There are very few crimes that are more heinous than child molestation. Whether preyed upon by trusted adults at school or at home, or violently attacked by a stranger, these victims are often left to walk a long, physical and psychological distress. So far, several policies have been put in place to mitigate sex offense and protect the public. Megan’s Law and banishment zones are a few examples of popular policies already enforced in several countries. The former federal law that requires law enforcement authorities to publicly publish information about registered sex offenders.
Similarly, this allows states to restrict listed individuals from living within certain geographical area.
Sexual violence is frequent in the United States, which has drawn the attention of not only the public but also legislators. During the late twentieth century, there was growing concern over sexual abuse related to child abuse. The concern spread throughout the US and then extended to Europe with more attention being given to pedophilia.
Despite the fact that most of the children molesters were family members, more attention was given to those who were not family. The common belief was that the group could commit the crimes against a large number of children without being discovered.
As such, the government passed punitive laws to curb sexual predation. Tewksbury (2005) lists one such law in Washington in the early 1990s where it was mandatory for sex offenders to register with the police at any point when they changed their places of residence.
Critics argue that this was a populist move as the public attitude towards sex offenders has largely remained the same; they are hated and shunned in equal measure. This hostility may be explained by the perception that they cannot be effectively rehabilitated.
Pawson (2012) opinions that violent sex offenders often target vulnerable members of the society; children and women. As such, the community is often hostile to anyone who is even suspected of being a sex offender as they are considered foul due to their hurting of people who are considered harmless and innocent. The definition for sex offenders includes other beyond the commonly known rapists and pedophiles. This increased the ostracism that they face as they are often misunderstood even when their offences are not as grave. There have been reported cases of the murder of the offenders once they are released into the society while in other cases, those in the vicinity make it hard for them to coexist with their neighbors.
Following the enactment of Megan’s law, sex offenders are obligated to register their address with the local police jurisdictions after a given period once they are released from prison. The registration process serves to inform the public that there is a sex offender living in the vicinity. In this way, past victims and the public are aware and they can put in place measures to protect themselves. Although the steps involved in both registration and notification are separate, they are considered as one. In most states, the offenders are classified into three different tiers. Barnoski (2006) states that each tier is a representative of a hierarchy of the offender’s potential for committing the crime again. To determine which tier to place the offender in, there is a risk assessment instrument that predicts the probability of re-offense by the offender.
Those who show the least chances for re-offense are placed in tier one. In this category, they only need to notify the victims and the law enforcement officers. To be in this category, offenders need to have jobs, be receiving therapy and either on parole or probation. The next category is tier two where those with a moderate risk assessment score are placed. The offenders in tier two have a history of making threats, loitering, substance use as well as alcohol abuse, lack of remorse and denial of involvement in crimes. Additionally, offenders in this category do not also have employment and neither do they comply with supervision. As such, they are supposed to notify organizations, summer camps, day care centers as well as educational institutions within the community.
Those with the highest score during the risk assessment are placed at tier three as they present the greatest risk for re-offense. For this group, the community is notified through the use of posters as well as pamphlets (Barnoski, 2006). The offenders who fall here demonstrate repetitive and compulsive behavior, resistance to join therapy, a high level of no remorse and denial of the offense as well as preference for children sexually. Critics argue that this law targets the potential victims and not the offenders; they are supposed to change their behavior.
Tewksbury (2005) posts that there is a marked increase in unselfish behavior among community members as they seek to protect those who are close to them such as family members and children when this law is put into effect. While this cannot be directly linked to the presence of the notification, community members’ behavior nonetheless is mediated by the perceived risk of victimization. On the other hand, the law leads to loss of employment and relationships as well as housing for the offenders. As such, the outcome for them is negative.
Pawson (2012) states that in 1994 a convicted sex offender invited a seven-year-old neighbor into his house under the guise of showing her a new puppy. The offender, Jesse Timmendequas, had a history of violently attacking minors but that fact was not known to the community around Hamilton Township in New Jersey. Timmendequas then strangled the young girl with a belt and raped her twice then killed her in cold blood by covering her head with a plastic bag. Shortly after, he was arrested and he confessed to having suffocated Megan Kanka. There was a nationwide outrage as Kanka’s parents sought to have reforms on sexual offences laws. They directly appealed to the emotions of people as they felt that they would be ensuring that their daughter received justice even in her death.
On October 31,1994, Christine Todd Whitman, who was the then governor of New Jersey, signed Megan’s Law. Its main aim was to get sex offenders registered and the community notified. Picking up on this, and driven by the constant mention of the circumstances under which Megan lost her life, many states passed this legislation (Barnoski, 2006). The Congress passed legislation requiring all states to put systems in place where certain offenders could be registered. As a result of pressure from both public opinion and the Congress, every state across the United States has adopted their own version of Megan’s Law.
