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"All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." Edmund Burke

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According to this recent article, there are presently 674,000 registered sex offenders in the United States.  There are 250,000,000 adults (people at least 18) in the U.S.  Approximately one-half that number or about 125,000,000 are males.  Given that the vast majority of sex offenders are male, we can calculate that there is about 1 registered sex offender for every 185 males.  When is this madness going to stop?

It is also estimated that two-thirds of those registered offenders are of little or no threat.

Why is this great injustice taking place?:  fanaticism + political cowardice = injustice

Some of the key findings of recent research conducted are:
  • Juvenile sex offenders. An estimated 19,000 people are on US sex offender registries for behavior when they were children or adolescents — some younger than eleven years old — many of them for innocently “playing doctor” or for normal, consensual, teenage love affairs. See Criminalizing Child’s Play.


  • Innocuous “offenses.” Sex offenders include people whose only crime was breastfeeding their baby or urinating behind a dumpster. See Look Who’s a Sex Offender Now!


  • Growing underclass. As of 2007, one out of every 220 adult men in the United States was a registered sex offender. See Counting and Over-Counting Sex Offenders.


  • Sex worse than violence. The federal sentence for photographing a 17-year-old boy with an erection is about twice as severe as for attempting to kill him — and about four times as severe as for beating him up so badly that he accidentally dies. See Throwing Away the Key.

America's unjust sex laws ~ The Economist

An ever harsher approach is doing more harm than good, but it is being copied around the world

IT IS an oft-told story, but it does not get any less horrific on repetition. Fifteen years ago, a paedophile enticed seven-year-old Megan Kanka into his home in New Jersey by offering to show her a puppy. He then raped her, killed her and dumped her body in a nearby park. The murderer, who had recently moved into the house across the street from his victim, had twice before been convicted of sexually assaulting a child. Yet Megan’s parents had no idea of this. Had they known he was a sex offender, they would have told their daughter to stay away from him.

In their grief, the parents started a petition, demanding that families should be told if a sexual predator moves nearby. Hundreds of thousands signed it. In no time at all, lawmakers in New Jersey granted their wish. And before long, “Megan’s laws” had spread to every American state.

America’s sex-offender laws are the strictest of any rich democracy. Convicted rapists and child-molesters are given long prison sentences. When released, they are put on sex-offender registries. In most states this means that their names, photographs and addresses are published online, so that fearful parents can check whether a child-molester lives nearby. Under the Adam Walsh Act of 2006, another law named after a murdered child, all states will soon be obliged to make their sex-offender registries public. Such rules are extremely popular. Most parents will support any law that promises to keep their children safe. Other countries are following America’s example, either importing Megan’s laws or increasing penalties: after two little girls were murdered by a school caretaker, Britain has imposed multiple conditions on who can visit schools.

Which makes it all the more important to ask whether America’s approach is the right one. In fact its sex-offender laws have grown self-defeatingly harsh (see article). They have been driven by a ratchet effect. Individual American politicians have great latitude to propose new laws. Stricter curbs on paedophiles win votes. And to sound severe, such curbs must be stronger than the laws in place, which in turn were proposed by politicians who wished to appear tough themselves. Few politicians dare to vote against such laws, because if they do, the attack ads practically write themselves.

A whole Wyoming of offenders

In all, 674,000 Americans are on sex-offender registries—more than the population of Vermont, North Dakota or Wyoming. The number keeps growing partly because in several states registration is for life and partly because registries are not confined to the sort of murderer who ensnared Megan Kanka. According to Human Rights Watch, at least five states require registration for people who visit prostitutes, 29 require it for consensual sex between young teenagers and 32 require it for indecent exposure. Some prosecutors are now stretching the definition of “distributing child pornography” to include teens who text half-naked photos of themselves to their friends.

How dangerous are the people on the registries? A state review of one sample in Georgia found that two-thirds of them posed little risk. For example, Janet Allison was found guilty of being “party to the crime of child molestation” because she let her 15-year-old daughter have sex with a boyfriend. The young couple later married. But Ms Allison will spend the rest of her life publicly branded as a sex offender.

Several other countries have sex-offender registries, but these are typically held by the police and are hard to view. In America it takes only seconds to find out about a sex offender: some states have a “click to print” icon on their websites so that concerned citizens can put up posters with the offender’s mugshot on trees near his home. Small wonder most sex offenders report being harassed. A few have been murdered. Many are fired because someone at work has Googled them.

Registration is often just the start. Sometimes sex offenders are barred from living near places where children congregate. In Georgia no sex offender may live or work within 1,000 feet (300 metres) of a school, church, park, skating rink or swimming pool. In Miami an exclusion zone of 2,500 feet has helped create a camp of homeless offenders under a bridge.

