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.