When most hear the term “registered sex offender” the first thought that comes to mind is ‘this person is a child molester’. While the label does include many who have molested children and some other heinous acts, the label also includes many whose offenses had nothing to do with children, whose offenses are relatively benign or who have no direct victim at all.
Today, the term “sex offender” is applied to a broad classification of offenses which can include consensual teenage relationships, people caught urinating in public or who looked at illegal images on the internet. While these acts are clearly illegal, morally offensive and deserving of some punishment, they are hardly violent or predatory. Online sex offender registries include individuals who are juveniles themselves or who were at the time of their offense. Registries even include people who are deceased! By permanently lumping low or no-risk offenders into the same classification as the worst of the worst, we are diluting the focus and resources that should be applied to those who are actually dangerous.
The incorrect perception of sex offenders that continues to be propagated has prompted increasingly severe sanctions against them. Harsh punishments, such as continuous public notification and residency restrictions, continue to be passed despite evidence that suggests they have little to no effect on recidivism rates and actually decrease public safety because of the social stigma and employment and housing instability they create.
When comparing Kaitlin Hunt, the teen arrested for a consensual relationship with an underage classmate to Ariel Castro, who abducted and held three girls captive for a decade, we are clearly not dealing with the same personality or the same culpability level, yet we lump them in the same category. As an organization that works with registrants, their families, legislators, and mental health practitioners, we see first-hand how damaging this inaccurate label can be. Not only to low-risk, first-time, non-violent registrants, but to their families and their communities. We also see the vast research and studies on the topic, which indicate our sex offender management policies are not working.
We believe that most reasonable citizens, if provided with accurate facts of the risk actually posed by an individual compared to amount of resources we spend on our current sex offender management policies, would be outraged. As tax payers we expect our legislators and law enforcement to be well informed on such issues. To act responsibly with the resources both financial as well as human we entrust to them. It is not always popular to do the right thing, but we elect them to inform us as to what is the right thing.
It would be a more efficient and effective use of resources if we were able to separate those who do pose a risk and target our resources towards those individuals, identify programs and effective policies for law enforcement to use to monitor the higher risk former offenders. We would then be able to place more resources towards rehabilitation and prevention of new offenses through education and victim services.
Continuing to enforce sex offender policies we now know do not work is irresponsible and unjustifiable. Forcing low-risk, non-violent, first-time offenders to suffer the same lifetime of stigma, discrimination, and increasingly harsh restrictions that the dangerous offenders face is inhumane to them and their families. The worst part; all these laws are only making our communities more dangerous.
It’s time we broke down the “sex offender” label.
Florida Action Committee
President and Legislative Chair
Florida Action Committee
Florida Action Committee (FAC), founded in 2006, is a state-wide consortium of concerned citizens and professionals whose purpose is to promote the prevention of sexual abuse while preserving the safety and dignity of all citizens through carefully structured laws targeting the truly violent, forced, and/or dangerous predatory acts of sex. FAC believes that many aspects of the current approach to sex offenders seriously undermine justice and actually increase the threat of sexual assault against others, particularly children. FAC opposes a publicized registry of sex offenders and seeks to bring an end to the humiliation of people who have already paid for their crimes. FAC asserts that only by supporting justice for all people—offenders and victims alike can a truly safe society be built and secured for all Americans.