Sex Offender Law Violates Rights, Puts Kids at Risk

Last Tuesday, a U.S. House subcommittee held a hearing to evaluate states' compliance with the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA). That law requires that states scrap their sex offender monitoring programs and create online public registries of sex offenders according to strict new federal standards. Instead of basing the length of monitoring on an assessment of the chances that the person will reoffend, states must apply a three-tier system based solely on the person's offense. The law covers all people convicted of crimes that involve a sexual act, including some minors and even covers people who had paid their debt to society decades ago. States that aren't in compliance with this law by July 29, 2009, could lose a substantial piece of federal aid for state law enforcement.

SORNA will not prevent sexual victimization. In 2007, Human Rights Watch released a comprehensive report, No Easy Answers, which found that if anything, these laws are counterproductive. They make it harder for law enforcement to focus its resources on the truly dangerous individuals. And unrestricted public access to the registries results in ostracism and diminishes the likelihood of reintegration into society. Our increasingly scarce resources would be better spent on counseling for victims, education for the community, and treatment for the offenders.

We've gotten used to having few friends on this issue. We're okay with this. We didn't get into this business in order to make friends. With the exception of the criminal defense bar, there just aren't a whole lot of people who want to stand up for the rights of sex offenders. So we were pleasantly surprised to hear the testimony of Emma J. Devillier, Assistant Attorney General of Louisiana, and Detective Bob Shilling, who works in the Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Unit of the Seattle Police Department.

Bob Shilling was molested as a child, and has dedicated his life to ending sexual abuse. He testified that SORNA's three-tier system is making his job more difficult. He argued that it's more effective to base sex offender monitoring decisions on the actuarial risk-based system that attempting to calculate the chances that the person will reoffend and is currently used in over 20 states. Simply looking at the crime a person was convicted of tells you very little about the chance that he or she will reoffend. By adopting SORNA's rigid categories, states governments and police departments will divert valuable resources away from policing high- and moderate-risk sex offenders to people whose risk of reoffending is very low.

Emma Devillier is a front-line prosecutor of sexual offenders in Louisiana, and was in charge of implementing SORNA's requirements in the state. She also argued that SORNA will make it harder for her to do her job. Sex offenses can be very hard to try. Often there is no physical evidence and no witness besides the victim. If Devillier does not have the discretion to waive the sex offender registration requirements, her ability to get defendants to plead guilty will be compromised. She will have to bring more of these cases to trial, forcing the victims to publicly relive their personal trauma.

Knowing that laws like SORNA have done nothing to make us safer makes me suspect that many of the politicians who support them are thinking more about their next re-election campaign than actually protecting kids. I have a low tolerance for politicians who use kids to score cheap political points. It's not like there isn't anything else going on that Congress could be spending its time on instead of forcing counterproductive legislation down states' throats.

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Thank you for bringing this issue to the public. I read about SORNA last year and thought exactly what you state here. The registry for Sex Offenders is badly created. Lumping teenagers that were in a relationship with another teenager in to the same category as a priest that molested children is not helpful for the public. Doing this makes the registry look stupid and pointless. I have heard from a number of parents of how disappointed they are that they really don't know the chance of recidivism of the registrant. It is more important for the public to know the chance of an offender committing a new crime than it is to know a consensual relationship offender is in the same category of child molester. SORNA is a badly written law, along with the current federal registry. SORNA needs to be thrown out and new, better, more effective laws need to be enacted over the ones currently in place. Please continue to bring the dangers of this law out into public light.


Someone should do an analysis of felony sex laws before Ashcroft and after Ashcroft. Ashcroft made the declaration he would wipe out child pornography; his laws cast a net far and wide to include the curious as well as the sexual predator. These laws have broken up families and made children fatherless or motherless more than they have protected children. Thank you so much for shedding light on this nation's dirty little secret.


This whole thing, SORNA, AWA, is nothing but an expensive and ineffective travesty. I wish more were being written: I wish more were being done. Thank you.


Mr. Hardenbergh, I want to compliment you on addressing a topic that needs to be covered. All registries, federal and state, have turned into nothing but a political tool. Anytime a politician needs to score a few points because his poll numbers are bad, he goes after those on sex offender registries.

We need to get the registries back to their original intent, police-only viewing with the registrants being the worst and most likely to reoffend. In their current form, registries are useless, unless you're a vigilante.


It's a shame that not all chapters of the ACLU are taking this important issue on. Many states ACLU divisions won't even discuss it, stating that they exist on donations and this is an unpopular issue. Maybe you could follow this up with some commentary on the constitutional issues related to SORNA?


If there was ever a law that should be repealed it is the AWA. If the Legislators who passed the law, and the people who championed it, would have paid any attention to research, they would have known how ineffective and counter productive this law is. I believe many DID know, but chose to stay silent for political expediency. There is no better way to get elected than to appear tough on sex offenders...even at the expense of our children. If the people of America could hear the TRUTH as often as they have heard the lies, I believe they would be as outraged at the wasted money, resources, and the harm done to our children as they are about the AIG bonuses.
We MUST keep stories like this coming. We MUST get this out to mainstream media. We MUST find a way to make our Politicians tell the truth.
We must begin filing court case after court case to expose this garbage.
We are talking about the lives of over one and a half Americans PLUS the innocent children who are NOT really being protected.

