Education of the media — and the public — about sexual offense facts is essential

By Lisa Anne Zilney . . . It is often said that the media doesn’t tell us what to think; the media tells us what to think about. The media frames our understanding of public issues and informs us which public issues should be at the forefront of our minds.

For 8 years I have taught a college course entitled Sex Crimes. The course uses history and theory to critically examine sex crime laws and sexual offending behavior. In the course, I aim to provide an in-depth examination of the causes and responses to sexual offending and engage students with a non-stereotypical view of offenders as well as an understanding of the many legal controls with which individuals must comply.

Each semester teaching this course, I struggle with the extreme views that students have of individuals who commit a sexual offense: the individual is a pervert, a monster, a stranger waiting to kidnap and rape a child. Students remark that individuals who commit a sex offense are sick and cannot be cured, deserve to be castrated or executed, and should be locked away forever.

What students don’t realize at the start of the semester is that a sex offender in the eyes of the law can be someone who urinated in public in a school zone, a 21-year-old who had sexual relations with his 15-year-old girlfriend whom he later married, an individual caught viewing online child pornography, an individual conversing in a chat room with someone who they think is a minor but is actually a cop, or an individual that kidnapped and raped a child (to name only a few). These are extremely varied acts in their impact, but they all fall under the umbrella term sex offender. . . .

Society refers to those who have committed a sex offense as a sexual offender as if that person is always an offender. If you played sports in college, are you considered an athlete still at 50? If you stole a candy bar from a convenience store as a child, do you remain a thief forever? If you cheated on one of your partners, are you an adulterer for life?

Part of understanding the stigma against people who have committed a sex offense is understanding language and labels. These are individuals who committed one bad act, one mistake, at one period during their life, with significant variance in seriousness across individuals. This should in no way dismiss the powerful impact of a sexual offense on the victim! An understanding of labels is simply to contemplate the social and psychological impact of a lifetime scarlet letter. So instead we talk in class about a person required to register rather than a registered sex offender as if this is their only identity; we talk about a sex offense registry instead of a sex offender registry. . . .

Overwhelmingly, Americans get information regarding crime from the media. Consequently, what is portrayed as reality is reified and disseminated by viewers. When assessing media representations of sex offenses and offenders, the result is fear, the reinforcement of stereotypes, and the perpetuation of misinformation. Representations of sex crimes have more to do with journalistic appeal than facts.

Typical sexual crimes, those that are not sensational or violent, or crimes that involve a known perpetrator to the victim, are viewed as routine and not worthy of media coverage. The media has a way of transforming atypical crimes into a perceived major societal epidemic. [emphasis is editor’s]

In the U.S., we punish harshly with minimal attempts at rehabilitation. Yet this has proven unsuccessful. The media provides distorted and salacious coverage of sex offenses, leading the public to believe they are at serious risk of a sexual violation by a repeat offender, which has a direct impact on the continued passage of harsh policies. . . .

Education may serve to influence public perception of sex offenses, offenders, and, in turn, of appropriate criminal justice responses. Research suggests that educating the public and dispelling myths regarding sex crimes may lead to support of less harsh, more rational legislation. . . .

What society needs is a basic factual understanding of sex crimes and a media that correspondingly reflects these facts. Education can translate to laws that increase public safety, maximize taxpayer dollars, and increase the potential for those convicted of an offense to live productively upon release. . . .

Read Dr. Zilney’s complete piece here at Medium.


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    • #74152 Reply
      Steve D

      All nice to read, but posted here it is just preaching to the choir. Until this perspective is featured in the editorials of the NY Times or WP, it’s no help to The Cause.

    • #74154 Reply
      Sandy Rozek
      Sandy Rozek

      Keep in mind, Steve, that Lisa Zilney is a mainstream and recognized researcher and that has a readership of approximately 60 million. And this message has appeared in the NYT — and to name only two — and the WP —,, and others. It will take more than one researcher and a few articles in some of the nation’s websites and newspapers, but every researcher, every article, is a chisel blow to the foundation that supports the sex offense registry.

    • #74155 Reply

      I don’t believe this was posted to preach to the choir; yet to inform us about the articles that are written on this issue. Even if it makes several people to actually think rationally on this it’s a step forward. More power to the researchers that are willing to stand up on a hot potato issue.

