Are Sex Offender Registries Cruel and Unusual Punishment?

Are there people who commit heinous sex crimes? Of course, and there are also people who commit heinous murders; and while a murderer is a murderer is a murderer, I submit that the percentage of sex offenders who are truly profound, violent, serial offenders is a tiny fraction of the total number of casual, one-time, often non-violent, and even unknowing people who commit a sexual transgression. However, the laws get written and enforced assuming that any sex offender is a wild-eyed, crazed, unstoppable sex fiend. It’s the way it is. The moral core of our society instills the belief that anything having to do with sex (outside the marital bedroom, in bed, at night, under the covers, with the lights out) is anathema; and combine this with the innate human predilection for revenge, and you wind up with our sex offender laws. Make no mistake – the people who are truly dangerous, violent, serial offenders need to be dealt with appropriately, and they need help. But why does some guy whose date lied to him about her age have to wind up on the sex offender registry for life, even after doing prison time? And the same applies when a vindictive spouse or ex-spouse gets the kids to lie about being molested; or when an angry ex-girlfriend makes a false claim of rape.

We’ve posted previously about the quagmire into which sex offenders, particularly those who are wrongfully convicted, are thrown by the justice system. The SOR’s have an incredibly punitive and damaging effect not just on the person on the registry, but also on their families. Many on the registry are not even allowed to be with their own children. Please see:

(a) Sex Offender Registries – Time for a Change

(b) The Wrongfully Convicted Sex Offender

As for being “effective” — sex offender registries are nothing more than public shaming, that in many (most) cases is inflicted for a lifetime. They’re no different than the “scarlet letter” of the 1600’s Puritan times. And what is absolutely mind-blowing is that the SOR’s have been proven not to work, and they cost the taxpayers gobs of money (see reference ‘a’ above). But now that they’ve become institutionalized in the justice system, they’re a political football. Now we have lots of people whose livelihoods derive from the SOR’s, and an entire industry has built up around the maintenance and support of SOR’s (just like the prison system). To advocate sensible, logical approaches to the problem has become political suicide for the politicians and legislators.

And it’s incredibly easy to be wrongfully convicted of a sex crime. All it takes is a false or mistaken accusation, and you are placed in the position of having to prove your innocence.

The very existence of SOR’s begs the question:  why don’t we have murderer’s registries, or assault & battery registries, or manslaughter registries, or robbery registries, or kidnapping registries, or securities fraud registries?

So are sex offender registries cruel and unusual punishment? Please see the probing and cogent article by Judith Levine here. The SOR’s immediately became ironically counterproductive, as evidenced by this quote from the article:

Megan’s Laws were supposed to protect children. But two decades of research show they don’t improve anyone’s safety, least of all children’s.  In fact, it may be minors themselves who are harmed most by the laws put in place to safeguard them.

Such is the stupidity of the legislative and law enforcement process we endure today. The “justice system” will sanctimoniously declare, “The SOR’s are in the best interest of public health and safety.” But they’re blindly ignoring a data-driven understanding of what they actually accomplish and the untold harm that they cause.


21 responses to “Are Sex Offender Registries Cruel and Unusual Punishment?

  1. Umm…”while a murderer is a murderer is a murderer” – respectfully beg to differ when Joint Enterprise/Felony Murder Rule/Law of Parties/Joint Criminal Enterprise are concerned. A thought-provoking article!

  2. Pingback: Are Sex Offender Registries Cruel and Unusual Punishment? | The Natl Center for Reason and Justice

  3. Pingback: Are Sex Offender Registries Cruel and Unusual Punishment? | Friends of Justice

  4. Addressing the sex offender industry, this is a fairly thorough compilation of all the entities who benefit, either financially or in some other way.

    Good article; thank you.

  5. Is all this about the “sex offender” or the “database”? I suggest it is the latter.

  6. IF it were about the “law” then no citizen would be convicted of crimes not committed by them, Yet it has happened to me and so many others. IF it were about the “law” then congress would pass no Bill of Attainder or ex post facto Law, yet they do and will continue to do so.

    • No … the “law” (and the justice system) convicts lots of people who didn’t commit crimes. THAT’s the problem.

      • Phil and the rest of WCB,
        America is a place where people are made “felons” when they are not AND it is NOT a problem, in fact, it is ROUTINE!

        Those described as ‘sexually oriented offenders’ are routinely indentured to a database AND its maintenance, OR they are jailed for neglecting to do so.

        I hear nothing of this in the current political debate.

        NO PROBLEM

  7. Gov’t uses database to monitor a population. Legal precedent first set in Smith V Doe. So much for net neutral.

  8. I think it should be more properly called The IMMORALITY REGISTRY. That way all human beings could be on that registry for their thoughts ore deeds in the sight of man that way everybody would be safe to think about their actions. So where do we start with the old laws or the law that says love thy neighbor as thyself. That way one could love the sex offender with their thought and also love others with there cruel and unusual punishments. So were is the love in any of this.

  9. I was convicted of a “sex offense” with NO actual victim (or any illegal pictures, or anything related to child pornography). This is not “my side of the story” or a claim; it’s a provable fact.

    Virtual “children” were used in a sting operation, and I never spoke to any “child”, or even someone I thought was a child. it was a lousy bust, and subsequent investigations into my past showed NO contact with minors of any sort – no child pornography – nothing.

