Read the essay by Guy Hamilton-Smith on how the term “sex offender” is functionally meaningless, and invites policy responses that are out of step with the reality of sexual harm. These policy responses, in turn, hobble our efforts to reckon with sexual harm, foreclose accountability and redemption, and elide more effective approaches.

As of 2018, there were nearly one million people in the United States that state and federal law compelled to register as sex offenders. Men, women, and children, some as young as eight years old. Names, pictures, home (and sometimes work) addresses made publicly available to anyone with an internet connection—as are the home addresses of anyone else who resides there. If you picture a map of the entire country, there are nearly a million little red dots marking homes, street corners, homeless encampments that warn, ostensibly, of danger. Alongside these dots is an invisible cage of local, state, and federal laws threatening arrest and felony prosecution for sometimes small deviations from hyper-technical requirements that even law enforcement often cannot understand. Many of the people on these lists have served their criminal sentences long ago, but are still required to comply with rules not dissimilar from criminal parole, albeit with fewer constitutional protections.The United States is the only country in the world that does this.

 

 

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