By Danielle Rivard
A local lawmaker hopes to prompt a study of the state’s sex offender registry.
State Rep. Timothy N. Robertson, D-Keene, says each sex offender’s case should be treated individually instead of a one-size-fits-all approach.
There are different levels of punishment for different types of sex offenses, and Robertson says offenders should not automatically have to register at the level their crimes are associated with, for example if someone is convicted of a felony, they are at a different level of the registry than someone convicted of a lesser crime.
A 30-year-old man who sexually assaulted a 4-year-old child should not get the same punishment as a 20-year-old who was drunk and “seduced” by a 15-year-old girl who looks mature for her age, he said.
Robertson authored a bill this year to create a team of three state representatives and two senators to review and study the effects of the sex offender registry.
Federal law requires people convicted of sex crimes to register with the state as sex offenders; their names and addresses are publicly available.
There are three tiers of sex offender registration, based on the type of crime committed. One tier requires the offender to be on the registry for 10 years, while the other two require the offender to be on the registry for life.
The bill states as part of its study, the committee will evaluate whether any changes to the registry’s law should be made and to determine whether certain offenders should be allowed to ask the court to be removed from the registry after a period of time.
As a member of the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, Robertson said he’s seen many different sex offender cases, such as the case of the 20-year-old man and the 15-year-old girl.
A few 20-year-old men were drinking together at a party and some girls who looked of age showed up. One of the men who never met one of the girls before had sex with her because she was willing, Robertson said in a recent interview.
It turns out the girl was 15, on probation, and told her probation officer what happened. The probation officer then had no choice but to have the man arrested, who then served four years in prison for it, Robertson said.
Since the man got out of prison he has never committed another crime and has been trying to make a living for himself. But he still has to report to police every few days and for the rest of his life he’s considered a child molester, Robertson said.
“There has to be a way to have (the man’s) punishment modified,” Robertson said. “I don’t believe in fixed sentences.”
Advocates for sexual assault victims at the Monadnock Center for Violence Prevention in Keene say they are in favor the committee’s creation because it will evaluate the sex offender registry laws.
From this, advocates hope to see more thorough assessments of offenders when their cases are reviewed.
But the bigger issue is the lack of prosecution on sexual assault cases and the safety of the public, advocates say.
Because there are too few prosecutions of sex assaults to begin with, the bill raises a different discussion “that is in favor of what we really need to be doing about sexual violence and sexual assaults on adults and children,” said Robin P. Christopherson, executive director of the center.
The sex offender registry is one tool meant to protect victims, Christopherson said. But the problem is that perpetrators often get charges reduced so they don’t have to register as a sex offender, and that protection is lost, she said.
Robertson’s bill will be assigned to a House committee, which will review the bill and hold a public hearing on it.