by Sandy Rozek
The Arkansas legislature recently passed a law imposing various restrictions on those who are on a sexual offense registry in regard to Halloween. The primary provisions make it a crime for anyone on the registry to give out candy at Halloween or to wear masks or costumes where children are present. Exceptions are allowed with one’s own children and for those in retail selling candy.
This legislation was passed in spite of overwhelming evidence and testimony attesting to the lack of need for it because there is no increased risk of sexual harm to children at Halloween from those on the registry or from anyone else. Those supporting the bill could produce no evidence of anyone on a registry using the guise of Halloween to harm or abduct a child. Nevertheless, after an initial delay, it passed.
Florida Sheriff Grady Judd, in announcing the success of “Operation Karma,” said, “They are apparently up to no good and we are going to hold them accountable.” The “they” in his sentence refers to 25 men and one woman on Polk County, Florida’s sexual offense registry. “They” had just been arrested for non-compliance, which means that they had failed to correctly report or identify one or more of the 25 onerous items* required to be reported initially and any time any one of them changes in the least.
The charge is Failure to Comply or Failure to Provide Required Information. The vast majority of the charges were related to one of the six bits of information regarding automobiles.*
Sheriff Judd believes, or pretends to believe, that this oversight, whether deliberate or accidental, equates to being “up to no good” in spite of none of the 26 persons having any charges or accusations of sexual re-offense and in spite of research and studies showing that persons on the registry who are non-compliant to any degree, up to and including going completely off the radar, do not re-offend at any significantly higher rate than the general population and are at no greater risk to re-offend than those who remain totally compliant. The only thing that failure to comply or failure to register offenses predict are future instances of failure to comply or register.
The Florida Sexual Offense Registry lists 1,371 registrants for Polk County. A more detailed search shows that 58 of those live out of state, and 29 are deceased. That leaves 1,284 living, breathing registered persons actually living in the county. If Sheriff Judd’s “special investigative operation” was as thorough as it seems to have been, taking three days and involving his detectives as well as a Special Victims Response Team, then we can be confident that the 26 individuals are all of the non-compliant registrants out of the 1,284 in the county.
In Austin, Texas, in November of last year, a spokesperson for the Austin Police Dept. was featured in a news segment of a radio broadcast at KLBJ Radio. The news report was that sexual assaults for the metropolitan area were down 14% over the previous year. The police representative attributed this decrease to strict enforcement of the “1000-foot restriction rule for sex offenders.” He was referring to the establishment of exclusion zones that apply to persons on a sexual offense registry that prohibit them from going within 1,000 feet of schools and other places frequented by children.
There isn’t enough room here for all the reasons why such a claim is nonsense. Here are a few:
Every study done, and there are many, verify the utter lack of usefulness of distance restrictions, be they residency or proximity, in decreasing sexual assault;
The assault or abduction of random children by persons on a sexual offense registry from or in a public place are so rare as to be statistically insignificant; and
Virtually all sexual assault of children is committed by those close to them in their everyday lives, specifically their family members, peers, and authority figures, and the vast majority is carried out in private homes, not by strangers listed on sexual offense registries trolling schools and parks.
And then, of course, is the greatest myth of all – “frightening and high” in describing the reoffense rate of those who have been convicted of one sexual offense.
It is one thing for it to have been used almost twenty years ago, even based on the flimsiest of non-factual sources. It is quite another for it to continue being cited today in the face of the multitude of evidence to the contrary.
In 2018, the Arizona Voice for Crime Victims used the phrase three times in a brief arguing that the state’s ban on bail for those charged with sexual offenses be upheld.
In Lyndhurst, Ohio, the town council in late 2017 – early 2018 decided that their need to enact residency restrictions for those on the registry was so pressing that they drafted and passed the ordinance by “declaring an emergency.” One of their reasons behind the urgency is given as “…the United States Supreme Court has specifically noted that the ‘risk of recidivism posed by sex offenders is frightening and high’.…”
The Ohio Sexual Offense Registry shows 19 registered individuals in the city of Lyndhurst.
The phrase was used in 2017 by North Carolina attorney Robert C. Montgomery in defending a state statute that made social media services such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter off-limits to persons on a sexual offense registry.
That statute was overturned by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2018.
In 2016, the phrase and the dangerousness implicit in it were used before the Seventh Circuit in an argument being made against relieving a man released from civil commitment from the requirement to wear a GPS tracking device.
We have come a long way since a publicly accessible sexual offender registry was unleashed upon the nation, and advocates, academics, and scientists have done a yeoman’s job of combatting the myths, lies, and hysteria that it propagates. However, until legislators, officials, and law enforcement choose to pay attention to facts and truth and use them as the basis for their decisions and their policies, we still have a yeoman’s job ahead of us.
*name; social security number; age; race; sex; date of birth; height; weight; tattoos or other identifying marks; hair color; eye color; photograph; address of legal residence (or temporary residence); electronic mail addresses; Internet identifiers; each Internet identifier’s corresponding website homepage or application software name; home telephone numbers; cellular telephone numbers; employment information; driver’s license or Florida ID information; the make, model, color, vehicle identification number (VIN), and license tag number of all vehicles owned.
Sandy Rozek is communications director with the National Association for Rational Sexual Offense Laws (“NARSOL”), a group that opposes dehumanizing registries and works to eliminate discrimination, banishment, and vigilantism against persons accused or convicted of sexual offenses through the use of impact litigation, public education, legislative advocacy, and media outreach in order to reintegrate and reconcile affected individuals and restore their constitutional rights.
As a digital subscriber to Criminal Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.
Already a subscriber? Login