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Why Sex Offense Laws Do More Harm Than Good

By Deborah Jacobs

There are few crimes more heinous than child molestation. Whether violently attacked by a stranger or preyed upon by a trusted adult in the home, school or place of worship, children who survive such assaults are often left to walk a lifelong path of sorrow and pain.

Unfortunately, our government has failed to take steps that will make a meaningful difference in preventing sex offenses. Megan’s Law, civil commitment, and the newest trend in anti-sex offense legislation, banishment zones, which restrict people convicted of a sex offense from living within certain geographic areas, all play to the fears of the public. But when it comes to stopping sex assaults, these measures do more harm than good.

To understand why, one must look at the realities of sex crimes in America today. The vast majority of sex offenses are committed by trusted adults-family members, friends, clergy-and go unreported because of manipulation of the victims, unconscionable decisions by other adults, or both. We saw this most vividly when lawsuits uncovered that the Catholic Church hierarchy had hidden and ignored countless cases of child sexual abuse for decades, choosing to protect its reputation over the children under its care. Unfortunately, this happens in family hierarchies even more frequently.

Because the most common type of sex crime so often goes unreported, most people that have committed a sex offense never become part of the criminal justice system and therefore are not affected by Megan’s Law or banishment zone laws. As a result, these laws give the public a false sense of security, letting us believe that people convicted of a sex offense have been exiled from their neighborhood, or that if a person convicted of a sex offense does live nearby, we will receive notification of his presence. If we believe that, we are fooling ourselves and, worse, doing our children a disservice. People who commit sex offenses live in every American community, and children need supervision no matter what.

Laws like banishment zone ordinances actually make us less safe, as they impede rehabilitation and thereby increase the likelihood of reoffense. People who transition from prison into society face countless challenges, and most have very limited resources, financial or otherwise. People who want to lead law-abiding lives after serving a prison sentence need to establish stability in their homes, jobs and families. Those are difficult things to achieve, but add to this the consequences of Megan’s Law and limits to where people can live, and few have hope of succeeding. Indeed, the fear of the stigma of Megan’s Law can force people underground, out of the watchful eye of police and parole officers.

Banishment zone laws may very likely force people listed on the registry to move from environments in which they have support networks into other communities in which they have no support, putting residents in their new communities at risk. Further, people who are labeled as “sex offenders” lose jobs, get evicted, are threatened with death, and harassed by neighbors. Some have had their homes burned down or been beaten in acts of vigilantism. Coping with this kind of stress is almost impossible, and without exceptionally strong support systems, most are doomed to fail.

If you doubt whether we should care about the stress and suffering of someone who committed a sex crime, consider the consequences for society when the ex-offender fails. When nothing works out – job, home, family-individuals are more likely to give up and reoffend.

Rather than banishing people convicted of a sex offense and asking them to succeed in a hostile environment, we should focus resources on programs and policies that will actually reduce the likelihood of sex offenses occurring in the first place. We need to develop and fund public education programs that teach about the effects of sex abuse and the importance of reporting abuse so that it can be stopped.

We need to improve our systems for handling reports of abuse, looking to models like Wynona’s House in Essex County, which brings different agencies together to ease the burden on victims reporting abuse. And we need to provide mental health treatment for victims and people who commit offenses, in prison and out.

There is no simple fix to the devastating problem of sex abuse. Instead of politically popular measures that make no difference or in fact make us less safe, we need to turn our attention and resources to ways of addressing the epidemic of sex abuse that, while perhaps not as politically popular, will actually work so that more potential victims can be spared.

The issue is not whether our children should be protected from people who might sexualy offend, but how to accomplish that in an effective and meaningful way. Our children deserve nothing less.

Deborah Jacobs is the Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey.


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They got me back in 2011 two teenagers broke into my house and stole CD’s, laptops and computers unfortunately for me those devices contained over 1000 images of CP.
After the two teenagers looked at the images on the disks and on my labtop they found the CP and contacted LE they raided my house the next day.
I was change and convicted of 311.11 (a) no jail time but I got 5 years probation and 5 years of sex offender treatment it’s been 8 years now and I still can’t believe I got caught.
I know I have a problem and I know the treatment I’m reserving is keeping me from reoffending or acting out my fantasies I just hope once its over I’m healed and i can be reclassified as tier 1 or 2 offender because right now I’m tier 3 the most dangerous of the group

Don’t fall for the tier 3 “most dangerous” nonsense. One can become tier 3 based off the alleged victims age alone. I’m also listed as tier 3 and have been on the streets for nearly 14 years, married with children, and I haven’t done anything other than work a job and try to be the best husband and father to my family. The tier labels are nonsense in their current implementation.

Your story doesn’t add up as for as the tiered registry and other issues:

  1. Only 311.11(a) as a felony gets tier 3
  2. If you received no jail time then you have to be a misdemeanor, which is tier 1
  3. Any attorney worth his salt could have argued that chain of custody brings into question the origin of images ( although time stamp would prove )
  4. Why would the boys basically admit to multiple felonies (burglary, breaking and entering, theft of property) in order to be good citizens.
  5. The police would not “raid” a home that quickly. The investigation would take weeks if not months to mature.

Sorry, but I don’t believe this.

A lot of things don’t make sense as far as sex offense sentencing; most especially revolving around CP, which has been a hot-button topic of controversy among law makers, enforcers, and regular citizens like us.

Let’s begin with the fact that CP is even a tier-3; felony or misdemeanor.

And then, my case: with my possession and distribution (the latter of which I should have never pled no contest to!!), I received 2 years of security-2 prison; and 1 year of probation.

As I was advised, I shouldn’t have even received a prison sentence for a non-contact, no-victims offense. And then, because I went to prison at all, I should have came out on Parole, not probation. I received probation.

See? My case doesn’t make complete sense; at least not to me, and a few others who advised me.

I have to agree. After all, one can see horrible videos on the internet of terrorists beheading people or Mexican cartels executing people, but people are not being charged with murder or as a potential murderer for viewing them. In fac,t, I don’t even think said violent videos are even considered illegal.

Not having served time behind bars does not have to be a misdemeanor. What it does mean though, is that you were definitely given probation, which means that, in most cases, you’re eligible to have your felony reduced post completion of supervision. But you have to file for that, and many people don’t do it because this fact wasn’t made clear to them.

I heard about this story awhile back it was all over the news

Fake, from what you said, you should be eligible to get your felony reduced to a misdemeanor, which would put your 311.11 (a) into Tier 1. You should also be eligible for the 1203.4 conviction dismissal as well. You can either file the paperwork yourself to do both at the same time (the form for both is on the same sheet) or higher an attorney to help you. If you have no violations during your supervision, then 1203.4 dismissal is guaranteed. And given the long period of time since your conviction, the reduction should also be granted (it’s not automatic like the 1203.4, but with 8+ years under the belt, vast majority of judges will grant it as there’s little reason to deny it, if you’ve otherwise been a good citizen).

While ACLU of New Jersey takes a stance against irrational sex offense laws, complete silence from ACLU of Southern California.

Jacob Whetterling was kidnapped, not molested. Are we preventing kidnapping or molestation? What makes people think a database like SOR will impact either? MARKETING! In a real world with murder in volumes and shots being fired as the norm, if they ( political class) don’t pretend they can impact sex attack they’ll have zero credibility. This is what is sacrificed by blatantly obfuscating certain prohibited language in law making.

For surveillance agendas and dollars, because it is their only out.

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x