Make the punishment fit the crime

There are three main arguments for reform. First, it is unfair to impose harsh penalties for small offences. Perhaps a third of American teenagers have sex before they are legally allowed to, and a staggering number have shared revealing photographs with each other. This is unwise, but hardly a reason for the law to ruin their lives. Second, America’s sex laws often punish not only the offender, but also his family. If a man who once slept with his 15-year-old girlfriend is barred for ever from taking his own children to a playground, those children suffer.

Third, harsh laws often do little to protect the innocent. The police complain that having so many petty sex offenders on registries makes it hard to keep track of the truly dangerous ones. Cash that might be spent on treating sex offenders—which sometimes works—is spent on huge indiscriminate registries. Public registers drive serious offenders underground, which makes them harder to track and more likely to reoffend. And registers give parents a false sense of security: most sex offenders are never even reported, let alone convicted.

It would not be hard to redesign America’s sex laws. Instead of lumping all sex offenders together on the same list for life, states should assess each person individually and include only real threats. Instead of posting everything on the internet, names could be held by the police, who would share them only with those, such as a school, who need to know. Laws that bar sex offenders from living in so many places should be repealed, because there is no evidence that they protect anyone: a predator can always travel. The money that a repeal saves could help pay for monitoring compulsive molesters more intrusively—through ankle bracelets and the like.

In America it may take years to unpick this. However practical and just the case for reform, it must overcome political cowardice, the tabloid media and parents’ understandable fears. Other countries, though, have no excuse for committing the same error. Sensible sex laws are better than vengeful ones.

How Do We Pass Rational Sex-Offender Laws With Psychos Like Phillip Garrido on the Loose?

With apparent psychos like Garrido wreaking havoc, it's hard for society to be reasonable about the thousands of people have been wrongly swept up by excessive sex offender laws.

Continued from previous page


'There Just Aren't a Lot of People Who Want to Stand up for the Rights of Sex Offenders'

This summer, the U.K.-based Economist magazine ran a cover story titled, "America's Unjust Sex Laws." It opened with the story of a 17-year-old girl named Wendy Whitaker, who, as a high school student in Georgia, was arrested for performing oral sex on a fellow student, "three weeks shy of his 16th birthday." Whitaker was charged with sodomy, pleaded guilty on the advice of her court-appointed lawyer, and sentenced to five years' probation.


Not being the most organized of people, she failed to meet all the conditions, such as checking in regularly with her probation officer. For a series of technical violations, she was incarcerated for more than a year, in the county jail, the state women's prison and a boot camp.



"I was in there with people who killed people. It's crazy," she says.


Whitaker is hardly the image people conjure up when confronted with the phrase "sex offender." But that's exactly what she is, according to the state of Georgia. Although she completed her parole in 2002, "her ordeal continues."


Georgia puts sex offenders on a public registry. Ms. Whitaker's name, photograph and address are easily accessible online, along with the information that she was convicted of "sodomy." The Web site does not explain what she actually did. But since it describes itself as a list of people who have "been convicted of a criminal offense against a victim who is a minor or any dangerous sexual offense," it makes it sound as if she did something terrible to a helpless child. She sees people whispering and parents pulling their children indoors when she walks by.


All this despite the fact that Georgia's sodomy laws have since been rolled back.

Cases like Whitaker's are more common that people realize. According to the report, two-thirds of the people registered on the state database "pose little risk."

"For example, Janet Allison was found guilty of being 'party to the crime of child molestation' because she let her 15-year-old daughter have sex with a boyfriend. The young couple later married. But Ms. Allison will spend the rest of her life publicly branded as a sex offender."

As Americans are inundated with the inevitable flood of media reports revealing even more sordid details about Phillip Garrido in the coming days, it will be important to try to remember some of these examples, of people who have been wrongly swept up by excessive sex-offender laws.

In the face of truly grotesque sex crimes, it can be hard to maintain perspective. But doing so is crucial in order to address those many cases where legislation is doing more harm than good.

This won't be easy. "Given the widespread belief in the myths about sex offenders' inherent and incurable dangerousness, it is perhaps not surprising that very few public officials have questioned the laws or their efficacy," says HRW.

As one ACLU lawyer out it, "We've gotten used to having few friends on this issue."

"With the exception of the criminal-defense bar, there just aren't a whole lot of people who want to stand up for the rights of sex offenders."

Liliana Segura is an AlterNet staff writer and editor of Rights & Liberties and World Special Coverage. http://twitter.com/LilianaSegura


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