Starting over as a sex offender


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Juvenile courts are intended primarily as therapeutic and rehabilitative mechanisms. They have looser rules of evidence than adult courts; they maintain far fewer public records; and, at least in theory, they hand out sanctions based on the "best interest" of the accused, rather than a desire to punish. Only a few states allow jury trials in juvenile court, and even then they are quite rare. Most states allow juvenile records to be sealed; the process is sometimes even automatic. Even people with unsealed records typically retain the rights to vote, receive government benefits, and live where they choose.

If prosecutors or police believe that a juvenile is so dangerous that he merits long-term registration, they ought to avail themselves of procedures to try him in an adult court. Any other standard undermines the very idea of maintaining a distinct system for younger offenders. Estimating precisely how many offenders would be removed from registries as a result of this change in policy is difficult. Registries rarely report the age at which their registrants were convicted.

What data do exist suggest that those convicted as juveniles make up as much as a third of registered offenders in the 40 states that have some form of juvenile registration. By any count, however, the majority of people on the sex-offender registries are adults who committed reasonably serious crimes. They are more likely than members of the population as a whole to commit such acts again, even though most of them will not.

Of course, the same can be said of almost anybody with any sort of criminal record. As with other people who commit crimes, it's unfair and unjust to brand all sex offenders as social pariahs for the rest of their lives, particularly since they have lower recidivism rates than other types of felons. Far-reaching residency bans, although politically popular, simply do not pass the most basic cost-benefit test. Every dataset makes clear that children are far more likely to be sexually abused by family members than by strangers who happen to live near their school or daycare center.

Judges, police, and probation officers can and should still be able to require many classes of sex offenders to stay off of school grounds during school hours and avoid other areas where children congregate something modern GPS-monitoring can assure cheaply and easily , but blanket residency restrictions simply do not serve any valid public-safety purpose.

Forcing convicted sex offenders to the margins of society also tends to remove them from the orbit of family, friends, and houses of worship, making it more likely that they will turn to crime again. For instance, it's difficult to see why sex offenders should be automatically denied commercial driver's licenses or barred from working as insurance agents.

Aside from obvious restrictions on working with children and perhaps carrying out certain medical tasks, most restrictions on sex offenders should be tailored to fit individual circumstances and levels of dangerousness. Restrictions on professional licensing should be set to fit the specific sex offense, rather than applied to every person convicted of any sexually oriented crime. Moreover, the lack of any evidence that public notification reduces crime, coupled with its negative effects on property values, counsels in favor of restricting the practice.

Notification helps attach an unnecessary stigma even to those convicted of only minor sex offenses. A person who sexually gropes a stranger once has done something wrong and perhaps traumatizing, but he does not pose the same public danger as a murderer, who is not required to notify his neighbors of his prior conviction. Yet, because of registries, he faces a greater public stigma than a murderer. Eliminating public notification completely would face huge political hurdles and, given the ease with which information already on the internet can be preserved, is probably impossible anyway.

The most practical change might be limiting mandatory community notification and internet recording to actual predators over the age of 21 who have sexually assaulted young children. Even in these cases, the value of notification likely comes more from the fact that the public wants it than from any demonstrable benefit it actually provides. On the other hand, efforts to keep sex offenders out of schools ought to be enhanced and improved. Finding the resources to do this would be reasonably easy if much of the excess currently cluttering sex-offender registries were removed.

In this context, a new, bipartisan proposal by Senators Joe Manchin and Pat Toomey deserves serious consideration. The bill would set federal standards to prevent child predators from working in schools and would penalize states where districts try to "pass the trash," or counsel sex offenders to resign quietly before they are sent along to other schools with positive letters of reference.

For serious offenders, who constitute the majority of those currently on sex-offender registries, the practice of registration offers a deterrent value that appears effective at reducing sexual assault and child sex-abuse rates. Three careful and deliberate policy changes could help law enforcement deal more effectively with these truly bad actors: increased mandatory outpatient treatment; increased use of indefinite civil commitment for the worst offenders; and more targeted focus of federal resources on serious, mostly internet-based child predators and other serious sex offenders, rather than the child pornographers who currently make up the lions' share of the federal case load.


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Insofar as sexual attraction to children is an essentially fixed sexual orientation, it may be impossible to truly "cure" it. Comprehensive literature reviews led by a team from the University of Illinois at Chicago have mixed findings: While the best-run treatments do reduce actual recidivism among sex offenders, the reduction is only by about one-third, and even then it's far from clear that pedophiles are made to let go of their sexual attraction to children altogether. Interestingly, after adjustment for a variety of variables, outpatient treatment outside of secure facilities appears to work even better than forcing treatment behind bars.

