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So, this was kind of a thought provoking article in the Economist this week. Basically, it posits that due to political and societal pressure, so-called "Megan's Laws" across the country have careened out of control, and are unjustly applied to people that it was never meant to apply to. The social stigma associated with it, and the repressive laws that then govern your life afterwards can be devastating to your social and financial well-being.
And the rub is that there's no real way for a representative to take on this system, as defending "sex offenders" is pretty much political suicide.
Some choice bits from the article:
674,000 registered sex offenders in the US - More than the population of Wyoming, Vermont, or North Dakota.
According to Human Rights Watch, at least five states require registration for people who visit prostitutes, 29 require it for consensual sex between young teenagers and 32 require it for indecent exposure. Some prosecutors are now stretching the definition of â€œdistributing child pornographyâ€ to include teens who text half-naked photos of themselves to their friends.
Budgets are tight. Georgiaâ€™s sheriffs complain that they have been given no extra money or manpower to help them keep the huge and swelling sex-offendersâ€™ registry up to date or to police its confusing mass of rules. Terry Norris of the Georgia Sheriffsâ€™ Association cites a man who was convicted of statutory rape two decades ago for having consensual sex with his high-school sweetheart, to whom he is now married. â€œIt doesnâ€™t make it right, but it doesnâ€™t make him a threat to anybody,â€ says Mr Norris. â€œWe spend the same amount of time on that guy as on someone whoâ€™s done something heinous.â€
Publicising sex offendersâ€™ addresses makes them vulnerable to vigilantism. In April 2006, for example, a vigilante shot and killed two sex offenders in Maine after finding their addresses on the registry. One of the victims had been convicted of having consensual sex with his 15-year-old girlfriend when he was 19.
Several studies suggest that making it harder for sex offenders to find a home or a job makes them more likely to reoffend. Gwenda Willis and Randolph Grace of the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, for example, found that the lack of a place to live was â€œsignificantly related to sexual recidivismâ€.
So what do you think? Are these laws too harsh? And what (if anything) can be done to make them more fair, given the political climate?