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Soho Forum: Horowitz, Hamilton face off over sex offender registries

By David Booth . . . Dr. Emily Horowitz, noted sex offense policy researcher, and Marci Hamilton, child safety advocate, went toe-to-toe in an engaging debate Monday night, which may be a first of its kind on the need for sex offender registries. On the resolution for whether the laws requiring those convicted of sex offenses to put their names in a registry should be abolished, Dr. Emily Horowitz argued the affirmative and Ms. Marci Hamilton the negative. Even though Dr. Horowitz crafted a well-reasoned argument against the use of sex offender registration and notification (SORN) policies, Marci Hamilton’s rebuttals highlighted the emotional rhetoric plaguing any serious conversation and reconsideration of SORN policies.

Dr. Horowitz began by unapologetically declaring that SORN policies are grounded in emotional reasoning that doesn’t help society reckon with sexual wrongdoing. There is no room for accountability in our current retribution-based system of laws. Empirical evidence demonstrates that not only were sex crime rates on the decline prior to the enactment of SORN policies, but they also don’t prevent sexual violence or reduce rates of re-offense. Registries are based on faulty assumptions, create numerous collateral consequences, exacerbate social inequalities, and are inconsistently applied. Dr. Horowitz concluded by remarking that even Patty Wetterling has changed her mind on registries and called on the audience for an open-minded and rational approach to registries.

While Dr. Horowitz’s opening remarks were pointed, logical, and evidence-based she did fail to address the impact of sexual violence. Marci Hamilton weaponized this weakness in her opening emotional plea to save one child. She began by recounting the sensationalized case of Larry Nassar and how he exemplifies that registered people have 150 victims on average. Ms. Hamilton failed to acknowledge that the study documenting this high average was not only debunked but also written 30 years ago. Both women did agree the premise of stranger danger was a myth, but Ms. Hamilton still held firm to her belief in its effectiveness citing her fear of re-offense. She noted that if someone pleads guilty or is convicted, then they have proved their guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. “We have to believe the children!” Regrettably, she failed to inform the audience of the Satanic day care panics, the rise of wrongful convictions, and the startling percentage of plea bargains. In short, her opening statement was a rehash of the same tired arguments that research has disproven time and time again.

For her rebuttal, Dr. Horowitz reminded Ms. Hamilton that registries are ineffective and reactive policy tools. If we’re serious about changing the culture of sexual wrongdoing, then we’re going to have to answer some hard questions. Registries are out of control weapons of vengeance. Crime rates are down, but parental anxiety is at an all-time high, which has resulted in these policies being a race to pile on the punishments. Dr. Horowitz isn’t wrong when you consider the numerous social, legal, and financial collateral consequences of SORN policies, but Ms. Hamilton was not swayed by logic and reason. Her rebuttal fixated on the Larry Nassar case and an insistence on saving one child by any means necessary.

So, who won? Surprisingly, the audience voted for the abolition of registries. Prior to the debate 39% voted in the affirmative, 22% in the negative, and 39% were undecided. 72% of the audience closed ranks around Dr. Horowitz after she razed the hastily constructed fortress of feelings about the registry. 16% sided with Ms. Hamilton and 12% were still undecided.

While the debate was a good first step, it is evident that SORN policy reformers need to really engage in thoughtful education and information sharing with child safety advocates. Marci Hamilton was woefully ignorant of the research and evidence around SORN policies. She consistently cited inaccurate and debunked information, referenced outdated research, and conflated terminology. It was clear from the debate she needs a clearer understanding of the distinction between child sex abuse and pedophilia, a better grasp on recidivism statistics, a practical look into how the criminal legal system marginalizes people, and overall, more compassion and understanding for people on the registry.

David Booth is Executive Director of the Sex Law & Policy Center and was in attendance at the Soho Forum debate in NYC.

This topic contains 21 replies, has 3 voices, and was last updated by  Kendal 1 day, 7 hours ago.

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  • #34584 Reply

    Abolish Registries

    That is an excellent step forward.

  • #34587 Reply

    Rajendra

    Congratulations and hope to see more events like these to someday, soon, be done with the sex offender registry which is based on FEAR.

