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Our Position on the Registry

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The Sex Offender Registry
A Position Paper by Women Against Registry

Women Against Registry (WAR) is an organization dedicated to the abolition of the sex offender registry.
This essay will outline the principal reasons for our stance and why we are resolute in our belief that the
registry serves no purpose and is, therefore, a waste of taxpayer’s money. Note: we acknowledge that
every state operates its own separate registry and that they are sometimes quite different from the registries
in other states. For the purpose of this essay, the term “sex offender registry” is a general reference to all
registries.
The sex offender registry is ineffective in the prevention of crime, despite the fact that this is one of its
primary intentions. Scientific studies have conclusively shown that the registry does not deter crime, it
does not decrease the occurrence of sex offenses, and it does not increase public safety. In fact, quite to the
contrary, the registry sometimes increases crime because it forces registrants into unemployment,
homelessness, and desperation. The registry works to thwart rehabilitation efforts while its supporters fail
to recognize recent studies proving that most registrants are at a very low risk of reoffending.
Collateral damage refers to the harm inflicted on the family members of registrants. Collateral damage was
almost certainly an unintended consequence of the creation of the registry, but when the sex offender list
became available to the public, collateral damage became a very real punishment for those who had not
committed a crime. These punishments include verbal abuse, harassment, property damage and physical
attack by vigilantes, loss of employment, loss of residence, reprisals for children at school, and public
shaming. Sometimes these behaviors are even sanctioned, by authorities. The punishing effect of the
registry on innocent family members was one of the primary reasons for the formation of Women Against
Registry. This cruelty is unconscionable. Fear and ignorance drive the public outcry for increasingly harsh
punishment and for the maintenance of the registry, but as we wait for logic and reason to win out, families
are being torn apart and lives are being destroyed.
We believe the registry is a clear violation of the fifth amendment of the United States Constitution and its
prohibition against double jeopardy. We believe that lifetime registration is cruel and unusual punishment,
and a violation of the Constitution’s eighth amendment. And, in far too many cases, we believe that the
placement of individuals on the registry violates the Due Process clauses of the fifth and fourteenth
amendments to the Constitution. Obviously, the vast majority of US courts do not currently agree with our
interpretation.
It is logical, smart, and humane to help incarcerated individuals rebuild their lives after their debt to society
has been paid. To do this, we could, and should offer them counseling while incarcerated and various
forms of help after their release. At the very least, they deserve not to be hindered in their efforts.
We strongly support the need for public safety however, the current public outrage over the sex offender
label is largely misplaced. It is a fallacy to think that all sex offenders fit neatly into a single classification.
A disdainful response or a contemptuous look is the normal reaction to almost anyone labelled as a “sex
offender” and yet, there are numerous individuals on the registry who are guilty of behavior that many of
us would find innocent, silly, stupid, or juvenile; but certainly not criminal. Educating the public about this
issue would go a long way toward changing the laws in this country. And in fact, educating the public is
WAR’s primary modus operandi to achieving its goals.
The Supreme Court of the United States, one of the world’s most respected legal bodies, played an
enormous role in promoting the fear and ignorance that has now become the bane of every sex offender
across this country. In 2002, Justice Anthony Kennedy who still sits on the Supreme Court, erroneously
wrote that the recidivism rate for sex offenders is as high as 80%, a number that is “frightening and high.”

This statement has plagued American Jurisprudence for the last 15 years with seriously consequential
results for those who have fallen under the broad umbrella that is defined as sex crimes. This erroneous
statement has been used as justification in more than 100 state and federal sex offender cases since that
time. Justice Kennedy’s statement was traced to a single source in Psychology Today magazine, however,
multiple scientific studies over the years, have conclusively debunked this statement. Actual recidivism
rates vary for many reasons however, all of the studies place the value far below the 80% cited by Justice
Kennedy. The US Department of Justice recently reported the re-arrest rate of convicted sex criminals was
5% with a re-conviction rate of only 3.5%, lower than most other crime categories. Other studies, by
individual states reflect similar recidivism rates. Some studies show sex crime and recidivism rates are
basically unchanged since the registry began; yet more evidence of the ineffectiveness of the registry.
Justice Kennedy’s pronouncement has, in part, fueled some out-of-control state legislation that has pushed
registrants to the fringes of society. Some states have enacted strict residency restrictions regarding such
common facilities as schools, day cares, libraries, museums, parks, swimming pools, and more.
Lawmakers are a big part of the problem as they strive to get reelected and to please a fearful public. But
just as the system seems so wildly outside the norms of human decency and justice, there are glimmers of
hope. There have been recent wins, or positive pending legislation in Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii,
Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.
The financial cost of monitoring sex offenders and maintaining the registry is prohibitively high. We can
make that statement with absolute confidence because of the other factors stated in this paper. With the
complete ineffectiveness of the registry, the threat to the registrant families, and the many pending and
future lawsuits regarding constitutionality, any cost would be prohibitively high. When considering the
financial burden of this program, we must also consider the high cost of incarceration and the loss of tax
revenue from those in prison and from unemployed registrants. As of this writing, there are more than
861,000 men, women, and children on the sex offender registry in this country; that equates to some very
large expenses and some very large revenue losses. Many law enforcement agencies freely admit that they
cannot adequately maintain the registry because of a shortage of money and personnel. The registry is
clearly not providing a good return on the investment. Wouldn’t this money be better-spent on other
programs?
Women Against Registry believes, without any hesitation, reservation, or doubt, that the sex offender
registry is detrimental to our society and needs to be abolished. We understand that current public opinion,
driven largely by fear and ignorance, creates a tremendous obstacle to the achievement of this goal. In lieu
of the immediate sweeping changes we seek, WAR would welcome improvements to the registry such as
restricting it to law enforcement use only, the removal of juveniles, and the inclusion of only those at high
risk of re-offense as determined by a fair process run by independent professionals. However, despite any
short-term victories in our fight for justice, we will continue to work toward the abolition of the registry
because:
1. It is completely ineffective
2. It is the direct cause of deplorable and cruel collateral damage
3. It is unconstitutional
4. In its current form, it is largely the result of fear-mongering and a lack of knowledge
about the facts surrounding this issue.
5. It is fiscally irresponsible and wasteful
6. We believe it to be immoral, unethical, and illegal
As a society, aren’t we better than this?

 

Press or Interested individuals may download this Statement here.