“Sex offender registries do not make communities safer”

Reprinted with permission

By Kristina Knittel . . . As an advocate for survivors of abuse and as someone who has personally been impacted by sexual violence, I care deeply about true accountability for offenders, prevention of new harm and the safety and healing of our communities. Because of those priorities and values, I was alarmed at The Register Guard’s editorial that advocated for a public safety policy that is disconnected from what we know works, does not keep our communities safe, and fails to support families’ healing.

The overwhelming consensus from experts across the board is that sex offender registries do not make communities safer. In one of the largest nationwide studies using the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report data, researchers found that after implementation of sex offender registration and notification laws, 70% of states experienced no change or saw an increase in the incidences of sexual assaults. It’s simply not a sensible public safety policy.

There are a number of reasons why the lists do not work. First, 95% of sex crimes are committed by people who would not be on any sex offender registry, even with full compliance. About 93% of sex crimes against children are committed by people close to that child, such as family members, authority figures or friends. So even in the best-case scenarios, sex offender registries massively miss the mark and provide a dangerous, false sense of protection for our children.

Worse still, registries route scarce resources away from sexual abuse prevention, leaving our children more vulnerable. The Justice Policy Institute estimates that it would cost states an average of $10 million per year per state to maintain a sex offender registry in full compliance with the federal Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act. As an instructor for child sexual abuse prevention classes, spending millions of dollars on efforts that are unsupported by data and mislead people into making less safe choices for their families literally hurts me in my heart.

Our limited public safety tax dollars should not be routed towards outdated, 90s-era programs that did not work when they were implemented and still do not work today. If it is any sign of how obsolete the idea of an all-encompassing public registry is, consider Patty Wetterling.

Wetterling helped get the first national sex offender registry laws passed after losing her son in a heartbreaking and tragic act of violence. After decades of intensive work in this area, she has seen how ineffective and harmful public registries are, and today she’s one of the most powerful national voices in opposition to them.

We should listen to victims and their families on this issue.

If we want to get real about crime prevention, there are ways to do so that actually work. We must focus public attention on prevention strategies supported by data: Learn the facts, talk with children, recognize the signs of abuse and grooming and react responsibly if a person discloses abuse.

Further, our public safety system needs to better meet survivors’ varied needs. Crime victims need a criminal justice response that truly cares about victims’ healing, not solely about punishing offenders. This means more accessible services, more victim control over the justice process, opportunities for offenders to take real responsibility for their actions rather than just sitting behind bars and recognition that sometimes a person is an offender and a survivor.

Our schools, hospitals and public services also need to be better equipped to respond to trauma. With proper training and resources, we can quickly and appropriately respond when children begin to show signs of suffering or distress.

And finally, our communities need services that are culturally specific so that all victims feel safe coming forward in a crisis, and all survivors have access to care that reflects and respects the diversity of our state.

There’s no one-size-fits-all response to what crime survivors or offenders need to become whole and safe again. It’s enormously important that our criminal justice system hold people accountable, but our responses must be based on what we know works.

Only then can we build toward a public safety environment that actually prevents crime, supports victims and makes families and communities stronger.

Kristina Knittel is a graduate of the UO law school, where she studied child advocacy law. Formerly an instructor for child sexual abuse prevention, she serves as a child and family advocate through her professional and volunteer work in the areas of trauma and resilience.

Originally published at The Register-Guard.

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  • This topic has 7 replies, 1 voice, and was last updated 1 year, 2 months ago by AvatarSupportOurConstitution.
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    • #61248 Reply
      Tim in WI

      Agree with her assesment?
      I do, but then again it never was completely about sexual aggressors, it was also about use of a database by gov. A useful tool for those interested in domestic surveillance.

    • #61257 Reply
      Old Offender

      I would say most offenders were victims themselves based of what I heard in group therapy sessions.

    • #61265 Reply

      Yes, we are also victims of past sexual abuse. I know you didn’t say this, but I want to add it in: our own past abuse does not excuse the choices we made to act and harm another human being. It may EXPLAIN, but it NEVER EXCUSES.

    • #61269 Reply

      Hi everyone,

      Like most of the public I thought all sex offenders should be locked up and rot in prison forever. Yea I had that mindset. However, I ended up working in a prison, something I never thought I would do. I ended up meeting and working with a lot of residents (offenders) that were charged with sex offenses. That is where I started seeing the flaws in the system and the change in my mindset began.

