Rolling Stone magazine posted a story yesterday about the murder of Lauren McCluskey a University of Utah student who was murdered by her boyfriend, who was on the sex offender registry.
The article asks the question, “what’s the point of the sex offender registry?” It didn’t help Lauren and, according to the research cited by Rolling Stone, it doesn’t really help anyone.
Below is an excerpt:
Rowland’s status as a registered sex offender has been highlighted in media coverage of the case, raising questions about how it could have helped prevent this murder. But the case actually underscores how ineffective offense-based registries are at crime prevention, a criticism made by groups like Human Rights Watch and the ACLU, amongst many others. Critics say that sex offender registries fail to make communities safer, and serve primarily as a lifetime punishment that unfairly imposes restrictions on a broad spectrum of people.
“Peer-reviewed research demonstrates that 95 percent of reported sex crimes are attributable to first-time offenders,” Guy Hamilton-Smith, a legal fellow for the Sex Offense Litigation and Policy Resource Center at the Mitchell Hamline School of Law, tells Rolling Stone. “That means that registries and other post-conviction restrictions on liberty have very little impact on the vast, vast majority of sexual violence.”
Federal laws like the Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Registration Act (in 1994), Megan’s Law (in 1996) and the Adam Walsh Act (in 2006) required states to set up sex offender registries and impose restrictions on where they can live and work. They were all enacted on the premise that disclosing to the public the sexual offenders in their neighborhood would empower parents to guard themselves and their children from future sexual victimization, and work as a deterrent for would-be sex offenders. But not only has that been proven not to be the case, this premise serves to reinforce myths about sexual violence that don’t reflect the majority of reported sex crimes.
“Registries adopt this model that predators lurking in the shadows are the ones doing all this raping, but that’s generally not the case,” says Hamilton-Smith. “It’s people that we know, people that we trust, sexual violence takes places within the context of relationships, of workplaces, of schools, of churches, etc., not random acts of violence.”These sex offenders are also not necessarily pursued by law enforcement to the fullest extent, let alone taken to court, found guilty and made to register. What constitutes a “sex crime” varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, and in many cases can include far less severe offenses than rape or child molestation — like public urination, children and teenagers experimenting with their peers, or even sexualized breastfeeding. These registrants are often subject to restrictions that bar loitering, working or living within certain zones, making reentering society after prison next to impossible — and can actually encourage re-offending in other ways.
“There is research that supports public registries actually increase re-offense rates by basically making it impossible for someone to be anything but a criminal by making their life so utterly miserable that they can do nothing but stay on the margins,” says Hamilton-Smith. “In many jurisdictions, maybe even all jurisdictions, the most common reason for people on the registry to go back to prison is not for a new sex offense, but is for so-called failure to comply offenses. So, it creates ‘crime’ by essentially making up all these new ways for people who are trying to survive to catch a charge, then also by draining public safety resource from places where investment might actually make a difference. To the extent anyone rehabilitates themselves, they do not do it because of the registry, they do it in spite of it.”