By Shana Rowan (USA Fair Inc., Blog)
Urge Gov. Patrick to veto Rep. James Arciero’s budget amendment to move Massachusetts closer to Adam Walsh Act compliance
USA FAIR, Inc., the nation’s leading nonprofit organization representing family members of registered sex offenders, expressed dire concern over the welfare of Massachusetts youthful sex offenders and their families should the state become one of only 16 others in compliance with the Adam Walsh Act. One of the mandatory conditions of AWA includes lifetime public registration for youthful sex offenders as young as 14.
In addition to costing the state of Massachusetts an estimated $10.4 million to come into compliance with the Adam Walsh Act – which dwarfs Rep. Arciero’s claim that the state will ‘gain $600,000’ – the risk assessment tools mandated by AWA do not accurately predict recidivism, according to a 2012 study by Dr. Jill Levenson, a noted sex offender policy researcher. Only sixteen out of fifty states have adopted the Adam Walsh Act since 2006, and several have been forced to repeal portions of the law, particularly AWA-mandated lifetime public registration for children as young as 14. There’s a clear, established precedent.
Other reports studying the impact public registration has on juvenile sex offenders have expressed similar concerns. Nicole Pittman, formerly of Human Rights Watch, released “Raised on the Registry” in May, and interviewed children who had been placed on the public registry as young as 11. The findings indicated that the impact of publicizing youthful sex offenders was “multi-generational” – often causing “stigmatization, isolation, and depression… they and their families have experienced harassment and physical violence… They [have been] shot at, beaten, even murdered; many are repeatedly threatened with violence…children of youth sex offenders often cannot be dropped off at school by their parent…they may be banned by law from hosting a birthday party involving other children at their home…they are often harassed and ridiculed by their peers for their parents’ long-past transgressions.”
Several studies focusing on juvenile sex offender recidivism have found juvenile sex offenders re-offend at lower rates than adults, including a 2009 report by the US Department of Justice. The same report indicated that “juveniles account for over a third of all sex offenses committed against other minors.”
In addition to concerns regarding the safety and welfare of children charged with sex crimes, as well as their families, there is simply no evidence to suggest increased public notification reduces sexual offending. Anecdotal claims that ‘knowledge is power’ are poor justification for publicizing the personal information of Level 2 sex offenders and their families, many of whom have been living offense-free in the community for decades. In order to be ‘powerful,’ that knowledge must also be accurate and whole.
Various studies over the years have examined the effect registration and notification laws have reducing sexual recidivism. Every study has come to the same conclusion: the majority of child sexual abuse is perpetrated by someone known to the victim and not a stranger, so the public’s access to a sex offender’s photo and home address is little more than a placebo. Furthering the problem is the widely held belief that sex offenders have high recidivism rates, which is disproven by decades of research.
At their worst, these laws are counter-productive. Beyond giving the public a false sense of security, disrupting a person’s life who has been law-abiding for years and since built a family could result in violence, loss of housing and employment, which all harm the entire family, not just the offender. Breaking up families is the opposite of what public safety should be about.
USA FAIR isn’t the only group opposed to the Adam Walsh Act. The Massachusetts Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers has expressed concerns about the true ability of AWA to prevent child sexual abuse. ATSA encourages evidence-based policies, as well as education and awareness campaigns, as more effective ways to combat sexual violence.
Imagine if that $10 million instead went towards educating the children and parents of Massachusetts – how many more crimes could be prevented?
Governor Deval Patrick is expected to sign or veto the bill sometime this week.