    • #34658 Reply

      Will

      While I do agree that fear is a contributing factor to the proliferation of sex offender legislation, I have to say that the primary driving force is outrage and a desire to inflict unending punishment. After all, the mantra of these child victim advocates for years has been “Molestation imposes a life sentence on an innocent child. That child is scarred for life. Why should the offender get off with a few years in prison and then be able to go on with his (or her) life as if nothing ever happened?” Ergo, the laws, while couched in language that portrays them as civil regulatory measures for public safety, are actually designed to inflict unending punishment and make it where the least misstep can land an offender right behind bars; even when it’s an inability to pay massively inflated registry fees as in the case of Louisiana. The fee is expensive and offenders only have so many days after being released from prison to register. However, they can’t register if they don’t have the money.

      My personal opinion is that all those who blindly and rabidly support these laws and the myriad of life-crippling restrictions included therein should have to live as a registered, supervised sex offender with diminished civil rights for at least 15 calendar years so they can see what it’s like with their own eyes.

  • #34589 Reply

    FredAdmin

    Here is the recorded debate, if anyone wants to watch it.

    Watch Debate – Should the Sex Offender Registry be Abolished?

  • #34590 Reply

    Seti IIII

    Contemplate this question: Are Registered Citizens (RCs) the real “Walking Dead”? Think about this a minute. RCs, as we all know, are grey people or people without color, with out shape or form or substance. Buy do they walk around in a stupor, eyes glazed over, ashamed and afraid? For sure RCs are BANISHED (residency restrictions) DISENFRANCHISED (job restrictions) SCARLET LETTERED (name, address, photo etc., on public website) VICTIMIZED/STIGMATIZATION (vigilantism/targeted for derision). [Even an RC’s family may as well be a RC because they suffer the same fate.] These things are a sort of social, financial, and career death penalty. Does this describe the “Walking Dead”? We know, or should know, that laws targeting the RC are based on LIES, e.g., that: a) RCs pose a grave risk to the public, and b) that RCs have a, as Supreme Court Justice Kennedy issued in Smith v Doe (2003), “Frightening and High Recidivism rate”. This we now know from over 15 years of research by some of the most respected researchers in the Country, is not a lie, but a damn lie!!! And on that note, I would like to ask if Justice Kennedy has ever been presented with this research for example from Ellman, Levenson and others and apprised of his erroneous holding. And if so, in my opinion he should come forth, be a man and say he made a grave mistake and reverse myself. If he did so in my eye sight he would become a great justice. But LOL! We know that ain’t going to happen. So again, are RCs the real Walking Dead? You decide, thanks…

  • #34591 Reply

    Judith Armatta

    Hamilton and Horowitz were debating two different (though related) issues: 1) Hamilton addressed the need for a registry of pedophiles and conflated all those convicted of sex crimes with pedophiles, including all those who sexually molest children and everyone who commits a sex crime against an adult and victimless sex crimes. 2) Horowitz argued that registries (with @ 900,000 individuals) do not prevent or protect anyone from becoming a victim of a sex crime. Little was done to dispel the myth that all sex crimes = rape of a child. In reality, people have been convicted for touching a child outside her/his clothing, public nudity, streaking, mooning, taking photos of their nude children, public urination, sexting, and such. While Ms. Hamilton was a passionate advocate for children who are victims of sexual assault, no mention was made of the more prevalent physical abuse and neglect of children. Of course, it wasn’t the subject of the debate, but then, it never is.

  • #34592 Reply

    John

    It’s great to see this topic being openly debated, and that Dr. Horowitz was able to win over the spectators with reason and facts. However, I’m appalled that a person with the extensive education and experience that Prof. Hamilton has can spout so many thoroughly debunked “facts.” A woman of her intelligence and background should be able to look at the extensive research in this area and draw conclusions based on extensive, unbiased research rather than on emotions. And it’s incredible she could possibly believe the average person on the registry has 150 victims!!!!

