What was once a well-intentioned law that was meant to make the community a safer place has spiraled into a witch hunt looking to burn alive anyone who wears a pointed hat. While no one would argue that sex offenders should escape free of consequence, the lifetime sentence society has instilled upon these people is extreme. When we think sex offenders, our minds automatically travel to rapists, pedophiles and child molesters. The worst of the worst. Monsters who prey on innocent defenseless victims. Yet that term has come to include so much more.
The reason the registry was so heavily advocated for was because of the mistaken belief that sex offenders are more likely than not to strike again. It was believed the recidivism for sex offenders was the norm and not the exception. Although rapists and pedophiles may have the highest rate of recidivism they are not the only ones to be included in this all-encompassing registry. The Department of Justice places the likelihood of repeat sexual offenses around 14% at the high end. The registry was meant to be a warning to the community of dangerous offenders who were likely to repeat the offense that got them into trouble, but has turned into a permanent catch-all registry. The unfortunate fact is, most sexual offenses are committed by family members or someone known to the victim rather than a dangerous stranger. The registry is not particularly effective for preventing intrafamily crimes, aside from alerting people about registrants prior to starting a relationship with them.
Before we fly off the handle, there are definitely some sex offenders that are dangerous. There are some that are, and will always be, a danger to the community. However, not ALL sex offenders are a danger to the community. In fact, the majority of “sex offenders” are just people who made mistakes. The term “sex offender” has grown to encompass a myriad of people that were never supposed to be included on this list of dangerous offenders.
The best example is being placed on a sex offender registry for public urination. This charge is almost commonplace in Tempe, Arizona on Mill Avenue, where many young college students go out drinking and eventually have to use the facilities. Tempe does not offer public restrooms, so these patrons are forced to seek out a private restroom in a club. To get into the club, they must wait in line, show their ID, then (if they didn’t have to pay for entrance) run to the closest bathroom. There are no other alternatives – except behind a dumpster. Did the City of Tempe solve this issue by installing public restrooms or even port-a-johns? No, they did the next logical thing: started placing people who urinate in public on a sex offender registry.
This should be considered an abuse of the registry that was supposed to be keeping neighborhoods safe from sexual predators who stalk or kidnap their victims, strangers to the perpetrator, and force sexual acts upon them. There are certainly some people who deserve to be on this list forever, but the registry was never meant to include such “harmless” acts as peeing on the side of the highway miles away from the nearest rest stop. While those acts are technically illegal, a ticket and fine would be an appropriate punishment — not a lifetime on a sex offender registry.
Having these petty offenses qualify for registry status only serves to dilute the seriousness of being on the registry in the first place, reducing its effectiveness in warning neighborhood residents of potential risks. The registry was meant to keep communities safe, but has become a lifetime punishment for many people caught within its bloated scope. Does that make you feel safer?