      What amazed me was the lack of degrees of sex offenses as we see with other crimes (for example minor, medium and extreme levels of theft, fraud, etc.). For example, I met a guy who urinated in an alley in sight of a daycare and was charged as a sex offender and will be on the registry forever. The other extreme was a guy who committed multiple rapes of children with lots of other crimes under his belt. Unfortunately the correctional facility treated both residents the same. Yes there are SVPs versus other sex offenders but it doesn’t seem to matter. They were in the same group meetings, the same cookie-cutter mental health treatment programs, etc. I would have thought that there would be more levels of sex offenses with different levels of treatment but that is not the case. After 10+ years of working in a prison I have seen the majority of people with sex offenses get out and not reoffend. Yes, some people did, but those incidents were very low (less reoffending than non-sex offending crimes).

      With that being said, my mindset changed in how I viewed people with sex offenses. I no longer think that we need to lock up these ‘monsters’ and throw away the key. I ended up seeing these were people too – people who have feelings, who were brothers, fathers, uncles and husbands; the offenders were guys (some were military veterans like me) I ended up working with, sharing meals, laughing and joking around. The fact is many learned bad coping skills and or made bad decisions. They ended up re-enforcing these bad thought patterns and actions, but the good news is a person can change this paradigm. The majority can learn good coping skills and make good life choices, and change their destiny. I think what is important is the quality of treatment with people who have sex offenses while incarcerated, on parole and after (if needed).

      So after basically changing my mindset about sex offenders and offenders in general, I think there needs to be a change in the system when it comes to classifying sex offenders and their treatment; no more cookie-cutter treatment plans and lumping everyone together. There should be a tiered system that represents different levels of offense, and actually allows people to ‘get off the registry’ after treatment and a certain amount of time with no reoffending. There are guys who had one offense, got out and haven’t reoffended in over 15+ years but they are still on the registry and I think that is wrong. The old system needs to be scrapped and replaced with something that works, something that is based on results instead of misconceptions.

      Anyway I quit working at the prison and just put in my application to be a religious volunteer conducting weekly bible studies – hoping this gets approved in the next two months. I want to help the guys inside and show that not everyone forgets those that are in prison. To give them some time away from the cell house, to have some normality with people who treat them as people.

      Its been a crazy journey but I know that from what I have seen it has changed me for the better. It has caused me to treat everyone as a person.

      Anyway thanks for posting the article and other information on the website. I will be checking the other information you have here.

      Thanks & God bless,


      • #61361 Reply

        Wow! Stephen, you made me cry.
        It’s beautiful to see that someone on the “correcting” side if corrections acknowledge that offenders are real people with real feelings and not monsters because of the poor decisions that adversely affected others.

    • #61272 Reply

      This article is good and says a lot to those many abused that are going thru all this sex offender ordeal. While abuse comes in many different forms someone has to be the abuser and someone has to be the accuser. While some stick to this datsabase theory that just boggles the mind a bit more than Who blames thing on a database or who puts the blame on mame?

      There is a key word that I have heared on here and the key word is decision. Sure we all can make choices to abuse others or many things, even ourselves,so whats the difference between decision and choice are they not the same. Now I made a decision in my whole plight. Was I wrong. One wonders.

      A decision is based on hearing and listening effectively while a choice has a whole different meaning and is haphazard at best. The key to all this is discernment or does one go by every wind and doctrine that comes along or who is rejected in all this registry ordeal.

      I like Stephens understanding and his view plus the authors article also but consider this in many of these sexual ordeals, are authorities using Religion as finanicial gain. They even did that in biblical times.So who is right in this Carnal or Civial Compromise or who judges another.

    • #61923 Reply

      First…thank you, Ms. Knittel, for this work of fact and truth.

      It is truly remarkable.

      I will bookmark this and place it within my arsenal of information for the purpose of educating all whom I speak with on this subject.

      May it truly change minds, hearts, and ultimately..laws.

      All I can say is…God is Who He says He is.

      Your post should be engraved in bronz, sir.

      PLEASE. With your personal perspective…Educate those who write policy.

      Meet with them personally.. and often if necessary.

      MANY lives will be affected by your service.

      And we…will be forever grateful to you, sir.

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