Friday, November 4, 2011

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CANADA - Sex-offender registries don't deter convicts from re-offending: expert

Original Article

11/03/2011

By Linda Nguyen

TORONTO — Drastic changes need to be made to sexual offender registries if they are to serve their original purpose of protecting the community, a sex crimes researcher told an international conference Thursday.

"If we are going to continue with the idea of registries and public disclosure of them, we need to do that more in a targeted and refined way. Otherwise we sort of dilute the impact," said Jill Levenson following her lecture at the annual Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers conference in downtown Toronto.

Levenson, a psychology professor at Lynn University in Florida, has been studying the effectiveness of these registries, particularly in the U.S., for the past 10 years.

According to her research, these databases of sexual offenders — which include child molesters, flashers and serial rapists — are not deterring convicts from re-offending.

Instead, she said, this perceived solution reinforces the "stranger danger" myth that gives the public a false sense of security.

Generally, research shows that victims of sex crimes usually know their attackers, whether they are family members, friends or acquaintances.

Although the popularity of these registries has created a heightened awareness of sexual abuse, resources to help the public identify signs of such abuses are still lacking, said Levenson.

"Instead, we focus on this somewhat naive strategy where you go online and find out if one of them lives near you, somehow you will feel protected and feel safer," she said.

It would be more effective if sex crimes were treated like other crimes in terms of levels of severity. For instance, Levenson points out that there are different penalties for possessing a marijuana joint versus trafficking kilograms of the illegal drug. But sex criminals are all treated roughly the same way, preventing those who can change from getting adequate treatment, she said.

"Just like every drunk driver is not an alcoholic, not every person who commits a sex crime is a habitual predator."

Levenson admits it's a difficult task for governments to balance the needs of the public — which has become increasingly aware of sex crimes — with the treatment needs of the perpetrators.

The Conservative government is expected to pass an omnibus crime bill titled the Safe Streets and Communities Act, which will end pardons for convicted pedophiles. Currently, pardons are routinely given to convicted pedophiles 10 years after they are released from prison.

The conference continues until Saturday.