Monday, November 23, 2009

Sex offenders often live too close to schools; who is checking?

In Idaho, people convicted of sex crimes are required to register their address. But they can't live just anywhere. A law passed in 2006 established that convicted sex offenders cannot live within 500 feet of a school. But nowhere in the law does it say who is supposed to monitor those boundaries.


What should we make of this Channel 7 news story? The fact that some offenders are falling through the enforcement crack? Not surprising given the limited resources and the poor wording of the criminal code. That a few offenders are in violation of the law? Again not surprising given the fact that it is doubtful that they or anyone else bothered to actually measure until this news report. Even more problematic is the scarcity of available housing.

But you know the really interesting thing that most people may have missed is the false sense of security created by sex offender registries and other laws restricting where sex offenders can live and work. These laws have driven more offenders to live "off the grid" by not reporting as required or giving false addresses. Of course this issue begs the definition of who is a sex offender.

But the really amazing thing is that these laws fail to protect children because they target the wrong group. Most children are sexually molested by people they know. The National Institute of Justice reports that one study found that more than half of the victims knew the offender. The State of California reports that 90% of the victims know the offender and half are actually related.

Idaho's law may do more harm than good as it may create a false sense of security, while actually diverting attention away from those who are truly dangerous or represent a real threat to children. Such results happen when laws are passed based on stereotypes instead of research.  And of course the media contribute to the problem by helping to perpetuate myths.

1 comment:

ericn1300 said...

The sex offender list is made irrelevant by the very nature of what is considered sex offense under law and the current media grab for ratings is reminiscent of the day care scandals of the 1980's when many lives were destroyed by the unending quest for ratings.