Sex Offender Issues

I am totally against ANY form of abuse to any human being. And I believe anyone who murders another human being should be in prison for the rest of their life (until they die). I do not believe in the death penalty for anyone. Also, I believe that once a person has been in and out of prison and has served their probation and parole, done everything required of them, and what was signed on the "contract" when they took the plea, none of this should be required of them, none of it. The state cannot tear up a contract like this, which they are basically doing, it's unconstitutional. Many people, if they had known they would be faced with all this, they would have NOT taken a plea deal. And the courts are very aware of this and this is why they made it retroactive; thus violating ex-post facto laws! They should be allowed to get on with their life as if nothing happened. I'm not saying for it to be removed from their record, but, the crime should be removed from public view and background checks, they should not have any more restrictions, shaming, etc. If they commit another crime, then they face a lot more punishment, like everything else is treated.

When are we going to move away from being "TOUGH ON CRIME" and move to being "SMART ON CRIME?" If you locked every single s*x offender up, at this moment, or killed every one of them, do you think the problem is over? No, more will follow.

I've heard many people say "If these laws protect one child, then they are worth it!" And at the same time, if millions are tortured, it's ok. Offenders are losing their homes, jobs, families, and children and cannot find new jobs or homes due to the insanity of these laws. The families are also made into outcasts for associating with or being related to an ex-offender and their own children are harassed and bullied at schools due to a family member being an ex-offender.

I know these laws are a sensitive issue, but as all issues, they must be discussed and we must come up with a valid solution that will work. The laws, as they exist now, DO NOT WORK! People are always saying they cause unintended consequences. These laws have been on the books for years now, so nothing is unintended anymore. When are we going to set aside fear, hate, rage and anger and come up with a real solution? History has proven that these feelings NEVER get good laws passed but only create bad ones that punish and torture many people. These knee-jerk reactions to a slim number of high-profile crimes, like Adam Walsh and Jessica Lunsford, MUST STOP!

When an ex-offender is forced to move from his/her home, thus having to sell it, cannot find another home within the law due to the residency "buffer" zones, get fired from their jobs due to being on the registry, cannot find a new job due to being on the registry, their husband/wife lose their jobs due to a significant other being on the registry, their children lose their friends and are harassed and bullied in school due to a family member being on the registry, thus destroying the children's lives, ex-offenders are forced into homelessness and to live under bridges, harassed by police, neighbors and probation/parole officers, have to wear "I'm a s*x offender T-shirt" or have a neon green license plate on ALL their cars, have "s*x offender" on their drivers license and forced to renew their licenses every year, forced from shelters during tornadoes or hurricanes, cannot give blood at some places due to being discriminated against for being on the s*x offender registry, denied housing due to being on the registry, signs placed in their yards inviting harassment and ridicule from the neighbors, forced to move when the neighbors start picketing outside the ex-offenders home, the list is endless.



I am a 29 year old sex offender. When I was 22, I fooled around with a girl who claimed to be 18. She was really 16. I am the one who screwed up there. It is my fault for not verifying her age. HOWEVER, I will say that when I was held pending trial on $100,000 bond in the county jail, I was offered a plea bargain and I was told by a Sargeant there that I would be killed if I didnt take it. I took the plea bargain obviously. Now, 7 years later, I have gotten used to physical and verbal attacks from people who found my information online. I have gotten used to people printing and distributing sex offender information to co-workers and bosses and neighbors. I have gotten used to vandals spray painting words like "Pedophile" on my vehicles and breaking my windows. I have gotten used to being handcuffed and searched during traffics stops. I have gotten used to the fact that I lost my right to vote and my right to keep and bear arms, even though I have never done anything to hurt anyone in any way. Oh well...


I am going to renew my membership in the ACLU right now. I am the parent of an ex-offender who has tried so hard to get his life in order. Instead our whole family has been subjected to shaming. I will contribute to the national chapter and see whether my local chapter has the courage to speak out.
It appears that every society has to have its pariahs in order to feel smug. The only folks Americans can really abuse safely are offenders. Read about the charity in KY that tried to open a home for offenders!


Not only is this SONRA a large step backword,it is going to cost us the tax payers millions in tax money. I am a retired Police officer and from first hand working with these laws I can tell you that for the most part they are smoke and mirrors. They do not target the problem of sexual assault at all. Given that even the US Dept. of Justice says sex offenders have one of the lowest recidivism rates, these laws are not the answer. If those who realy think they are any good then lets set up a Drunk Driver (OUIL) registry. Maybe it will stop just one person from driving drunk, and if that one person is prevented from hurting or killing someone, is not that worth the cost to run the drunk driver registry? And not let those on the drunk registry live within 1,000 ft of any place that sells beer wine or spirts. I think not as you could never show that it would do anything other than cost the tax payers money.


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