    The case was dismissed from state court (as there was no REAL victim), but the Feds picked it up – I did not have the $100K+ to hire a federal attorney, and stuck with a PD, the truth, my character never came out in court (I took my case to trial – as I had no criminal intent). However, the cop lied on the stand (surprise, surprise), and I was convicted of “an attempt” (as if meeting some so-called “father” of two that he was supposedly “renting out” – at a restaurant at 10 in the morning is “criminal”.

    13 YEARS later, I still am faced – each time someone googles my name, with the Fed’s FALSEHOOD of there being an actual “victim”.

    My mug shot comes with the statement on the SO site “was there a victim?” YES.

    I have suffered greatly for this – after a life ruined and spending 41 months in prison for it (along with 3 years “supervised release”), as people google my name, see that statement, and conclude that I actually had a victim.

    There was none.

    I want to sue the federal government for this lie. It is something that hinders me greatly to this day.
    How can I do it?

    • You have an ally in me, JPH. I got convicted in a state trial in 92 for child molestation. I was actually in another state at the time M.M.H. was assaulted- if she really was. Not sure what or who is benefitting from making felons out of those who are not but it has been happening for some time now. Keep the faith–Tim Lawver

  10. Phil, Nebraska used to have the most ‘fair’ system in the U.S. for registries. Then they got stupid, and went AWA in 2010. However, unlike everyone else, Nebraska did a ‘before’ and ‘after’ study. The study showed that prior to AWA, recidivism was under 1%. After AWA, recidivism JUMPED to 4%. That is a 400% increase in crime, but have they done anything? NO.

    Anyone who says the registry is about ‘protecting anyone’ is an uniformed ignoramus. There IS proof that the registry increases crime. Yet, you don’t see any politicians trying to reverse it.

    Click to access NE_sex_offender_recidivism.pdf

  11. Being an S.O. myself as an woman live is an lot harder then an man. There are more programs for men, housing, jobs. I have gone to over 50 interview for work, when they find out your an S.O. were sorry we do not hire S.O. I was giving 2 lifetime probation and I have to register for the rest of my life. I’m in my 50’s now I wonder what it’s going to be like when I’m in my 70’s or 80’s. If I forget to register will they send me back to prison. I had to go to prison an total of 2 1/2 years that was done at different time. That last time I was assaulted for being an S.O. The women who assaulted me was in for assault. Now I have PDST from this act of terror. Now I get scared around people. I live my life lonely now.I have not seen my children in 13 years. I know I was wrong and made a bad choice. In the last 13 years I have learn alot about what to do to live my life to stay away from children. My act was an 1 time act I learn from it and I have not even done it again. This is why I never understood why I had received 2 lifetime probation. my act was in front of my daughter.And I have never done anything like that again. I would like to see houses open up for women, more jobs also. And the counseling we receive will help you not harm you. Counseling is set up to life your crime over and over every week you go to group. It tears you apart mentally.I was depressed from it. Now that I’m out for group, I feel better about myself and I’m moving on. Something has to be done about this cruel punishment.

    • Hi Mary.
      I am so sorry for what you are going through. But, I can tell you that you are not alone. I lost both my kids due to my conviction. I have heard that I have a grandchild now that I will never know. I am not working due to being disabled so severely by my PTSD that I have from prison – and other things that happened in my life beforehand. I have other physical disabilities. So, I can definitely empathize with you. I KNOW the Registry is only out there for political brownie points and the constant feeding of money into the ‘Industry’. It’s detestable. People are fighting to change the laws, but it is a very uphill battle. The change might not happen in our lifetimes. Sooner or later, the witch hunt has to end. I’m tired of being a public outcast for one mistake in my life. I’m tired of targets being painted on me and my immediate family. They took my freedom. They took my kids. What else do they want from me??

  12. My son was wrongly convicted of having sex with an underage women. She looked and played the part of a 19 year old very well. Later found out she was 17 after he wanted to break up with her. She called the authorities and his life has been forever changed. Being on a a registry has been terrible. Try getting a job! Going to mandatory classes and mandatory counseling is almost a lifelong sentence. Very difficult to find an employer that will allow so much time away from your job. Can’t pay the rent or buy groceries if you are not working. The system is failing many men. Once you are in the system I’m not sure you ever get out. It is a money making scheme, at the expense of tax payers. Any suggestions for my son. We really have and will continue to fight for him and others with similar circumstances.

  13. Well, I know I’ve read of this, in several articles — how other countries and even the UN –how they supposedly strongly disagree with current US legislation in regards to SOR’s and other areas of our county’s criminal justice system.. I say — Perhaps if given more scrutiny and condemnation — Our leaders might then be compelled to more strongly re-evaluate their ways of rationalizing their ideas of “crime & punishment”.

  14. I’m no stranger to this mess, in a society we still hold to, as a “free” equal rights democracy.. But one thing I can see in all this nonsense: A greed and sex filled society is also a huge part of what keeps driving these unintentional consequences FAIR!!! Heck no — by our (human) standards.. I also want to see the day, (hopefully soon), when more people start taking responsibility for their own behaviors — rather than trying to or expecting the world to allow lifestyles of those who act on impulse rather than moral conscience better mature rational reasoning. We shouldn’t punish any one individual or whole groups in any society, for any certain individual person’s behaviors.. It is senseless and unjust –most assuredly.

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