No one wants children exposed to men and women who might do them harm. This instinct to protect the innocent is at the very core of the sex offender registration laws. But when those laws fail to draw elementrary distinctions between strangers who pose danger and those caught unawares in the law's libidinal traps, there is something wrong. Sex offender registries should not become virtual prisons that deprive increasingly broader segments of our society of life's basics.
Senator Charles Schumer of New York has prosposed sweeping new legislation that would make it virtually impossible for anyone convicted of a sex offense to work in a location or at a facility where they might have access to children. Broadly interpreted, the act would prohibit a regstrant form working in food service, at a gasoline station, at retail shop, or in any public place. The act also creates an anonymous reporting system to permit folks to report violations of the law without fear that their identity could become known.
The legislation is called the "Preventing Sex Offenders Access to Children in Our Communities Act of 2010." It is a proposed amendment to the sexoffender regristation section of the Adam Walsh Act.
More than 750,000 Americans are currently required to register as sex offenders. The overwhelming majority of registrants place no one at risk. Some are registrants because of their involvement with a minor while they themselves were on the cusp of adulthood, the so-calle Romeo and Juliet offenders. Some are required to register because they have urinated in public, looked at child pornography online, or engaged in salacious talk with the a police officer posing as a minor in a chat room. Advocates for wholesale registration view every libidinal offense as a gateway crime signaling greater harm to follow. There is no empircal support for this hysteria, but lawmakers succumb to it because sex offenders have become a secular age's equivalent of the Devil in our midst. We may no longer believe in witches, but we do believe that danger lurks behind every door. The primal instinct to fear the other is hardwired into our psyches, I suspect.
Senator Schumer's legislation should be rejected. Lawmakers intent on assuring the protection and safety of all Americans would focus instead on a registration system that is not mandatory, but which gives judges discretion to decide who should be required to register and who should not. Those found to pose a grave risk of harm to others should be required to register on a public list. Others who do not pose a grave risk of harm might be required to register on a non-public list. Those who engage in offenses that pose no proximate risk to others, but are mere signs of wayward libido, should not be required to register at all.
Scarce law enforcement resources are wasted chasing every soul who is placed on the registry. It simply makes no sense to treat a young man who made love to his girlfriend in the same manner as a violent rapist. It strains credibility to think that both of these registrants should effectively be denied employment opportunites. Senator Schumer ought to feel shame for this pandering to hysteria. But he won't. He'll feel as though he is making the world a safer place for all. Just how marginalizing almost a million Americans by depriving them of employment makes for a better society is hard to imagine.
Speak up. Act out. Make sure your Senators know that Senate Bill 4029, now referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee, is a bad idea. And support groups like Reform Sef Ofender Legislation, active in most states.
What we really need is a law penalizing folks who falsely cry rape at the door of a day care center. But if we had such a law, where would lock up our poiliticians?