There is almost no category of criminal offenses that is as universally despised as sexual offenses. At the mention of this category of crimes, most people’s minds go to rape, child molestation or child pornography. Those who commit these crimes earn very little sympathy from the public, so it is not surprising that the punishment for these crimes is extremely harsh.
One such punishment can potentially last for a lifetime, long after any prison sentence has been served and restitution has been paid. If you have been convicted of a sex crime, your punishment will likely include a lifetime with your name on the sex offender registry, and you will be required to register at least once per year with a local law enforcement agency.
However, in recent years, many groups have begun to question the wisdom and effectiveness of these registries. Notably, groups that advocate for sexual assault victims are among the loudest critics of the sex offender registry.
Harsh Criticisms from Victim Advocates
Roughly 100,000 of the nearly 40 million people in California are on the sex offender registry. The overall purpose of the registry is to allow the public to identify persons in the area who could pose a potential danger to the community. However, the intended purpose of this law is no longer being accomplished because the registry sweeps the violent and non-violent offenders together without making a distinction between the truly dangerous and the relatively harmless. This means that those convicted of rape share the list with people who were convicted of minor sex offenses.
Moreover, because the sweep of registries is so broad, they tend to consume valuable law enforcement resources, spreading some agencies too thin to effectively prevent new crimes. Tyffani Dent, a clinical director at Cleveland’s Abraxas Counseling Center, is a psychologist who works with both sexual abuse victims and sex offenders. She points out that officers and deputies are charged not only with checking up on violent offenders but also teenagers who were convicted of “sexting” their girlfriends or boyfriends, and who pose little or no threat to their communities.
“I want for victims to get justice,” Dent said. “Unfortunately, registration the way it is now doesn’t do what it’s designed to do.”1
The Registry Creates a False Sense of Security
Publicizing the whereabouts of convicted offenders seems like it would be useful in preventing future sex offenses. However, first-time offenders and other persons whose names are not on the registry are responsible for 95% of solved sex crimes.2
More importantly, advocates for victims point out that in most sexual assault cases, a stranger did not commit the crime. For example, a joint study by the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics and the National Institute of Justice found that nine out of ten women who endured a sexual assault in college knew the identity of the perpetrator, either as an acquaintance or a family member.3 It is difficult to see how listing the offender’s name in these cases would have helped the victims avoid the crime that was committed against them.
Sondra Miller, president of the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center, sees the registry as a potential impediment to educating the public on effective strategies to prevent sexual offenses. “The biggest frustration we have with the registry is it feeds into the myths that the general public has about sexual assault,” Miller said. “It feeds this stranger-danger mentality when we know it’s such a small fraction of the sexual assaults that occur in our community.”4
The Registry Causes Recidivism
The rate of recidivism among previously convicted sexual offenders is typically low. The Canadian government studied data from 10 studies on sex-offender recidivism in Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The study found that within 15 years of the conviction that put them on the list, approximately 73% of sexual offenders had not been charged with, or convicted of, another sexual offense.5
However, the registry may actually lead to an increase in repeat offenders. The registry can make gaining employment more difficult, as many employers are reluctant to extend job offers to registered offenders. Numerous studies have shown that having a job means that first-time offenders are less likely to become repeat offenders. Sex offender registries may actually be increasing crime by posing an obstacle to gainful employment.
Time to Change Sex Offender Registries
The registry is a good idea that is fraught with many problems, not the least of which is its ineffectiveness. To its credit, the California Sex Offender Management Board, which is the government board that oversees the registry, recognizes the need for a change. It is reviewing the policy and considering a change that would mean those who commit certain low-risk and non-violent crimes would no longer have to register as a sex offender.6
The criminal justice system is about making people pay an appropriate price for their mistakes and wrongdoing, but it is also supposed to be the case that a person who pays the price gets another chance to prove they belong in our society. The registry has its place in our criminal justice system, and maybe it is unrealistic to think that Californians will simply decide to get rid of it. This does not mean, however, that the law cannot be improved. It is time for a smarter, more targeted approach to the problem that identifies the most serious threats and does not leave a trail of collateral damage in its wake.
Contact the Criminal Defense Attorneys at Wallin & Klarich For Help
If you or someone you love is facing criminal charges for a sexual offense, you should retain the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. At Wallin & Klarich, our attorneys have over 30 years of experience successfully defending people accused of sex crimes. Our attorneys will fight for you, and use every legal defense strategy available to give you the best chance at avoiding the harsh consequences of a conviction.
With offices in Los Angeles, Sherman Oaks, Torrance, Tustin, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, West Covina and Victorville, there is a Wallin & Klarich attorney experienced in California sex crimes defense near you no matter where you work or live.
Call us today at (888) 280-6839 for a free phone consultation. We will get through this together.
1. [As quoted in “Sex offender registries draw criticism from some unlikely sources,” Sex Offender Research and State News, October 9, 2015, available at http://sexoffenderresearch.blogspot.com/2015/10/sex-offender-registries-draw-criticism.html.]↩
2. [Melody Gutierrez, “Board Wants to Remove Low-Risk Sex Offenders from Registry,” SFGate, May 25, 2014, available at http://www.sfgate.com/crime/article/Board-wants-to-remove-low-risk-sex-offenders-from-5503219.php.]↩
3. [Fisher, B.S., F.T. Cullen, and M.G. Turner. The Sexual Victimization of College Women. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics and National Institute of Justice, 2000, NCJ 182369.]↩
4. [Sex Offender Research and State News, supra, note 1.]↩
5. [Andrew J. R. Harris and R. Karl Hanson, Sex Offender Recidivism: A Simple Question, Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Canada, 2004, available at http://www.static99.org/pdfdocs/harrisandhanson2004simpleq.pdf.]↩
6. [Melody Gutierrez, “Board Wants to Remove Low-Risk Sex Offenders from Registry,” SFGate, May 25, 2014, available at http://www.sfgate.com/crime/article/Board-wants-to-remove-low-risk-sex-offenders-from-5503219.php.]↩