For more than 50 years, California has required sex-offenders--those convicted of sexual offenses, from rape and sexual assault to indecent exposure--to register for life with local law-enforcement authorities; other states later followed suit. In the 1990s, after seven-year-old Megan Kanka was raped and killed by a convicted child molester who had moved in across the street, every state in the nation passed laws to allow members of the general public access to these sex-offender registries. In California, for example, one can type in an address and instantly see the names, addresses, and registrable convictions of any offenders in the area, helpfully displayed on a map.
The goal of these laws is fairly straightforward: people--particularly parents and those responsible for children--should know if dangerous sexual predators are living nearby. If parents know a child molester lives across the street, the logic goes, they might move elsewhere, or take other precautions; sex offenders, in turn, knowing themselves to be under more scrutiny, might be less likely to reoffend. Even when offenders fail to register, that very lack of compliance can give authorities a way to convict offenders who seem to be engaging in predatory but otherwise-legal behavior around potential victims, particularly children. Privacy is valuable, but having been convicted of a serious crime is simply not something one has a right to conceal.
Critics of such laws, on the other hand, argue that these publicly-accessible registries serve mainly to further stigmatize and isolate fellow citizens who, whatever their crimes, have already served their time. Not only is this shaming likely to make it harder for the offenders to rebuild a functioning life after prison, it may lead to fatal consequences: there have been multiple cases of sexual offenders being murdered after vigilantes found their personal information online. In addition, these registries are largely a distraction from the real threat: not strangers in the neighborhood who hang around playgrounds or jump out of dark alleys, but family members (responsible for about half of all child molestations) or acquaintances who already have some connection to the victim (responsible for 90% of child molestations, and 80% of those cases where the victim is 12 or older). Finally, some sex-offender registries indiscriminally lump together the genuinely dangerous with those who seem "sex offenders" in only the most technical sense: one of the two Maine men killed by a sex-offender-hunting vigilante in 2006 had been convicted as a 20-year old of having sex with a girlfriend who was days away from her 16th birthday.
Should sex-offender registries be abolished? What do you think? Come to the debate and share your views!
SFDebate is a member-led non-competitive public-policy debate club. Each debate begins with short introductory arguments by members versed in the topic; the majority of the evening consists of open-floor debate. If you are interested in speaking against this motion, please the event organizer (Peter) through meetup mail. Please note that, as this is a Commonwealth Club event, there will be a $5 ticket price for people who are not members of the Commonwealth Club.
UK-centered page of pro-and-con arguments, with further links.