Sunday, January 16, 2011

FL - Do sex offender laws work?

Original Article

01/15/2011

By Mike Cazalas

This week’s column has been a struggle from the start, emotionally. How do you balance the emotional abhorrence of people who abuse children sexually to the principled position that those who have served their debt to society should have certain rights?
- Well for one, sex offender doesn't equal child molester.  So when you make an article with "sex offender" in the title, then talk about sex offenders in general, don't try to equate sex crimes with child molestation.  If you want to talk about child sexual abuse, then put that in the title!

Laws restricting where convicted sexual offenders can live, like many laws, were born of real fears and real acts: Some offenders do it again.
- Yes, some do, but the vast majority, based on studies and not emotion, do not.

If a burglar reoffends, you can buy new stuff. If a dope dealer reoffends, often times the "victim" is a willing participant. If your child is molested, that is a lifetime of agony.
- Granted, when society continually sees victims as always victims, then yes, it will haunt people, but if you pick yourself up, and look at yourself as a survivor, and get the help you may need, then this is not always the case.

So we start enacting laws in reaction to public outrage when a released sexual offender reoffends, whether the laws and ordinances really do anything to make anyone any safer. It makes us feel better, and that seems to carry the day.
- And that is all it does, make us feel better temporarily, it's nothing more than a placebo to pacify the public, or to help vigilantism, it does nothing to prevent or curb sexual abuse.

State law prohibits sexual offenders from living with 1,000 feet of schools, churches, bus stops and places where children congregate.
- And tell me, out of all the sexual abuse in this country, how many sex crimes have occurred at ANY of these places?  Most sex crimes happen in the victims own home.

In Panama City, a local ordinance increases that distance to 2,500 feet, or nearly a half mile, making nearly the entire city off limits to anyone convicted of a sexual offense.

It is important to note the difference between sexual offenders and sexual predators, because they are not the same.
- I agree, and glad you pointed that out, but you also titled the article using "sex offenders," then went on to mention child molesters, which are not the same.

A sexual predator is what we consider to be the most reprehensible. This is the person who has committed a life felony, been convicted of a serious offense while also having a prior conviction, and those deemed by the court to be a sexual predator. It also includes, as of 2004, those who are civilly committed under the Jimmy Ryce Sexually Violent Predator Act (PDF).

In other words, these are people found to be a menace and are dealt with accordingly.
- And how is a person deemed a sexual predator?  In many cases, it's done by a jury, or non-experts, which IMO, is wrong.  It should be done by true experts, those who deal with sex offenders and also by reviewing a persons past, not just based on the crime label, which is what SORNA does.

Sexual offenders, though, kind of fall into the everything-else-involving-minors category.

It includes crimes like sexual performance by a child (remember Joe Francis?), procuring someone under the age of 18 for prostitution, or committing a lewd act in the presence of a child under the age of 16.

All serious crimes, but does it warrant — in each case — casting the offender into an eternal exodus? Is it what we think of when we ponder "child molestation"?

The laws as written offer no leeway for common sense. We live in fear of sexual offenders reoffending, that some stranger lurking at the bus stop or the park or the school is going to snatch our child.
- I agree, and the very laws were passed based on this myth.  Again, most sexual crimes occur in the victims own home, not by some stranger, although it does happen, it's rare.

The facts are that most sexual abuse victims — about 75 percent — know their attackers. Most are either friends of the family or in the family.

And, according to the CSOM.com (Center for Sexual Offender Management), a website funded through a grant from the Bureau of Justice Assistance, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice, most sexual offenders do not reoffend.
- Again, it's a company created and funded by the government.  Do they have experts who deal with sex offenders, and whom are not victims of sexual abuse?  Because if so, of course they are going to be biased!  I am not saying they are, just wondering.

One study showed a 13 percent reconviction rate for child molesters.
- Reconviction for what?  Another related crime?  Or any crime?  Any crime should not be counted, IMO.

"It is noteworthy that recidivism rates for sex offenders are lower than for the general criminal population," CSOM reported.

As with many laws designed to protect the things we hold precious — and what is more precious than our children? — there are flaws, unintentional consequences.

In theory, it sounds great to prohibit sexual offenders from living near children. In application, where are they supposed to live and what is the real danger? Does prohibiting them from a neighborhood really make it safer, or does it make us feel safer?

And perhaps the biggest flaw is in how to designate those to whom the law should apply. There is no greater scarlet letter than being deemed a sexual offender, and it seems as if it is applied with little regard for the details of the person’s crime.

Is there a difference between a 40-year-old molesting a 9-year-old, and a 19-year-old having sex with a 14-year-old who is a willing participant? The law allows no discretion, no appeal.

Sex offenses are distasteful. So is murder or cutting someone’s face with a knife. Yet the law has no regulations on where the released murderer or slasher may live.
- I agree, and like I've said many times, if a registry is good enough for one group, it should be applied to all crime.  DUI's, murder, gang members, drug dealers/users, thieves, traffic violators, you name it.

It’s an emotional issue, but I’m convinced the current laws are more about making us feel safe than they are about actually making us safe, and there are a lot of people paying a real price for that.

And that is worthy of a discussion.
- I agree, but politicians do not have to balls anymore to stand up for the truth, facts and what is right, they only stand for what will help them further their careers, or keep them in office.