May 7, 2012

Sex offenders deserve tolerance

5-7-2012 New York:

To the Editor:

After reading about a Syracuse Department of Public Works employee with a conviction for a sex crime who eventually went on to have consensual but illegal sexual relations with a 15-year-old boy, concerned citizens began to wonder if perhaps employers should avoid hiring registrants altogether, adding on to existing restrictions and legislation that most of us believe are keeping our children, families and communities safe.

Just how effective are our existing policies? Any politician, legislator or member of law enforcement will tell you that the sex offender registry and related measures are paramount to public safety. But an objective glance at the raw data and extensive research conducted on the effectiveness of sex crime legislation reveals that the impact is questionable at best. A 2008 study, ''Does a Watched Pot Boil?'' by Jeffrey Sandler, Ph.D., examines the sex crime rates committed by first-time offenders as well as previously convicted offenders from 1986 through 2007 — the 10 years before New York enacted the Sex Offender Registration Act through 11 years after. The rates for both groups were unchanged, indicating that neither publicizing sex offender records nor community notification had any impact whatsoever on the prevention or reduction of sex crimes.

Contrary to what many of us have been led to believe, the findings of Sandler's study mirror the findings of additional research and data collection by federal and state governments as well as other independent researchers — dating as far back as the early 1990s and as recently as this year. The state of Connecticut released a sex offender recidivism report in February, citing a re-offense rate of just 2.7 percent. This coincides with the U.S. Department of Justice's 2004 finding that 95 percent of sex offenses are committed by those with no prior conviction for a sex crime — which means that the overwhelming majority of sexual predators are excluded from the zero-tolerance laws we've passed to deter them.

These statistics can be hard to accept because we rarely hear about registered sex offenders who are obeying the law, gainfully employed and living crime-free lives with their families. But ask yourself: Would you want to? Or do we actually enjoy seeing sex offenders fail?

It's hard to think of a cause more noble or necessary than child safety. Consistently, that is the primary argument used to justify legislation that severely restricts registered sex offenders and attitudes toward them that are intolerant and scornful. While the desire to protect children is certainly at the root of our reactions, that is the very reason we must be willing to separate those emotional reactions from proactive solutions. Removing all incentive and ability for sex offenders to re-integrate might feel good, as if we are somehow avenging victims and exacting the perfect revenge. But all we are really doing is creating an environment that is more conducive to re-offense — and in doing so, creating new victims.

Responding to and managing sex crimes does not mean we have to choose between safety and recovery for victims, and providing the opportunity for registrants and their families to move forward effectively and healthily. The most honorable fight begins with being willing to look at the broader picture and accepting that truly safe communities exclude no one. ..Source.. by Shana Rowan, an outspoken advocate for sex crime legislation reform, lives in Oneida. Contact her via her blog,

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