Before that there had been laws in place to deter offenders. The Wetterling Act targeted states and called upon them to put in place registration and tracking standards. After Megan’s Law was passed, the central government passed the Pam Lychner Sex Offender Trafficking and Identification Act of 1996 which required the FBI to put in place a national database that would help in tracking convicted sex offenders against minors, those who had been convicted of being sexually violent, and predators who were considered sexually violent. It was a mirror of Megan’s Law as it required the FBI to release relevant information on people who were required to register as long as it could be considered to offer protection to the public.
A large number of the solutions that have been brought forth to deal with sexual predation have been classified as frustratingly inadequate as they have legal and ethical challenges. Most of the suggested measure fail to factor in the fact that most of the victims of sexual abuse are subjected to the abuse by people known to them. Additionally, the cost of implementing these measures is often high. Researchers argue that the creation of registries that contain details of sex offenders causes an overwhelming monitoring burden. Further, according to Corrigan (2006) the methods used in assessing the possibilities of the recidivism are crude. Sexual offences include indecent sexual exposure, rape, kidnap, as well as consensual sex between teenagers.
One of the strategies that is in place is the limitation of places where the offenders may live. Brooks (2006) argues that the logic behind this thinking is flawed as it assumes that the safety of children in schools, playgrounds and parks is guaranteed if the offenders are not allowed to live within a certain distance from these places. It ignores the fact that these buffer zones do not keep offenders away as they marginalized and alienated without the stability of jobs among other necessities which leaves them more prone to commit the felonies again.
While Megan’s Law is appropriate and accurate, the abolishment zones appear to be doing more harm than good in regards to stopping sex offenses. First and foremost, this policy disregards the fact that a majority of sex offenses are committed by trusted adults. More so, due to the sensitivity of such cases, most of them are not reported and therefore not affected by the two policies. As a result, the banishment zones create a sense of false security (Geraghty, 2007). Some members of the public tend to believe that sex offenders have been exiled from their community. In addition, the banishment zones seem to not only shift the problem, but also aggravate it. Once segregated into a banishment zone, these individuals are separated from their support networks and instead teamed up with other sex offenders. As a result, the policy makes one community safe at the expense of another (White, 2008; Socia, 2011).
Corrigan (2006) stipulates that apart from the law being unfair to a large number of registered sex offenders, there are a wide range of offenses that fall under the category of sex crimes. He cites the incidence where in some states, people end up registered as sex offenders for urinating in public at night under the influence of alcohol. Rape is categorized in the same level as streaking in a large number of the states surveyed. This creates a conflict as the seriousness of the crimes is different yet the offenders are subjected to the same conditions. As such, there is need to have different classifications for the offences. Additionally, based on the severity of the sexual crime, offenders should be given a chance to have their names taken off the registry after some time.
According to Brooks (2006) the law is also not as effective since the information may not be up to date. In states like California, sex offenders remain in the registry for life and they must provide their most current information to the department of justice. They are subjected to restrictions especially with regard to places of residence as well as during travel in public places. While it is important for law enforcement to be aware of the details that pertain to sex offenders, there is still debate on the usefulness of the information to the public. There is, therefore, need to have a solution that is geared towards utilizing the information to the law enforcement officers only. Research has shown that sexual offenders show lesser rates for recidivism when compared to other convicts. Yet, this is the group that is punished daily even after they have served their sentences.
Brooks (2006) further suggests that the best way to stop sexual abuse is prevention. However, this may not be achieved if this law remains as it is since it alienates the offenders which makes it hard for them to reform. There is need to come up with innovative approaches that protect all members of the society and not those who are deemed as straight only. Some states like Minnesota include only high risk offenders in their registries. Only law enforcement has access to the records of those who are not in that category. This reduces the vigilantism that targets offenders. Community programs could create channels for the society to understand those convicted of sex offences. Such initiatives will reduce the rate of recidivism and as such, prevent new attacks.
The consensus is that the punishment for sex offenders has become more punitive as they are not viewed by the majority of the people as human beings deserving of help. In this way, the Law makes it difficult for the rehabilitation of the offender which makes it more counterproductive. The stigma and sometimes violence that the offenders endure is a second punishment which in some cases is not proportional to the crime committed. As such, there is need for the policies to be reviewed with input from professionals being put into consideration as the offenders also have rights. Additionally, well thought out policies will ensure that the society is safer as the recidivism rates will decrease.