    • #74174 Reply
      Steve D

      Thank you Sandy. I acknowledge that I am frustrated by the glacial pace of reform. Sometimes I feel like I’m drowning in the BS heaped on me and my brethren.

    • #74184 Reply

      This is a very big deal ! Thank you Lisa Anne Zilney !

    • #74188 Reply
      Sandy Rozek
      Sandy Rozek

      Steve, I totally understand.

    • #74219 Reply

      USO = Unconstitutional Sex Offender

      New words means new results. Spread the word.

    • #74255 Reply

      To bad Lisa couldn’t run for Rep. Chris Smith’s seat. Courses like hers should be mandatory in middle and high schools that also involve parents. After all knowledge is power and maybe would plant seeds of doubt of the public.

    • #74348 Reply

      Media is Puppet of Government People. Let’s face it. If we begin donating to NARSOL, and winning-consistently-Court Battle after Court Battle against States, Public Officials that support The Registry, and Corrupted Officials that willingly use the Media as a Weapon against US, then the trend will turn, and The Media itself, will begin seeing The Real Truth, of all the Data they take great pains NOT to take into consideration. Come On Folks. The Media KNOWS that Data supporting the Real Findings of The effects of The Registry exists, they simply REFUSE to Report on it. Why? Because doing so, would make their Ratings Fall. So when we gather enough Courage to Force Lawmakers to Erase the Registry, then The Media will have no other choice but to report THAT too…as well as the reasons why. If they don’t, then THEY can get some of this Litigation Lawsuit Action too. There’s GOT to be Law Firms out there just salivating at the prospect of collectively going to war for US, they simply need the Incentives and Weapons of MONEY, to do so! I’m starting to Donate to NARSOL next week. Want to join me? All it takes is each of Us giving at least Ten Bucks a month. To Me-as I’m an SVP for Life-that’s worth it!

    • #74356 Reply
      Tim Dantz

      You’re welcome Sandy.
      I sent the first article Dr.Zilney had published, to NARSOL a couple of weeks ago asking that it be shared with the people who read NARSOL latest posts. I was one of many who volunteered to be in a study she was doing on the registered citizens. I have found new hope in my life and she has given me a reason not end my life. I was coming to the end and had failed attempts already. ( obviously it wasn’t my time or I am just lousy at that also) to read her words and know she isn’t just making waves, soothes my soul. I needed something in my life to help me keep pushing on and Doctor Zilney has given me that. It may not be what your looking for but for me I’ve found peace finally.
      These last 8 years have been a nightmare dealing with being a registered citizen as I’m sure you all know by your own experiences. Some can handle this life, I couldn’t. I’m ok today because of her. Thank you for printing Dr.Zilneys article and sharing it with all.

    • #74362 Reply

      To Perry, I am following your lead, I will become a member of NARSOL. I am now asking others to join in and lets take a stand. We all want change and we all say we’d do something if we only could
      Well, heres the chance to put it in the works. Donate, its a cause that any registered citizen knows will take a lot of money to pay laywers to get this done. I don’t know if the board is permitted to show their books to let people see where their donations are being used but its an idea to ease the doubters. ( I was a doubter and stopped my donations sometime ago.) I’m back and Perry you inspired me to re-join. Thank you. To NARSOL, Thank you for all you do for us.

    • #74427 Reply

      I would like to address all of the various people who are on the registry and who may or may not be sex offender treatment. I myself have gone through treatment and I want to tell you although we have done our crime and are in treatment for it don’t feel like you don’t have any rights. You all have more rights than what the the prosecution side realize. You can Legally hold your Treatment Councilor for serious violations of their Legal, Moral Obligations to their Client by keeping a watch on their Behavior. The Code of Ethics is a incredible powerful tools that is available for you to use. If sex offenders are going to be held accountable for their actions than it’s only fair to be able to hold them accountable for their actions . This includes PhD and LCSW. I encourage everyone to read the Code of Ethics from ATSA, AMHCA and NASW. You will be blown away as I was reading it and how it applied to me to the T. Just be warned that there’s a time limit of 1 year to be able to file a claim. The tides are changing little by little in our favor. You all are not monsters but Human beings. Believe in your self and stand up for your Rights.

    • #74506 Reply

      The catch is you have to reach an audience that WANTS to be educated. I’m afraid reports like this, while excellent and truthful, fall on deaf ears and are filtered by eyes and hearts filled with hate and animosity.

