Current laws that govern sex offences are placed under scrutiny for their potential unfairness towards those convicted. Often, these laws are excessively harsh against those who do not pose a current danger to public safety.
There are few things as dire to the public mind as sex offences. Hence, current laws are as harsh as possible to protect what is perceived as the safety of the public and its most vulnerable members, children. For this reason, the Internet sex offender databases were created. At the basis of these is Megan's Law, which specifically requires a state to make neighbors aware when violent sex offenders move into their community (Sheeres, 2002). The law has been enacted in honor of Megan Kanka. She was a 7-year-old girl from New Jersey who was raped and murdered in 1994. The perpetrator was a twice-convicted child molester. He moved into a house across the street from Megan's family without notification. In an effort to protect other children from a similar fate, Megan's Law has been enacted in 32 states, where registries are posted on the Internet for parents and schools to check for sex offenders in their region so that they can better protect their children.
Because of the nature of sex offences and the image of these in the public mind, it is politically beneficial to pass increasingly harsh laws against sex offenders (Weslander, 2006). Jessica's Law, for example, was enacted in 2006, and required offender to visit their county sheriff twice per year, paying a $20 fee with each visit. They are also required to verify their address every 90 days. Failure to do this could result in jail time, implying that the felony is on the same level as involuntary manslaughter. Some criminal justice professionals have begun to protest this as excessively harsh.
Furthermore, the sex offender laws and registry make no distinction between violent sex offenders, who violated the rights of children without their consent, and those who experimented with sex with their consenting, but very young, girlfriends for example. A person convicted of "lewd and lascivious behavior," for example, could serve the same jail time for making a paperwork mistake as those who are convicted of raping and murdering a child. In other words, there is no distinction between types of sex crimes.
According to Whorisky (2006), Georgia's law against sex offenders is one of the toughest. In this state, sex offenders are forbidden from living within 1,000 feet of a school, playground, church, or school bus stop. According to the author, the effect of this is that those who are convicted of a sex offense, regardless of the type of crime, are practically banished from the state.
This is a case in point for the political viewpoint mentioned above, where legislators have been quoted as stating their intent to make the laws against sex offender so harsh that "they will want to move to another state" (Worisky, 2006)
Similarly harsh sentences are imposed in Florida, where the Jimmy Ryce Act requires sex offenders who are considered to be a danger to society to be held indefinitely for treatment (Prior, 2010). This means that the offender in question is involuntarily committed for psychological and psychiatric treatment.
The Jimmy Ryce Act, passed in 1998, was a reaction to the rape, beating and shooting of a 9-year-old boy, Jimmy Ryce, in 1995. The crime occurred 20 miles southwest of Miami. The difficulty related to this law and others like it is that, while their intentions were certainly pristine enough -- to protect children from such crimes, their effects stretch significantly beyond their intention. As mentioned, the tendency is to apply the law to all sex offenses, regardless of degree or nature.
One unintended consequence of these harsher laws, specifically as they relate to registered sex offenders, is that they create an incentive not to register (Sullum, 2007). This has resulted in the intervention by the Georgia Supreme Court, which overturned the 1,000 feet rule and the registration requirement as these were considered counter to public safety.
STAKEHOLDER ANALYSIS AND CURRENT SITUATION
The most obvious stakeholders in the concern with sex offences and the laws that rule them are children. Their safety and the safety of the public are at the heart of all sex offending laws. However, as seen above, many of these laws violate not only the rights of the individuals concerned, but is also counter-intuitive in terms of public safety, as many se offenders will fail to register as a result of the harsh laws.
The second group of stakeholders is parents, who have a right to peace of mind regarding the well-being of their children. Clearly, this is not an unreasonable requirement in today's society, algthough the above point regarding public safety and sex offender registration should be kept in mind.
The third group of stakeholders is sex offenders themselves. According to Sheeres (2002), the rights of these stakeholders are violated by means of across the board regulations that make no distinction between types or severity of the conviction in question. Specifically, the rights being violated include the right to privacy, the right to due process, and the right not to be punsihed after the sentence for a crime has been served. Particularly this is the case in terms of online sex offender registries in Alaska and Connecticut. One strong argument in terms of privacy is the disclosure of the addresses of sex offenders on online registries. This creates an opportunity for members of the public to violate the law by visiting the homes of registered sex offenders and committing crimes on these premises.
Another potential violation of the rights of registered sex offenders is the lack of accuracy on registries. This could lead to innocent people being attacked as a result of a simple oversight like the failure to change the address of a registered sex offender online when the offender moves.
Juvenile offenses are another issue that could make life difficult for perpetrators who knew little better during the time of their offense. A 13-year-old boy who engaged in indecent contact with an 11-year-old girl, for example, is also required to be registered on the same sex offender registry as those who are convicted of rape and murder.
Whorisky (2006) makes a further point for aging sex offenders, who are unlikely to pose any future danger to either their immediate neighbors or to the public in general. The author provides the examples of one offender who is 100 years old and another who is in the late stages of Alzheimer's disease. These offenders, despite the fact that they no longer pose any public danger, are themselves in danger of being pushed form their homes and hospices as a result of laws whose intention in the first place was to protect the public safety (Sullum, 2007).
Furthermore, those sex offenders who are considered rehabilitated are also judged on the same level as those who are considered to still pose a danger to the public. At its basis, these laws do not consider the circumstances surrounding each case. Also, because of the extreme public concern for the safety of children, it is unlikely that members of the public would consider this before perpetrating attacks or other vicious hate crimes against persons who are on the sex offender registry.
A further effect of harsher laws and their consequences is that, while many former offenders will be rendered homeless, they will also be made more difficult to monitor. This is particularly the case with those convicted of violent sex offences. For these reasons, Whorisky (2006) points out that great caution should be exercised when laws are passed for political purposes. Sex offender laws, for example, tend to be harsher when politicians want to gain favor in the public eye, which often results in a lack of critical consideration of the ultimate effects of these laws. Often, these laws and the stigma they attach to even minor or consensual sex offences, make it difficult for offenders to put their past mistakes behind them and move on with their lives (San Diego News, 2010).
Clearly, the current situation is not ideal in terms of the rights of either group of stakeholders. Hence, legislators should critically consider their options and a way forward to ensure the safety of the public in balance with the rights of offenders who have been rehabilitated, or whose crimes were surrounded by mitigating conditions such as youthful experimentation.
Maintain the laws as they are; do nothing to change them. The consequences of this course of action (or non-action) are a perpetuation of the current difficulties experienced; a number of rights are being violated, including those of potential victims; violent sex offenders are driven deeper into hiding, where they could perpetually engage in their criminal activity.
Critically assess sex offender laws and registration requirements and make them less harsh. The inherent danger here is, again, public safety. While less harsh laws may…