Should Sex Offenders be Named and Shamed?


Authored by Cathy L. Chambers in Criminal Law 
Published on 09-16-2009

Sex offenders are individuals who have either been found guilty or entered a plea of no contest (nolo contendere) to sex offenses. The charges leading to these convictions sometimes include crimes against children such as sexual abuse and child pornography. This category of crime also includes “lesser” crimes like mooning and public indecency. Once found guilty, these offenders are required to register in a database called a Sex Offender Registry. Offenders who have been found guilty of serious offenses may be required to register for the rest of their lives. Lesser offenses may require registration for a shorter period of time.

Should Sex Offenders be named in public? At first, the answer appears to be simple enough. In the collective minds of the public, sex offenders are sick fiends who prey on children or commit serial rapes. The public needs to be protected from these offenders. It would be difficult to find anyone who doesn’t think that potential victims need to be aware of a predator in their midst. The rate of recidivism among sex offenders is very high. Among released sex offenders, 5.3% were arrested for committing another sex crime, according to the Department of Justice. It would seem that making the public aware of these individuals would be a step toward preventing future crimes.

Unfortunately, databases can be unreliable. Offenders move and fail to register their new addresses or they fail to register once they are released. More importantly, many of the offenders listed in these databases pose no real threat to anyone. The penalty for a teenager caught having consensual sex should not be the same as the punishment given to a middle aged man violating a child. Dangerous predators are notorious for slipping through cracks in the system. The idea of their names being made public is not going to discourage them from committing a sex crime once they are released from jail. Men and women who prey on innocent victims need to be incarcerated for life, not released back into society.

The current system of registering sex offenders casts too wide a net. Amorous teens that are caught making use of the local lovers’ lane are violating the law. Their crime does not place them on equal footing with a child pornographer. Requiring them to register as sex offenders places them in jeopardy from vigilante groups who monitor these registries for the purpose of keeping the public informed. Individuals that are found guilty of these lesser offenses may find the effects on their personal lives disproportionately harsh.

The idea behind forcing those who commit sex crimes to register their addresses with local law enforcement is intended to protect potential victims. The truly depraved individuals, those who abuse children or rape will not be deterred simply because their neighbors know who of their crimes. The best protection from those individuals is to keep them away from society. Knowing where they live does not provide as much protection as keeping them away from children. Shame does not rehabilitate.


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