    • #34905 Reply

      SandyAdmin

      Hamilton used the word “pedophile” incorrectly throughout the debate. It is not a synonym for child molester. It is not a legal term and has no place in a discussion of legal consequences. She uses the word as she does deliberately. She knows that it produces a visceral response in people, and she uses that; it is a form of manipulation. Her total approach was based on emotionalism and sensationalism, and while the abuse of a child is an emotional issue, the response to it should not be. Visceral and emotional responses to specific instances of serious criminal behavior are what got us where we are in the first place.

  • #34593 Reply

    Curt

    This is great step forward in getting rid of registration. It only hurts people.

  • #34599 Reply

    linda shedlock

    I commend the work of Ms. Horowitz . The registries needs to be abolished . People who have never had any contact with any person at any time except for looking on the internet are on these registries ! I believe they raise concerns of the community, because they use legal terms for the crime instead of saying viewed pornogorphy . No contact , not production or distribution . Putting all in one pot . Continue the good work and do abolish the registry . We would all be alot happier and a whole lot safer .

  • #34601 Reply

    Citizen

    Dr. Horowitz was accurate in her assertions, and her cool headed approach as well as her restraint from emotional grabs was what won her the debate in a group of educated people. Most people who have a an education often refrain from dramatics during a debate as it shows a lack for truth and solid knowledge of a subject. I assume Marci Hamilton expected to just throw out erroneous information and people would blindly believe her as they normally do.
    Our real hurtle is presenting this knowledge and information to the vast uneducated masses that have nothing to base their assumptions on except for what the “experts in blue” tell them.
    There is an issue of trust that we need to break through. That trust is sealed by law enforcement that knows too well that people react to the emotion that is presented when they have nothing else to rely on. This is why factual information backed up with credible theory and statistics is so important. And also, so important to present it to the vastly misinformed populations in this country. Dr. Horowitz was in her element during this debate. Ms. Hamilton was not. Take the debate to a town hall meeting, and I would guess the results would be quite different.
    However, I am super ecstatic that things turned out the way they did. It shows me that at least there are some demographics that see and want truth. My ardent hope is to see the registry abolished along with all the other unconstitutional practices that this country embraces now.
    I remember the days when I saw my country as a shining city on a hill. The reassurance that we stood on developed principals that benefit the good of all men. I remember the words of Benjamin Franklin “That it is better 100 guilty Persons should escape than that one innocent Person should suffer” (his reference to the Blackstone doctrine), and I am shattered at how we as a country have failed to adhere to such advise.

  • #34633 Reply

    Saddles

    I have decided to come back on NARSOL for various reasons. The last two articles that Sandy have been very positive to all and nothing wrong with a bit of input to help others. Isn’t helping others what its all about.. Now all of you seem to look at all this offender issue in human wisdom way whether its getting caught up on the internet or something else such as the prostitutie getting caught up by talking to a john and finding out it was a police officer they were talking to ,in all this by this computer aged stuff Oh yes prostitute’s get caught up. But when police prostitute themself to trap or snare their victim that is a different matter. A lot of this internet stuff all has to do with how one try’s one another and how one understands who is letting down their guard. Is all this sexual behavior Yes. Seems everybody wants to take a humanistic approach to all of this sex ordeals instead of a biblical view at times.
    See a lot of this is a “grey area” but duping someone with this undercover computer ordeal is a bit much. I believe Ms. Hamiliton know’s that these internet sex sting operations are devlish schemes in nature done thru these internet devices. Are we all not carnal? Are we all not all sinners? I even told that to my PO that and he just looked at me. Most people don’t even want to admit they are a sinner if ask the direct question. Was using a potty mouth be a transgression…. or does it become a criminal offense if no one ask for sex?
    Now the hard issue about this debate, which I did not see because I promised to never log in on face book is that one if for the registry and the other spoke against them. So actually are computers a good way to scam others YES. Now if people want to they can find pros and con’s in the bible about this issue. Only one has to keep an open mind and seek for oneself.
    Now being caught up in public is entirely different and if you touch a kid or teenager improperly than that can be a mistake that can cost one jail or freedom of other things. If parents seem to want to justify their actions by getting authorities involved than that is on their conscious justification. Remember a lot teenager knew what he or she was doing. That child that was taken advantage of may have not. We can look at rape just as well. If they dont’ want to report the rape that is their discression. If they wait till about 20 yrs or so than they are hiding something or looking for some other motive. I’m sure nobody wants to go to jail or prison for injustice. We are all going to be judged whether good or bad in the last days.

