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September 12, 2007

sex offender study released by Human Rights Watch

Filed under: lawyer news or ethics — David Giacalone @ 1:51 pm

The international civil rights sentinel, Human Rights Watch, has just released the study that we mentioned last Sunday, “No Easy Answers: Sex Offender Laws in the US” (Sept. 12, 2007). Click for the News Release, “US: Sex Offender Laws May Do More Harm Than Good: End Registration of Juveniles, Residency Restrictions and Online Registries” (Sept. 12, 2007), or for the Summary. The Report’s mainpage also has links to individual sections. You can download the entire 148-page report in a pdf file, or purchase a copy from HRW. Here is the opening excerpt from the News Release:

“Laws aimed at people convicted of sex offenses may not protect children from sex crimes but do lead to harassment, ostracism and even violence against former offenders, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Human Rights Watch urges the reform of state and federal registration and community notification laws, and the elimination of residency restrictions, because they violate basic rights of former offenders.”

Politicians didn’t do their homework before enacting these sex offender laws. Instead they have perpetuated myths about sex offenders and failed to deal with the complex realities of sexual violence against children.

– Sarah Tofte, researcher for the US Program of Human Rights Watch and author, “No Easy Answers.”

Chapter IX covers Residency Restriction Laws. Here’s what the Summary says on that topic:

Residency Restrictions

Among laws targeting sex offenders living in the community, residency restrictions may be the harshest as well as the most arbitrary. The laws can banish registrants from their already established homes, keep them from living with their families, and make entire towns off-limits to them, forcing them to live in isolated rural areas. For example, former sex offenders in Miami, Florida have been living under bridges, one of the few areas not restricted for them by the residency restriction laws of that city.

There is no evidence that prohibiting sex offenders from living near where children gather will protect children from sexual violence. Indeed, the limited research to date suggests the contrary: a child molester who does offend again is as likely to victimize a child found far from his home as he is one who lives or plays nearby. A study by the Minnesota Department of Corrections found that individuals who committed another sex crime against a child made contact with their victim through a social relationship.

Moreover, the laws apply to all registered sex offenders regardless of whether their prior crimes involved children. It is hard to fathom what good comes from prohibiting a registered offender whose victim was an adult woman from living near a school bus stop. Stories of the senseless impact of residency restrictions are legion. For example, Georgia’s residency restriction law has forced a 26-year-old married woman to move from her home because it is too close to a daycare center. She is registered as a sex offender because she had oral sex with a 15-year-old when she was 17.

Some lawmakers admit to another purpose for residency restriction laws. Georgia State House Majority Leader Jerry Keen, who sponsored the state’s law banning registrants from living within 1,000 feet of places where children gather, stated during a floor debate, “My intent personally is to make [residency restrictions] so onerous on those that are convicted of [sex] offenses … they will want to move to another state.”5 Yet people who have committed sex offenses must live somewhere. For those who do pose a threat to public safety, they should be able to reside in communities where they can receive the supervision and treatment they need, rather than be forced to move to isolated rural areas or become homeless.

The News Release summarizes the Report’s recommendations to state governments:


· Refuse to change registration and community notification laws to meet Adam Walsh requirements [relating to listing juvenile sex offenders];

· Eliminate residency restriction laws;

· Limit registration requirements to people who have been convicted of serious crimes and who have been individually assessed to pose a significant risk of reoffending; and,

· Prevent unlimited dissemination of registry information by eliminating publicly accessible online registries. Community notification should be undertaken only by law enforcement officers and only about those registrants who pose a significant risk of reoffending.

“Everyone has the right to live free of sexual violence.” said Tofte. “States should craft laws that will protect this right in a fair and sensible way.”

This important Report deserves to be read — especially by lawmakers and those most interested in finding realistic and effective ways to protect children from sexual abuse. We need to heed the words of Jamie Fellner, director of the US program at Human Rights Watch:

Human Rights Watch shares the public’s goal of protecting children from sex abuse. But current laws are ill-conceived and poorly crafted. Protecting children requires a more thoughtful and comprehensive approach than politicians have been willing to support.”

update (Sept. 14, 2007): See our post “Patty Wetterling tells ‘the harm in sex offender laws‘”.

in autumn wind
a homeless crow
is blown

……………. by Kobayshi Issa, translated by David G. Lanoue

ocean sundown–
a child jumping up
for one last look

………… by Barry George – Tinywords.com (Sept. 12, 2007)


