By now you may have seen the news release about the findings of a new study of the impacts on children of being placed on sex offender registries. (I’d link to it but it doesn’t appear to be online yet.) The results are unsurprising, and chilling.
Kids on registries, researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found, are four times as likely as comparable children to attempt suicide. (The average age of those in the study was 15.) They’re five times as likely to be approached by an adult for sex. And yes, they’re twice as likely to actually be sexually assaulted.
That last finding should raise hair on the scalp of every politician not wearing a toupee—sex offender registries increase the rate of sexual violence. It’s just the latest and most direct evidence that publicly posting the names of those convicted of past sexual offenses drives sex-crime rates up, not down. (That registries and related practices raise the number of offenses through other pathways is well documented, as described here.)
Still, findings like those shouldn’t provoke outrage just because children are the targets. We already know a few things about how being placed on these lists affects adults:
-An October story in VICE related the stories of adult woman registrants who are targets of sexual harassment and sexually aggressive correspondence because their names, addresses, and offenses are on state websites.
-About 1 in 7 adults on registries attempts suicide, according to a 2012 study.
-In places like Florida that have restrictions on where registrants can live, registrants are ten times likelier than others to be homeless, according to data from a 2013 study.
-During natural disasters, sex-offense registrants are regularly barred from using storm shelters and are left to fend for themselves.
-Registrants and their families are the targets of threats, violence, and murder. (The advisability of wide access to guns is much debated, but if there’s anyone in America who should have the right to a gun at home, it’s registrants—but those with a felony conviction are usually barred from gun ownership.)
These are a small sample of what happens every day in the real world of registrants and their families. But all of it—registrants killing themselves, their families cowering in their homes in fear of the next car that drives slowly past, vigilantes hunting them down—have become such a regular part of the news cycle that we seem to be losing our revulsion of what they represent. (The Johns Hopkins study has gotten zero media coverage.)
They suggest a society traversing a period of madness during which we’ve lost our moorings. Politicians seek easy villains instead of doing the hard work needed to further cut the number of sex crimes. Real prevention would require them to come up with money to pay for sexual abuse education programs, more and better services to sexual abuse victims, and post-prison reintegration programs for ex-offenders that actually work.
This is not how civilized societies function. Someday we and others may gaze back in wonder and horror at the barbarities we tolerated.