Collateral Damage in America's War on Sex Crimes

A War on Sex Crimes in an Unforgiving Land

Last year in a place where authorities have long tried to stop prostitution, police set up a sting operation targeting sex workers. They had officers pose as johns, who lured sex workers to meet them for dates. When one of them, 22-year-old Aaliyah, showed up for one of those dates, she was arrested.

It was about to get far worse for her. Authorities there have been trying to stop the spread of HIV, so some years ago they passed a law that makes it a crime to attempt to intentionally expose someone to the virus. Aaliyah wasn’t carrying condoms to the fake date, so she was prosecuted for trying to spread HIV. Facing up to 10 years in prison unless she cooperated, she pled guilty.

Unfortunately, that law also mandates that someone convicted under it must have their name and photo put on a public list of sex criminals. Worse, whenever the offender moves, he or she must to send out notifications within 21 days to the entire neighborhood informing them that she’s moved in. The offender foots the bill for sending those notices, which runs anywhere from $1000 to $1500. Aaliyah, who can’t afford that kind of money, has taken to living on the run, moving every 20 days to avoid having to distribute expensive postcards to her neighbors.

It should be obvious by now that Aaliyah lives in a Sharia state—say Iran or Saudi Arabia or the Sudan.

Think again–try Louisiana.

Iran’s mullahs have nothing on the state legislators who passed this law.

But Louisiana’s politicians are hardly alone in broadening the circle of those who can be caught in the net of state sex registries. Registries routinely include those who have committed no sexual crime involving a child. Forty-one states put those convicted of falsely imprisoning or kidnapping a minor on their sex-offender registries — whether or not the crime was related to sex. At least five states require registration for offenses related to adult prostitution. At least 13 states require registration for public urination.

Legislators don’t all pass laws like these for the same reasons. The more scrupulous tell advocates privately that they know such legislation doesn’t work but that they can’t afford to vote against it. The less exacting have found that tightening the vice on ever-more people serves as rocket fuel for their campaigns.

In either case, we can safely dispense with a notion long since discredited by a pile of research–that sex registries protect anyone. Instead, they’re creating ever more victims.

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