What is a Sex Offender and How are Sex Offenders Defined?
A sex offender is an individual who has been convicted of a sex crime as defined by the state legislature in the particular state in question. It is a state-wide designation rather than a local designation, and impacts citizens of that state throughout the entire state. The standard for sex crimes differs from state to state as to which particular crimes are included in the definition, rather than adhering to a federal standard of sex crimes. Most states designate a specific list or crimes and a special list of sex-related and/or violent felonies which qualify an act for inclusion on the list of covered crimes, and once an individal has a conviction for one of those crimes, that individual has become a sex offender under the definition of that state’s laws and punishments.
Although there is no “master list” of sex crimes, there are some standard convictions which can be found on the sex crime lists of most states. These include rape by either gender, but also “lesser” offenses of a sexual nature including molestation, unprivileged touching, stalking, assault, and any combination of these crimes. Often, these acts result from a finding of child abuse by one or both parents. While the high-profile sex crimes usually have a child’s name attached to the crime, such as “Megan’s Law, the vast majority remain anonymous in the press, and many actually remain undetected.
What is the concern : Protecting Children and Teens From Meeting Sex Offenders Online or in Real Life
The hope when designating an offense as a sex crime is that the designation will provide a mechanism to enable law enforcement to have grounds to deny access to the perpetrator to the protected class of individuals needing protection to keep them safe from having to face situations which would put them within reach of the behavior of the offender. By overtly being able to focus on individuals with a history of committing the targeted crimes, law enforcement has a valid reason to focus on certain behaviors and individuals. Being able to isolate the offenders and prescribe their behavior and whereabouts gives law enforcement an added ability to control the acts of convicted offenders without the need for current prohibited activity on the part of the offenders; their simple presence at or near a prohibited location such as a playground or a school can trigger operation of the law sanctioning their behavior to help prevent future violations.
A newer threat which is giving sex offenders access to their victims which is a new type of crime unforeseen in simpler times is the threat that a sex offender will make verbal contact with an unsuspecting victim online, under the guise of merely being a new friend. Because young and impressionable children have vast, unsupervised time alone with computer access, this unregulated access is giving sex offenders a new avenue to bond with and meet their future victims, all within the presumed safety of the victims’ own home.
Why is this a big deal and why does it pose a threat
The same freedoms which make the Internet a vast and unfettered site for learning, creativity, and innovation are freedoms which have the potential to hurt vulnerable individuals of any age who don’t understand that they are playing with fire when they encounter strangers over the Internet who seem nice but really have nefarious intentions for wanting to establish social connections with vulnerable children over the Internet.
Denying access by sex offenders to certain at-risk individuals through detailing certain prohibited behaviors is one way that society is trying to protect its more vulnerable members. Prohibiting sex offenders from being present where young children are frequently left unsupervised, including school yards, parks, playgrounds, day care sites, and church properties, is one attempt to curtail access for the sex offenders to their potential victim.
One Solution that is Being Tried is to Develop a List, or Registry, of Convicted Sex Offenders
One Mechanism that has been devised to keep sex offenders away from their potential victims is to maintain a list, or registry, of local individuals in a given jurisdiction who have been convicted of certain crimes in the past and which crimes have a heavy incidence of involving repeat offenders. This permits a list of those individuals who have been found guilty of sex crimes to be developed and to be used to deny access to protected classes of individuals, the ones to be protected.
Use of these lists has had a positive effect at preventing sex offenders a means of preying on their victims, because it allows law enforcement to have a valid way to control the movement of the offenders through their jurisdictions and gives enforcement legal grounds to regulate the mere presence of the offenders without any other behavior needed.
How the List/Registry Can Help
Finding a citizen on the sex offender list or registry gives law enforcement probable cause to confront that individual and question that person’s presence at that site. Because the registries make it illegal for the offender to be present at protected sites, that gives law enforcement the ability to enforce the ban of sex offenders without violating their civil rights.
Does Making a List Solve a Problem or Just Keep the Vulnerable Individuals Away from the Potential Harm?
