Collateral Damage in America's War on Sex Crimes

A Matter of Proportion

By Sandy Rozek

“Susie, you can’t take a teaspoon of green beans and a huge bowl of pudding. Things must be in proportion.”

“Our budget allocates three times as much for entertainment as it does for groceries; that isn’t a good proportion.”

“The punishment should fit the crime; someone who stole a dollar shouldn’t receive the same sentence as someone who stole ten million dollars; it isn’t proportionate.”

Today’s sex offender laws are in need of serious repair for many, many reasons—primarily because they do not work and cause harm, not good—but very high on the list of reasons is because they lack proportion.

This is true on many levels.

As lists of registerable offenses grow to include ever-more misdemeanors and “just stupid” offenses, restrictions and time required on the registry expand. Not too long ago a man stuck a tip—a five dollar bill—down the front of a female golf caddy’s blouse and made her cry; she was 17. He was found guilty of sexual assault and will be on the registry for twenty-five years.

As our society becomes more sexualized for children and teens in terms of their role models, of the availability and the content of technology, and of, not just the availability of birth control but the active promoting of it, the laws punishing children and youth for sexually experimenting, for sexting, and for sexual activity become harsher and more encompassing. New York recently expanded the list of such offenses for children down to the age of thirteen.

There is virtually no distinguishing minor from major offenses as far as the consequences of restrictions and registration go. The Texas man who had consensual high school sex and has been married to the “victim” for twenty years and is raising their four children with her is still a lifetime registrant just as is the man who raped several women, strangers, over a period of several years before he was apprehended.

We need a new standard for determining who should be registered, even on a registry that, ideally, is law-enforcement only. The standard needs to take into account a deliberate intent of harm. If there is no harm—the consensual sex between two high schoolers; two children close in age playing, “You show me yours, I’ll show you mine,”—or if there is no deliberate intent of sexual harm—the guy who stuck a five down a 17-year-old caddy’s shirt, the teenager who sexted his girlfriend nude pics—then the registry—any registry—should not be part of the equation.

Teach the kids respect for their bodies. Give the jerk a year’s probation and community service. Have the teens attend required counseling regarding the risks of teenage sexual activity and the dangers of creating any media containing nudity and sexual content. Don’t put them on a sex offender registry and destroy their futures and that of their families.

Our current system lacks many things and is ineffective on many levels, and they involve problems and issues that will not be solved overnight. But surely—surely—we can start today putting some appropriateness and some proportion and some sense of the punishment fitting the crime back into our sexual offense laws.

Sandy Rozek is the communications director at Reform Sex Offender Laws, Inc., an organization that advocates for laws based on facts and evidence, for a law-enforcement-only registry, and for policies that support the successful rehabilitation and reintegration of former sex offenders into a law abiding society.

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