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.
“… 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.