By Sandy . . . On August 25, National Public Radio – NPR — aired and printed this lengthy story about persons who are registered but are non-compliant. It immediately aroused the ire of advocates across the country due to the way these persons are described and presented. I wrote and sent the following to the journalist who wrote the piece and to the NPR headquarters in Washington, D.C.
My name is Sandy Rozek, and I am communications director with the National Assc. for Rational Sexual Offense Laws – NARSOL.
I have read “Sex Offender Registries Often Fail Those They Are Designed To Protect” and would like to ask you to consider an alternate point of view.
Your emphasis is that registries fail to protect potential victims because so many who have past convictions for a sexual crime are not registered where they are supposed to be or cannot be located by law enforcement and have “absconded.” I put that term, which you use often, in quotes because you are using it in a way not associated with its most common meaning, which is connected with criminal activity. The sex offender registry is a civil regulatory scheme not unlike the requirement to register one’s vehicle.
But, unlike vehicle registrations, the consequence of failing to abide by the requirement to register as a sex offender poses serious criminal liability for the individual—sometimes even more severe than the original crime for which he was convicted. And while the term “abscond” aptly describes what happens when a person flees custody, the requirement to register as a sex offender has never been construed as a form of arrest or punishment. So, how is it possible for a person to “abscond” from a civil regulation? Please think about that.
You say, “Some sex offenders commit additional sex crimes after failing to tell police their whereabouts.” Yes, they do. The average re-offense rate for those with a sexual crime conviction who are living in the community is 5%. The findings of individual state studies range from below 1% to 12% with the vast majority being between 2 and 5%. Additionally, reference to this study would have provided a more balanced approach to your reporting. Its findings are that those who are in violation of required registry compliance, including “absconding,” do not commit additional sexual crimes at any significantly increased rate over those who are in compliance.
You quote both Kelly Socia and Alissa Ackerman, academics, researchers, and experts in sexual offense issues, in explaining negative aspects of the registry, but you use their remarks out of context in such a way that they support your thesis that the public at large is at significant risk of random assaults from non-compliant registrants.
The findings of both Socia and Ackerman are, contrarily, that the registry doesn’t work and is an instrument of unnecessary public shaming because the vast majority of sexual crime is committed by those with no prior sexual crime conviction and therefore are not on the radar created by the registry. Both Socia’s and Ackerman’s research found the registry and its requirements to be of little to no value in enhancing public safety. As Ackerman phrased it, sex offense registries and their related policies “. . . do nothing to support prevention, are not a deterrent, and do nothing for people who have survived sexual violence.”
We at NARSOL appreciate your writing about sexual offense issues. One of our goals is to increase media involvement in educating the public about the facts of sexual offending. It is in this spirit that we ask you to do some research and determine the facts – and include them – in what you may write in the future.
Sandy Rozek, NARSOL communications
Sandy, a NARSOL board member, is communications director for NARSOL, editor-in-chief of the Digest, and a writer for the Digest and the NARSOL website. Additionally, she participates in updating and managing the website and assisting with a variety of organizational tasks.