Reply To: The sex offender registry: a non-punitive civil regulatory scheme

Chris Anson

These discussions about injustice are frustrating for several reasons. Not the least among them is the reality that legislators typically passed these laws because they viewed such legislation as serving the interests of their constituents. Thanks to “Megan’s Law”, when most constituents in a district think about sex offenses, they tend to think of the most horrific crimes they have seen publicized. They do not know, nor can they be expected to know, the sweeping scope of the laws that were subsequently passed in the misguided efforts to protect the public.

Emotions tend to obscure rational thought. And I suspect that just the term “sex offense” tends to elicit thoughts that are far more hideous than what has occurred in the majority of the cases being adjudicated (or increasingly, plea-bargained). Because of this, I have doubts that public appeals by groups of sex offenders will get much traction. When it comes to punishment and justice, people tend to become activists only when they are personally affected and can see and experience the injustice first hand. The truth is that there are many injustices in our society, so changing egregious sex offense registries must take its place in line among many other worthy reform projects competing for the public’s attention.

Moreover, hypocrisy is alive and well in every neighborhood. I have no doubt that for every offense prosecuted, 5 or more go unreported. And of course, hypocrisy is alive and well in Congress, where actions are finally being taken to remove the self-serving protections that members have long enjoyed for sexual harassment charges by their office workers.

In light of all of the above, perhaps the most effective strategies should rest on (a) cost/benefit analyses to show the public that their taxes are not being used wisely, and (b) finding a way to make it clear that even innocent acts in the home can result in horrendous consequences for everyday people (which the vast majority sex offenders are). As an example, I refer readers to the coach in Mankato who had his life destroyed because some well-intentioned IT worker found pictures he took of his kids playing in the bathtub on his phone after he provided it for routine upgrading. It is also worth noting that no reform of sex offender laws will take place as long as there are extreme, Bible-thumping zealots in power— regardless of party. Political moderation must prevail in order for sex offense registry reform to occur. Sad to say we are nowhere near that political state at the moment in this country.