  • #34693 Reply

    Brian

    Hamilton took the only stance she could in her defense to keep the registry. She kept all of her focus on the children because this is something that does spark the most emotions from people. As Judith mentioned in these comments, it was a debate on different but related issues. One focused on the complete failure of the registry while the other focused on pedophiles. They both agree that juvenile and Romeo and Juliet cases need not be listed and the idea of stranger danger doesn’t exist. Which, “stranger danger” in my opinion, is the reason behind most of the unconstitutional restrictions placed upon registrants. As John also pointed out in his comment about Hamilton being an educated woman using debunked information and chose not to look at the unbiased research and empirical data is the same reason politicians do not use the research. They are focused on one arena which is feeding from the fear and getting votes while trying to portray any effort to protect children. The majority of the media just escalates the fear and public outcry. When the question arose about other types of crimes committed against children, if those convicted should be on a registry, it became clear to me she has just one goal of targeting registrants and pedophiles. When today I watch the news and see someone shooting up a school in Florida and killing a number of students again. Face reality, there are far bigger problems that need to be addressed rather than targeting the majority of registrants that the REAL DATA shows will not harm a child or anyone for that matter.

  • #34785 Reply

    SW

    I scour the internet looking for good news and this is the only place that I consistently find it. I’m glad there can be and is intelligent discussion about this.

  • #34855 Reply

    Rajendra

    I was reading news regarding the recent High school shooting and the theme of Mental Health came to surface along with other issues like gun control. The issue of Mental health has come up repeatedly in these kinds of tragic incidents. It made me wonder if miss Marci Hamilton would think it appropriate and a high priority to put these people including kids who have mental health issues/problems in a National Mental Health Registry after all if that can save even ONE innocent life of a High school child then that would be worth it. What would you say Miss Hamilton?

  • #34856 Reply

    Robert J Hogg

    Just to save one child right, so u will violate rights, but 18 school shootings this year already but won’t do gun laws wait so death is not a reason to violate rights but sex offense is? 17 died with last one at shooting a high school 20+ at a middle school once babies, and it’s all about safety? Am I missing something

  • #34886 Reply

    Tammie Leigh Lawson

    This is yet another victory for RSOs. In short it was very well spoken and informative. I agree with abolish the registry it causes more harm than good however on the flip side those offenders who have actually harmed an innocent child rape, molestation in a violent manner need to be countered but not by a registery.

  • #34976 Reply

    Saddles

    Yes we all should be angry about all of this. Now this gun killing in Florida came up about the time of this debate, so is the sex registry situations more wrong than this gun killing in Florida? Lets all ponder about this for a minute as it sorts of makes the sex offender registry also bad in a way. Sure guns are to protect “ones” life when its in real danger or life threating situations. Does the sex offender kill ones self worth, their conscious, have social stigma’s attached to them. Those in law enforcment should understand about all this before they bring one down.

    Now did the sex offender kill anyone, yet they touch or had intercourse with another against ones will, and some got caught up thru this internet ordeals. One is a real time deal and one is a set up to try and see, or maybe even a come on, or a permission, if people go for sex. Thats all it is. It is very rare that we see an Adam Walsh ordeal or this Megan ordeal and yes those were sad, but one has to look at the mental issues as well to be fair. Do we all self incriminate ourselves in these matters or do we all play as a Louie the lush or a Patty Hurst?

    None of of these issues are going to be a quick fix over night, whether its about gun’s control the mental state of people, or this biggy we are all in the sex offender issue and yes NARSOL is about the sex offenders but I’m sure we all do have compassion for whats happing in the USA today.

