By Sarah Lustbader | December 10th, 2019
Two days ago, the Union-Recorder in Georgia published a bizarre editorial. The editorial board noted that the state’s sex offender registry system drives people into homelessness and deprived them of counseling and employment opportunities, but laments this fact only insofar as it allows registrants to “fly under the radar” and makes them “more difficult to track.” Georgia’s registry system, according to the authors, “places too much trust in the honor system” because requiring people to self-register “places too much confidence” in the registrant. They acknowledge that there are “strong penalties” for failing to register, including life in prison, but these apparently don’t go far enough, as some people with convictions could “choose to live on the fringes of the law.”
“As a society we have determined that in the case of convicted sexual offenders, the potential danger to the general public, and especially children, outweighs their rights to resume a normal life after the debt to society is paid,” the editorial board writes, but “despite all the concerns we have about civil liberties and individual rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, we simply have to know where these offenders are and what threat they pose to a community.” The authors propose no solutions. And, more to the point, they betray a fundamental ignorance of the fact that no empirical evidence shows that registries actually protect anyone. Some evidence indicates they make us less safe.
Sex offender registries weren’t designed to punish people, Dara Lind wrote for Vox in 2016. “The registry was designed for ‘sexual predators’ who repeatedly preyed on children (at least according to the fears of 1990s policymakers). The purpose was supposed to be not punishment but prevention. The theory: ‘Sexual predators’ were unable or unwilling to control their urges, and the government could not do enough to keep them away from children, so the job of avoiding ‘sexual predators’ needed to fall to parents.” But now, 20 years later, “the focus on sex crimes has shifted from sexual abuse of children to sexual assault and rape. The idea that criminals can’t control their behavior has been replaced by attention to the cultural and institutional failures that allow rapes to happen and go unpunished.” As a preventive tool, it hasn’t worked, Lind writes. “Instead, it’s caught up thousands of people in a tightly woven net of legal sanctions and social stigma. Registered sex offenders are constrained by where, with whom, and how they can live—then further constrained by harassment or shunning from neighbors and prejudice from employers.”
Read at The Appeal