Simply having a list does no more to keep offenders off the streets and out of protected areas than having a speed limit makes drivers adhere to that limit. However, there is a chilling effect which tends to keep perpetrators away from areas where they could get in trouble for merely being present. The presence of the law has a deterrent effect on the behavior of some offenders.
Does Maintaining and Enforcing a List/Registry Help Society as Much as it Can Hurt Individuals on the Registry?
Due to the aforementioned deterrent effect that having a sex offender registry can have on the presence or absence of offenders at/from the protected sites, the benefit of having the lists and the added authority that it gives to law enforcement outweighs the detriment on the movement of the offenders. By merely avoiding various prohibited areas, the offenders are able to avoid consequences.
How identifying SO’s can help: The Child Safe Advocacy group in certain locales promulgates warnings if a sex offender or child predator is known to be in an area. The unsolicited warnings are delivered online to individuals in the area.
One means of enforcement that having a list can provide is to enable citizen advocacy groups to provide information of the whereabouts of offenders in a city. While this could become an abuse of power if taken too far, the safety of citizens in this situation outweighs any burden to the offenders in having their behavior and whereabouts monitored.
How mobilizing for the cause can help
Mobilizing interest and generating awareness about issues surrounding sex offenders can only improve conditions of everyone affected. Being in a position to confront the hardships caused by being listed on the registry balanced against the fear generated by feeling powerless in the presence of offenders can create a dialog which may address any tension present from the existence of the situation in the first place.
Would Tightening the Criteria Used for Identifying Sex Offenders Help the Process?
Altering the criteria for being included on the list is a public p policy issue which has to take place at the legislative level. Because the lists are generally promulgated at the state level and then passed down to the local level for enforcement, the ony way to effect a change would be to lobby the state legislatures. Because of the severity of the issue, pushing for change would be unpopular, to say the least.
Help for perpetrators of sex crimes which lead to inclusion on the sex offender registry
While not likely to be a p popular campaign platform, there is room for laws and measures which will help individuals convicted of committing a sex crime. Being included on the list creates a social stigma which impacts freedom of movement and employablilty among other factors.
How society can assist
Society and social institutions can further this process by providing help for individuals suffering from mental and sociological conditions which make committing sex offenses acceptable in their own eyes. Providing help in those areas can help to improve the situation.
Is the label fairly applied or should there be controls
Prompting state legislatures to take steps to be certain that inclusion on the state registry is defined by creating a small, tightly defined group of offenders rather than painting with a broad brush to determine the contents of the sex offender list is imperative to preserving the rights of those on the list. The crimes covered by the list should be specifically selected to ensure that only those which have a high recidivism (repeat) factor are included on the list. While there are certain acts which don’t need to be condoned sugh as public masturbation, a non-violent act such as that should not make it to the sex offender list if at all possible, as that is an isolated act which by itself does not impact public safety in the same way that a rape conviction would.
Where is the line?
The line should be drawn at acts which pose a threat of violent sexual behavior against the general population. This will involve redrawing state criminal laws to isolate more specifically those laws which, when violated, will lead to inclusion on the sex offender registry. The states should inquire about the purpose of maintaining the list in the first place; is it to make the jurisdiction a safer place with more authority given to law enforcement to regulate the whereabouts of individuals who are members of a suspect class, or merely to place a stigma on individuals who have been convicted in the past.
The remedy being sought by the imposition of the list should be discovered and policies following that intent should be pursued in enforcing the sex offender list.
Once a jurisdiction can articulate its intentions in maintaining a sex offender list, it can begin to move forward toward finding a remedy which will be more predictive of helping the problem posed by sex offenders.
The results of having the list should be measurable and beneficial
Society should be able to detect a relationship between the enforcement success granted by use of the sex offender list as it is authorizing its continued use and maintenance. Being able to justify the harshness of the operation of the list should outweigh its impact of denying civil rights to those listed. If law enforcement’s ability to fight sex offenders is not aided by use of a registry identifying the offenders and prescribing their free movement through the municipality is not justified by the strictness of the measure, then the policy of keeping a list of offenders is not serving its purpose and an alternative method of monitoring sex offenders should be used. Until this is taken care of, the presence of a sex offender registry will have little effect on thwarting the incidence of sex crimes in our society.