In fact, a number of studies show that treatment for sex offenders behind prison walls is counterproductive. This suggests it may be better to focus prison sentences for child molesters almost entirely on deterrence and punishment, while augmenting treatment efforts outside the jailhouse walls. They have worked to encourage many drug addicts to break their habits, and they may help pedophiles in the same way. Many offenders who are removed from registries or kept on law-enforcement-only registries might continue to be subject to long-term GPS monitoring to keep them away from schools and other areas where they might pose a threat.

Some sex offenders may be resistant to all treatment and unable to control their urges to molest children. All states allow for civil commitment of the dangerous mentally ill in hospital-like settings when the individual is deemed to pose a risk to himself or others. Currently, 20 states and the District of Columbia have statutes that provide for an additional level of review following the release of certain sex offenders. A small number of offenders at very high risk of offending again can, under these regimes, be detained indefinitely in hospital-like settings. Such treatment, of course, is advisable only as an absolute last resort.

But just as it's possible to detain a mental patient who experiences a drive to kill or maim others, it should also be possible to detain someone in situations where expert testimony convinces a court that they will commit sexual violence if released. A mandatory review process for certain grave sex offenses may be desirable. In exceptional cases, civil commitment of a tiny number of particularly dangerous juvenile sex offenders who might otherwise be released with no public record might be justified as well.

Indefinite civil commitment is a very powerful tool to put in the hands of the state, and, certainly, it carries a risk of being overused.

What Makes You A Sex Offender?

But it should not be ruled out in all cases for sex offenders, and its use likely deserves expansion. The most difficult cases to deal with involve individuals found guilty of possessing child pornography. It goes without saying that any use of sexual materials involving children deeply offends social norms, and its mere possession ought to be subject to significant criminal sanction. Despite efforts of many left-leaning researchers to minimize the problem, furthermore, it is a truly serious one that has grown with the internet. Child-pornography laws were written largely with the idea of prosecuting those who distributed magazines, print photographs, videotapes, and celluloid film strips depicting minors in sexual situations.

Today, nearly all child pornography gets shared on peer-to-peer networks that make all consumers "distributors" simply by virtue of participation. The average sentence for child pornography is now nearly eight years, longer than the average sentence for rape, which is just over five years.

Federal Sex Offender Legislation

Whatever harm looking at a picture of a child in a sexual situation causes and it's significant , it is probably not greater than the harm resulting from actual sexual assault. Rather than try to effect a change in federal law or prescribe punishments federally, it would be better to focus federal resources on the greatest dangers. These include human-trafficking rings and actual predators who lure children across state lines.

Meanwhile, states should be encouraged to take on a greater share of the child-porn caseload and decide punishments based on local attitudes and beliefs. In any case, mere possession of child pornography should remain a reasonably serious crime, albeit one that is dealt with, for the most part, on the local level. The practice of requiring sex offenders to register with law-enforcement officials is effective and has contributed to a sizable drop in sex offenses committed against children in the United States.

Notifying the public of sex offenders, on the other hand, is ineffective and should be limited if not eliminated. The registries that exist, furthermore, do tremendous harm to some people who, although clearly guilty of various wrongs, do not pose a significant threat to children or anyone else in society. The nation needs to reconsider its headlong rush into ever-expanding sex-offender registration and target the registries more carefully at the most genuinely dangerous individuals.

Certain petty restrictions should be dropped and many individuals should be deleted from the registries in order to minimize unnecessary damage to individuals and communities and to allow law enforcement to focus on the most dangerous offenders. The politically and emotionally charged court of public opinion is not the place to make policy changes in areas as complex as corrections. France is having a debate over the age of sexual consent. Perhaps it is time the UK joined in. Psychologists don't know much about why people have age-based sexual attractions — such as pedophilia — or how best to help people not act on sexual interests in children.

A recent US study found one out of every five child sexual abuse cases validated by child protection had a female as the main offender of the abuse. Do they do more to help or hurt? Social media and the internet has helped create a new type of sexual predator, forcing us to reassess our understanding of the terms "friend" and "stranger".

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Legislative History of Federal Sex Offender Registration and Notification

All sexual offenders should be investigated and prosecuted equally. A key point of difference between male and female sexual abusers of children is in the power relationship with their victims. Online Reference librarians online Chat with a law librarian. Reference librarians via email masslawlib gmail. Last updated: October 30, This is part of: Massachusetts law about crimes and punishment.

Legislative History of Federal Sex Offender Registration and Notification

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Simon Liu Isn’t A Sex Offender. But He’s Still on the Registry For Life. - The Appeal

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