Here are 5 things everyone should know about sex offender registration.
- Most English-speaking countries have sex offender registries; most non-English-speaking countries don’t. Only the US publishes the names, addresses, and crimes of sex offenders—“to make the public aware” while shaming offenders in the tradition of the Scarlet Letter. All other countries restrict information, making it available only to police.
- Other countries base inclusion in sex offender registries on “assessed risk” (how dangerous the criminal is thought to be) and “length of sentence served” (how severe the crime was for which he/she was incarcerated). The US system instead is “offense-based” where anyone who does anything that’s deemed a sexual offense is required to register. When a few states challenged that approach, wanting instead to base their registries on assessed risk or sentence served, they were informed by the Federal government that they had to comply with the offense-based Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act. Significantly, no studies to date have found the US registry to be effective in any way in protecting kids.
- National sex offender registration was instigated following a flurry of well-publicized child abductions and murders in the late 70s and 80s, particularly those of 6-year-olds Etan Patz and Adam Walsh. During the same period, serial killer Wayne Williams abducted more than twenty children in what came to be known as “the Atlanta murders.” Cable TV news was then in its infancy, and fighting to be recognized, initiated the practice of sensationalizing stories, particularly those dealing with kids. John Walsh, father of Adam Walsh, was a frequent contributor to cable TV, referred to as an expert on missing kids. He was later criticized for adding to the missing kid panic of the 1980s after stating that 1.5 million kids go missing every year, and telling Congress that the US is “littered with mutilated, decapitated, raped, strangled children.” In fact, the Department of Justice later determined that just over 100 kids go missing annually at the hands of strangers, the same number that had been reported each year for decades. Walsh later confessed that while in his early 20s, he dated a 16-year-old, which would have made him a sex offender if it happened today.
- While ex post facto laws are forbidden by the US Constitution —laws that reach back, penalizing people for behavior that was legal at the time it occurred—courts might yet find a way to dodge the issue and make registration retroactive for any offense committed by anyone without regard for its legality at the time or for how far back it occurred. There are movements afoot to make this a reality, putting at risk anyone who ever played doctor to satisfy normal curiosity.
- Under the US one-size-fits-all registration system, rapists are treated the same as those who engage in any type of sexual contact without first asking for and receiving permission, those who stumble across others having sex and pause to watch, and those who expose themselves in public, such as when relieving themselves by the side of the road.
What does this mean for you?
We now live with a system initiated by legislators in response to parental concerns, arising from a national hysteria fueled by cable TV. Registration does nothing to protect kids. It puts them at risk of becoming sex offenders themselves. The offense categories are so broad and the intent of the law so over-reaching that kids—the very people the laws were meant to protect—are far more likely to become entangled in registration by simply doing the things kids have always done than to ever be accosted by a stranger. Parents lobbying legislators to keep kids safe at all costs should be careful what they wish for.
Not since the Communist witch hunts of the 1950s has our country witnessed such an unbridled and unreasoned rush to judgment motivated by false fear and a lust for punishment. In westerns we grew up watching in the 1960s, men went to jail, served their time, and were then given a chance to start their lives over. There was a decency in that—a value worth defending. Today, that same formula holds true if you commit murder, embezzlement, arson, or assault. But if you’re a boy in love with a girl and get caught being sexual in any way, you’ll find a follow-up sentence awaiting you after you serve your time—a sentence that will last the rest of your life. No jobs, no freedom of movement, no freedom of housing, no reason to get married—especially if you want kids.
All registration should immediately be abandoned, but it won’t be. Christianity’s centuries-old influence on Western civilization and western thought—including its vilification of sex—is nearing its sunset. At the same time, natural, healthful, joyful sexuality is experiencing a renaissance. Those clinging desperately to the past see in sex offenders one last chance to continue disparaging sex by linking sex to children in peril. It’s working. Sex offenders are now the most hated group in America with parents living in fear, believing the myth that their children will be attacked by some stranger lurking at the corner. We’ve yet to be able to shake from our minds John Walsh’s 1.5 million missing kids and replace it with the Justice Department’s 100.
The national disgrace of sex offender registration will come to an end when the witch hunters make their way to enough of our homes in search of our kids, ensnaring them in nets of death along with all other innocent dolphins. It’s then that we’ll replace our blind fear of sex offenders with a clear-vision fear of sex offender registration. Kids are at risk … with parents looking in the wrong direction.