Dr. Emily Horowitz, noted sex offense policy researcher, and Marci Hamilton, child safety advocate, went toe-to-toe in an engaging debate Monday night, which may be a first of its kind on the need for sex offender registries. On the resolution for whether the laws requiring those convicted of sex offenses to put their names in a registry should be abolished, Dr. Emily Horowitz argued the affirmative and Ms. Marci Hamilton the negative. Even though Dr. Horowitz crafted a well-reasoned argument against the use of sex offender registration and notification (SORN) policies, Marci Hamilton’s rebuttals highlighted the emotional rhetoric plaguing any serious conversation and reconsideration of SORN policies.
Dr. Horowitz opened by unapologetically declaring that SORN policies are grounded in emotional reasoning that doesn’t help society reckon with sexual wrongdoing. There is no room for accountability in our current retribution-based system of laws. Empirical evidence demonstrates that not only were sex crime rates on the decline prior to the enactment of SORN policies, but they also don’t prevent sexual violence or reduce rates of re-offense. Registries are based on faulty assumptions, create numerous collateral consequences, exacerbate social inequalities, and are inconsistently applied. Dr. Horowitz concluded by remarking that even Patty Wetterling has changed her mind on registries and called on the audience for an open-minded and rational approach to registries.