Collateral Damage in America's War on Sex Crimes

Western Europe and Sex Offenders

When it comes to sex offenders, one defense of current laws you often hear goes something like, “well they made a bad choice and they’re going to have to pay for it, even if it seems harsh.” True enough. But we as a society have a choice in how we respond to people who have committed sex offenses. It’s not as though the only choices are putting people on public sex offender registries and setting up residency restrictions on the one hand, or putting our children at risk of sexual victimization on the other.

So how have other countries handled sex offenders? This 2012 article from the Journal Punishment and Society compares Western Europe’s approach to sex offender management with that of England, Wales, and the U.S. The takeaway:

While England and Wales, like the USA, have adopted broadly exclusionary, managerialist penal policies based around incapacitation and targeted surveillance, many other Western European countries have opted for more inclusionary therapeutic interventions.

 More specifically…

 “… within much of Europe there has been a well-established tradition of medical and scientific practice as the fundamental approach to sex offending. As Petrunik and Deutschmann (2008: 506) point out, the rehabilitative method has been well documented in countries such as France (Foucault, 1978), Belgium, the Netherlands (Derks, 1993), the Scandinavian countries of Sweden, Denmark and Norway (Sansone, 1976; Weihe, 1988) and in Germany, which adopted inpatient sex offender treatment programmes from England. In England and Wales, however, as will be argued further below, the therapeutic orientation of the early sex offender treatment programmes has largely been reconfigured according to risk-centred managerialist principles and ‘treatment’ has, in effect, become a vehicle for punishment.”

 As for sex offender registries in Western Europe…

“In terms of notification schemes only the Republic of Ireland has comprehensive legislation which obliges sex offenders to notify the authorities when they intend to travel abroad. France has recently implemented a closed national directory of sex offenders, as has Austria where a range of movement restrictions on sex offenders on release from custody have also been implemented. Many Western European countries, however, do not even have a sex offenders’ register…. the penal code explicitly recommends the integration of treatment interventions, and imprisonment is usually an option of last resort. In short, many sex offenders are not subjected to exclusionary regulatory measures as a rule but to various forms of intervention which combine therapy with internment often in community-based settings.”

 Mark that closely: Many Western European countries do not even have a sex offender registry.

Perhaps Europe has skyrocketing rates of child rape as a result? Hardly. The incidence of sexual abuse in Europe is almost half that in the U.S.–16.5 percent of U.S. children versus 9 percent of European children are subjected to abuse before age 18. 

3 thoughts on “Western Europe and Sex Offenders

  1. Neisha De Hoyos

    The United States has only 5% of the world’s population, yet we have 25% of the world’s prison population. We are obviously doing something wrong……

    Reply
    1. jsheets1

      Mass incarceration is the norm for the United States. Then upon release you are handed over to your probation officer for a court determined period of time. 2 sentences so far. If you are convicted of a sex offense then you must register in the state which you reside. This can be anywhere from 5 years to lifetime depending on the state and crime which you are convicted of. There is sentence number 3. Then you get the lifetime label of convicted felon on your record. Sentence number 4. People make bad decisions and I firmly believe in second chances. You should be able to do your time and not be continuously punished for it.
      The sex offender registry is a great political talking point for politicians. Nothing more. The sex offenders you need to worry about are the ones who have not been caught that are your friends and neighbors. The sex offender registry WILL NOT keep someone from re-offending. The more you segregate someone from society the more alone they feel and the more apt they are to lapse back in to the re-offense cycle.

      Reply
      1. Julian Lewis

        I agree whole heartfelt.As a nurse I sorry for many in our justice system.For convicted felons the Punishment of the criminal justice system is ever reaching considering that the poor is the majority that behind bars.But even more tragic is the fact that private prison corporations are profiting from the Labor of the disenfranchised.Through campaign contributions these companies have dictated the many of the laws states passed. For example one such law denies convicted felons the right to vote.To me that should be a right that should never be taken away.Another as a convicted felon you can be denied access to government assistance in the form welfare,jobs,acces to higher education and housing. Since most who are poor or drug dependent may need family who may be receiving some form of government aid could be in danger of losing their home for allowing a convicted felon to live with them.For sex offenders this is even worse.Case in point in Florida there are communities of former incarcerated individuals who have been convicted of sex crimes living in tent cities because of the zoning laws in regards to proximity to children cannot find a place to live .In America this is unacceptable .I believe that if you committed a crime and did your time in prison for it, you should have the right to start over to redeem yourself.

        Reply

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