    • #74545 Reply
      erik bones

      I think you this is important to be told also, my advice you guys might need to post more videos to be brutally honest.

    • #74543 Reply
      Kevin W

      I just wanted to thank you 🙏 Sandy. I really believe that educating people about the registry is a great ideal. I volunteer my services to a organization D.A.R.S.O.L in the state of Delaware. We also try to educate. People do have a stigma about all of us that are on the registry. I have been on the registry for 19 years. I made a bad decision having sexual relationship with a minor who lied to me about her age. I’m not making no excuse about my actions, but what I can’t understand that minors can do that and wouldn’t be punished for it, because my victim had a record and the courts know about it and the crazy thing that the prosecutor said to me, I wished you would have told a lie that I didn’t touch her. He was trying to not bring this into court. Neither the less I accept my punishment, but to be placed on a registry that was suppose to be for violent offenders that’s what gets me. I understand that I broke the law, but however I’m not a rapist, molester, or any threat to anyone. I hold my head high with indignity. I have accomplished a lot of successful goals in my life and I’m working towards a pardon. People really needs to know the truth about the registry. When it’s all is said and done, people will come to realize that maybe we made a bad decision to change the law whereas if you committed a minor sex crime you should be placed on a registry that was attended for repeat sex offense and violent offenders.

    • #74541 Reply
      Kevin W

      Thank you 🙏. I been waiting for something like this to be published. I feel that the public needs to know the truth about the registry. I been on the registry for 19 years and I had my struggles with this situation. I committed one sex crime which my victim lied about her age. I’m not making any excuse, but her age and me having sexual contact with her landed me on the registry. For years I dealt with shame, guilt and was judged by people as a monster. Through it all I maintain my sobriety, I have a job, and I’m attending school in pursuing a degree in human services and drugs & alcohol counseling. I also volunteer my services for D.A.R.S.O.L. I live in Delaware which suppose to be the first state & I feel that this state & all other states need to take a realistic look at the registry. I never repeated this offense and never will, but to punish some one so harshly for one mistake and to place them among people who are a threat to society is unbelievable. Hopefully I’ll be able to get a pardon which I’m working on & I just want to say to all of those people who are on the registry like my situation. I’m praying 🙏 that’ we all can come off this registry and make changes to this registry. KEEP EDUCATING THE PUBLIC they need to hear the truth.

    • #74597 Reply


      Kevin W, 

      You make a very real, and important point. How much damage is it to a minor who lied to have relations with a adult? How much damage is it to be that adult felon convicted of these charges, and be on the sex offender registry? This is all supposed to be about damages to someone else from your actions right? I would say she caused you enormous damage possibly life ending, and should have been punished accordingly. Our society has a bad habit of forgiving just about any act that a “Victim” has committed. I also believe our society labels some “victims” who are not. If they are going to end someones life for all intents and purposes, then they better be dam sure there was a victim. They also better be dam sure they were guilty. Men’s lives don’t matter anymore in this society. If in doubt throw them out might as well be on every jury packet. There must be a price for wrongful conviction!

    • #75010 Reply
      nobody in particular

      “Television is not the truth! Television is a g!ddamned amusement park, that’s what television is! Television is a circus, a carnival, a travelling troupe of acrobats and story-tellers, singers and dancers, jugglers, side-show freaks, lion- tamers and football players. We’re in the boredom-killing business! If you want truth, go to God, go to your guru, go to yourself because that’s the only place you’ll ever find any real truth! But, man, you’re never going to get any truth from us. We’ll tell you anything you want to hear. We lie like hell! We’ll tell you Kojack always gets the killer, and nobody ever gets cancer in Archie Bunker’s house. And no matter how much trouble the hero is in, don’t worry: just look at your watch — at the end of the hour, he’s going to win. We’ll tell you any sh!t you want to hear! We deal in illusion, man! None of it’s true! But you people sit there — all of you — day after day, night after night, all ages, colors, creeds — we’re all you know. You’re beginning to believe this illusion we’re spinning here. You’re beginning to think the tube is reality and your own lives are unreal. You do whatever the tube tells you. You dress like the tube, you eat like the tube, you raise your children like the tube, you think like the tube. This is mass madness, you maniacs! In God’s name, you people are the real thing! We’re the illusions!” –Howard Beale– “Network” (1976)

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