  1. I am a Registered Sex Offender, and I went to Miami, Florida this past June – in protest – to live under the Julia Tuttle Causeway with the other RSO’s who are forced to live there. These laws do nothing to protect anyone from anything. In fact, while I was living there I witnessed many children coming to fish under the bridge without any adult supervision. The only way you can keep former offenders, who have paid their debts to society and are trying to rebuild healthy, stable lives, away from children is to put them on the moon. The most successful sex offender treatment programs teach former offenders the importance of establishing proper boundaries and how to identify their inappropriate thoughts and feelings so that they may intervene with them before the trigger inappropriate behavior. Moreover, these important treatment programs teach us that isolation is dangerous and unhealthy. Forcing former offenders into isolation is dangerous to society and is counterproductive to the very goals for which the mechanisms exist in the first place.

    Thank you to the Human Rights Watch group for this important report. Let’s hope it will begin to sway public opinion before this social powder-keg blows up in our country’s face!

    Comment by Terry Brown — September 24, 2007 @ 7:40 pm

  2. “If we can imagine how we would build a system to address sexual abuse if the victim was our daughter and the offender was our son then we will be closer to the right response.”

    Dr. William Samek, The American Justice Foundation – http://www.amjf.org

    Comment by Terry Brown — September 24, 2007 @ 7:43 pm

  3. This is very interesting how everything is going on sexual offenders

    child abuse

    Comment by Sexual Offenders — October 3, 2007 @ 8:16 am

  4. http://sexoffenderissues.blogspot.com

    First, let me get this out. I am totally against ANY form of abuse to any human being. And I believe anyone who murders another human being should be in prison for the rest of their life (until they die). I do not believe in the death penalty for anyone. Also, I believe that once a person has been in and out of prison and has served their probation and parole, done everything required of them, and what was signed on the “contract” when they took the plea, none of this should be required of them, none of it. The state cannot tear up a contract like this, which they are basically doing, it’s unconstitutional. Many people, if they had known they would be faced with all this, they would have NOT taken a plea deal. And the courts are very aware of this and this is why they made it retroactive; thus violating ex-post facto laws! They should be allowed to get on with their life as if nothing happened. I’m not saying for it to be removed from their record, but, the crime should be removed from public view and background checks, they should not have any more restrictions, shaming, etc. If they commit another crime, then they face a lot more punishment, like everything else is treated.

    When are we going to move away from being “TOUGH ON CRIME” and move to being “SMART ON CRIME?” If you locked every single s*x offender up, at this moment, or killed every one of them, do you think the problem is over? No, more will follow.

    I’ve heard many people say “If these laws protect one child, then they are worth it!” And at the same time, if millions are tortured, it’s ok. Offenders are losing their homes, jobs, families, and children and cannot find new jobs or homes due to the insanity of these laws. The families are also made into outcasts for associating with or being related to an ex-offender and their own children are harassed and bullied at schools due to a family member being an ex-offender.

    I know these laws are a sensitive issue, but as all issues, they must be discussed and we must come up with a valid solution that will work. The laws, as they exist now, DO NOT WORK! People are always saying they cause unintended consequences. These laws have been on the books for years now, so nothing is unintended anymore. When are we going to set aside fear, hate, rage and anger and come up with a real solution? History has proven that these feelings NEVER get good laws passed but only create bad ones that punish and torture many people. These knee-jerk reactions to a slim number of high-profile crimes, like Adam Walsh and Jessica Lunsford, MUST STOP!

    When an ex-offender is forced to move from his/her home, thus having to sell it, cannot find another home within the law due to the residency “buffer” zones, get fired from their jobs due to being on the registry, cannot find a new job due to being on the registry, their husband/wife lose their jobs due to a significant other being on the registry, their children lose their friends and are harassed and bullied in school due to a family member being on the registry, thus destroying the children’s lives, ex-offenders are forced into homelessness and to live under bridges, harassed by police, neighbors and probation/parole officers, have to wear “I’m a s*x offender T-shirt” or have a neon green license plate on ALL their cars, have “s*x offender” on their drivers license and forced to renew their licenses every year, forced from shelters during tornadoes or hurricanes, cannot give blood at some places due to being discriminated against for being on the s*x offender registry, denied housing due to being on the registry, signs placed in their yards inviting harassment and ridicule from the neighbors, forced to move when the neighbors start picketing outside the ex-offenders home, the list is endless.


    Comment by ZMan — November 20, 2008 @ 1:58 pm

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