    Now here’s the good news that one should of learned in Sunday school or even America Government. I know Church and State are seperated but God and Man aren’t. It tells us not to kill. What are we all doing today. Ponder on that one. With these sex offenses set up on the internet, who is killing who. Is the man holding the triger as in these computer set ups. Who is who is giving the opportunity Law enforcement or who is judging another. With the gun who is giving the opportunity the man with the gun or which is worse. Who controled the situation, the man with the gun or the cop with the computer?, Were they both wrong. Course the guy holding the gun could of had some delusion or mental condition but the cop knew what he was trying to acheive but who was right in this situation…. no one. Sure there are rules to live by…. the police broke the rules and the man with the gun broke the rules.

  • #35118 Reply

    Tom

    The problem with people like Larry Nassar and Jerry Sandusky is that they will never be on the Registry. They will never get out of jail. My opinion is and always has been if I am so dangerous that I need to be on a registry I should never get out of jail. If they let us out and put us on Court supervision then give us a chance to put our lives back together. Don’t destroy us in the Community. If people see us on the registry they think “This person in my neighborhood is a danger to me and my family”. People in favor of the registry figure that it is worth hurting the 97% to protect children because the fact is the 97% did commit a crime. Who has sympathy for a criminal. They don’t realize that the 97% become more of a problem when they are unable to reintegrate back into the Community.

    • #35362 Reply

      Facts should matter

      That’s why I say freedom without privacy, safety and security means ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to me. They think the registry holds us responsible and accountable.. keeping us on the “straight and narrow.” It absolutely DOES NOT.

      They expect us to act human when we’re not even TREATED like a human. We’re made out to be the bad guy, enemy and villains of children – implying that we’re up to NO GOOD and can never be trusted – ever.

      I’ll start acting like a human being when I’m treated like one. That means complete and total free rein and unfettered access to my privacy, anonymity and movements.

      The public was sold a deceptive and manipulative LIE with Megan’s law.

  • #35597 Reply

    Kendal

    I finally took a moment to listen to this. I was actually appalled by Marci especially her ending story. To think that she is in favor of these people saying that there is a person that is abusing children simply because they are on the sex offender list. This is in and of itself the major problem with the registry. People assume that if someone is on that list they are actively involved in abusing other children.

    It has been 25 years or so since the incidents that landed me on the UN-constitutional registry. A registry that was neither in effect in New Mexico where this took place, or in Colorado where I ended up moving. And yet, I find myself on that list. I served my time, I did my treatment at the New Mexico State Hospital STOP program, a program that I might add had 1 person re-offend in it’s entire history (No, it wasn’t me). When I moved to Colorado I had a visit by CBI to my place of work to tell me I had to register. They did not even have the decency to visit me at home, they had to come to where I worked. I am not a rich man, so I have not been able to afford an attorney to get me off this stupid thing, and only recently, have been able to see some glimmer of hope through the recent rulings of Judge Maentz.

    I have lost jobs, I have had employment offers rescinded, I have been kicked off facebook, I had a convention that I started get closed after ten years, all because of this registry that I should not have been on in the first place, because no matter what any court says, it is punishment, and it happened after the fact. And I can’t say for sure, but if there had loomed the spectre of this list, I may not have plead guilty in the first place. I probably would have because the main reason I plead guilty was I could not see forcing these 3 kids to appear in front of a court to tell their story. I felt that would do a huge amount more damage than what I had done. And Emily is right, the registry has nothing to do with whether or not I will re-offend. That is a choice I make every day and keep in the front of my mind to keep myself from ever harming anyone else.

    And my dear Marci, there is treatment that works. There is a way for those of us to never ever harm another person. And the stats don’t lie. The registry doesn’t help, it does nothing to prevent recidivism. This noted by the fact that most sex crimes are perpetrated by people not on the registry. And even the Larry case could not have been prevented by the registry as he was not on the registry. Yes it is horrible that he had over 150 victims, but still the registry did not have any bearing on his case.

    There is a story in the newsbeat of a YMCA that recently had an issue with a sex offense, and their solution was to say they were going to check the registry every day, and again, the person that did this was not on the registry and therefore could not have been prevented by checking the registry. It is feel good legislation that does nothing but ruin lives.

    Or at least that is how I see it.

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