Where Do Sex Offender Laws Come From?
The boy was riding his bike with his brother and friend when a masked gunman stopped them. He asked them their ages. Once he had the information he wanted, the gunmen told the 11-year-old’s brother and friend to flee and not turn around, otherwise he would shoot. They fled, and by the time they looked back, the masked man and the 11-year-old were gone. The masked man was never found, nor was the 11-year-old.
It’s a tragic and sad story, but it gave rise to a massive movement — led by the 11-year-old’s mother — to bolster sex offender laws. And it worked.
There’s some good and some bad to this. On the one hand, having laws that deter terrible sex crimes are, obviously, a good thing. But on the other, these laws were drawn up in reaction to a horrific and truly exceptional crime. The crime that started it all is not the norm when it comes to sex crimes. And yet all people who are convicted of sex crimes feel the punishment as if they were the person who committed the terrible crime from 1989.
One of the hallmarks of these laws is how notoriously difficult it is to be taken off of a sex offender registry. The argument, so it goes, is that sex offenders are high recidivism candidates. And yet there is much research that indicates this is a total myth — that, in fact, sex offenders are not likely to commit a sex crime again.
This is the problem with draconian laws, or laws that have a good intention but go way, way too far in exacting punishment.
Source: Slate, “Sex Offender Laws Have Gone Too Far,” Matt Mellema, Chanakya Sethi, and Jane Shim, Aug. 11, 2014