Watering down the sex offender registry

If the point of sex offender registries is to protect the community from dangerous predators, is it wise to water down those registries by including people who are not dangerous alongside people who are? In some states, people have been put on sex offender registries for urinating in public, next to people who have violently raped children. That’s the height of the absurdity scale, but not the only problem with the lists.

We should establish right away that we are also taking our eye off the ball to a much more imminent threat. While “stranger danger” does exist, A large majority of sex crimes (especially crimes against children) are perpetrated by someone the victim knows. Children growing up in homes where their mother is married to or shacking up with a man who is not her children’s biological father are in significantly more danger of being physically or sexually abused than children living with both biological parents.

The New Yorker’s report on the consequences of putting underage teenagers and children on sex offender registries is sobering. And while there are some who do belong on those registries, others do not. For example, a 19 year old man who has “consensual” sex with a 14 year old girl he mistakenly believes to be older should not be treated the same as a serial child molester. (Consensual is in quotes because a teenager that young cannot legally give consent.) A little girl who has “pantsed” a classmate may have committed a cruel prank, but she is not a child molester. It is absurd to prosecute a teenager for child pornography for taking a picture of himself and sending it to his girlfriend – especially when he is simultaneously the predator and his own victim.

The idea behind sex offender registries is a good one: In its original form, to let law enforcement track people who have committed sex crimes. There can be value in letting the community know who sex offenders are, because precautions can be taken to protect children and prevent future crimes. But we have so greatly expanded the registries that they are ruining the lives of people (men and women) who are not a danger to the community. In doing so, we are spending a lot more money than necessary and we are making it nearly impossible for “sex offenders” to become productive members of society. In the long run, we run the risk of making sex offender registries useless as people cannot know whether someone on the list is legitimately dangerous or not.

Clearly, reform is needed in two directions. First, people who are not dangerous sexual predators should not be on sex offender registries. This is complicated, but can be done. Second, we need to recapture a Biblical worldview toward those who are violent predators: Meaning we need to re-establish the death penalty for crimes such as rape and child molestation. Since the Supreme Court is standing in the way of justice, this will require a constitutional amendment to bypass the judicial oligarchy and re-establish the rule of law.

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