, 06 June 2006 13:41

On October 22, 1989, 11 year-old Jacob Erwin Wetterling of St. Joseph Minnesota was abducted by a masked man. The case remains unsolved and neither he nor his abductor have been found. On July 29, 1994, 7 year-old Megan Nicole Kanka of Hamilton Township New Jersey was lured into a neighbors home and brutally raped and murdered. That neighbor was Jesse Timmendequas--a previously convicted sex offender. The egregious murder prompted New Jersey to pass sex offender registration legislation or what has become known as Megans Law.

Other states followed suit and in 1996 the federal government enacted the Wetterling Act (H.R.2423) and the Pam Lychner Act. Numerous changes have occurred since the enacting of these laws including but not limited to Internet accessible sex offender registries and sex offender free zones. Although in most states an individuals presence in publicly available sex offender registries is dependent upon their "offense classification" which is based in part upon risk assessment and in part upon the age of the victim(s) along with the number of repeat offenses, there are some rather glaring problems. But first, lets take a look at what the numbers tell us.

The USDOJ Bureau of Justice Statistics report on sex offender prevalence (1999) indicates that 234,000 individuals convicted of a sex crime were incarcerated in 1994, and that "Among child molesters released from prison in 1994, 60% had been in prison for molesting a child 13 years old or younger." The USDOJ Bureau of Justice Statistics report on (2003) reports that "4,295 child molesters had been released" of which 18% (786) had a prior offense. Of the 786, 7.2% reoffended and of the remaining 3,509, 2.4% reoffended, 48.4% were at least 20 years older than their child victim, and 60.3% involved a child who was 13 years old or younger.

The USDOJ Bureau of Justice Statistics report on (2002) notes "386,000 convicted sex offenders were registered in 49 states" in 2001 (or 0.005% of the 71 million criminal history records, nationwide). California had the highest number of registered offenders (88,000), with Texas being the second highest (30,000). 22 of the 49 states collect DNA samples as part of the registration process and 29 of the 49 states had a publicly accessible web presence. The percent change in registered sex offenders from 1998 to 2001 ranged from as low as 4% in Idaho to as high as 993% in Washington, with a mean 105.5% and a median of 62%. Richard Tewksbury notes in his 2006 study that, as of mid-2004, there are over half a million registered sex offenders (or 150% increase since 2002). This is not particularly surprising in light of the USDOJ Bureau of Justice Statistics report on (1999).

The USDOJ Office of Juvenile Justice System report on violent crimes against children (2001) reveals that 78% of all violent crimes involve offenses against persons age 18 or older, 11% against children between the ages of 13-17, inclusive, and 11% against children under the age of 13. Of those victims who are 12 or younger, rape or sexual assault is the most likely crime at 39%. That is, 4.29% of all violent crimes against children under the age of 13 are sex crimes. Blacks and whites share a majority of violent crimes, with whites crimes against children under the age of 18 running around 46% and blacks running around 48%. Of those children under the age of 13, strangers make up 5% of the offenders, with acquaintance at 37% and step parents at 40%.

These statistics suggest that 77% of the offenders are known to the child, and of the remaining 23%, 4.29% involve sex crimes against children. Sex offender registries therefore protect against, at the very most, 0.98% or more specifically, less than 1% of the quarter million sex offenses that are committed against our children on a yearly basis. And that quarter million only represents those that are indicted, prosecuted, and convicted--to be precise, one-fourth of the more than one-million CSA allegations reported yearly. In other words, sex offender registries address less than 0.001% of sex crimes committed against children yearly.

The aforementioned 0.001% result is even more negatively impacted by the haphazard way in which these programs have been implemented. For example, keeping track of the sex offender population has become a growing problem and in a May 18, 2005 press release, Senator Orrin Hatch made a public call for a "sex offender law overhaul" noting that there were "approximately 550,000 registered sex offenders in the United States, but an estimated 100,000 sex offenders have failed to register with their states as required." On June 30, 2005, the "Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act" ( H.R. 3133) began wending its way through congress. And just this year California passed a bill to monitor the states 100,000 sex offenders.

Furthermore, complete lack of consistency between jurisdiction regarding sex offender registry criteria threatens to completely obliterate whatever usefulness might be had. For example, the term, "registered sex offender" quite often evokes visions of an adult stranger who was convicted for molesting and/or raping a prepubescent child. The legal definition of "child" is, in most states however, someone who is 17 years-old or younger, thus making the legal definition of "adult" quite obviously 18 years-old or older. Therefore, depending upon the state in which you reside, if your 18 year-old son has a 17 year-old girl friend who is due to turn 18 in a month, your son could be a candidate for the sex offender registry.

Other inconsistencies involve a rather wide variety of "offenders" that have nothing whatsoever to do with SVPs. And though you or I may cringe at the thought of learning John Q Neighbor was caught in a consensual makeout session with an adult male friend in a park in Kalamazoo, knowing such prurient and unnecessary details does not a thing to protect our nations children against sexual predators. These are but a few of the many problems with the registry laws as they are presently implemented. Unfortunately, the far reaching net in conjunction with the ever-growing pool of so-called sex offenders threatens to abrogate the usefulness of such registries altogether.

In the end, public registries--as they are presently implemented--have yet to really solve anything. And when less than 0.001% of those who prey upon our nations children are addressed by such, they are at best no better than the boy who cried wolf, and at worst nothing more than a mechanism for perpetuating harassment and/or vigilantism against wholly innocent people while instilling a false sense of security in the general population. If anything, the case of Joseph Edward Duncan, III is a rather stark example of just how miserably these laws have failed us. After all, his registration in North Dakota did not a thing to protect his victims.

 

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