Should Australia keep a sex offender registry and if we do, how can we stop it from getting out of control as it has in the United States?
Currently, sex offender registries that were originally meant to protect our children are now acting as sacrificial lambs to the nanny-state and the do-gooders of the political and legislature spectrum. The quote “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” has never been more relevant than now. Now, underage sexual curiosity and sex have been criminalised and we are crucifying them on the political alters we built to protect them. According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice, the most common age that people are charged is 14. By trying to protect our children from the monsters under the bed, we have allowed big government to introduce laws that punish juveniles for innocent curiosity. Social conventions and perceived rites of passage have been outlawed and for what? Registries are not preventing crimes or reducing recidivism rates, but they are ruining lives. The government is perceiving children are both the victim and the perpetrator and in turn is making a hit list. Inspired by puritanical American ideals, is that what is to come for Australian sex registries?
Politicians and law enforcement need to acknowledge that people can do dumb things, even sexual things and not be irredeemable monsters. Right now, that’s not a big political talking point, but it should be. In an incident in New Jersey: Two 14-year-olds pulled down their pants and sat on a 12-year-olds face. It is disgusting and reprehensible, but the punishment was even more so. Under Megan’s Law, they are now on the sex offenders’ registry for life. An appellate court upheld the sentence in 2011, consequently both these young men will be on the registry until they die. They’ll be treated are perennial perverts for something they did as adolescents. Frankly, the age that people are being registered as sex-offenders is appalling, but so is the registry itself and despite that is been shown over and over again that it does not make our children any safer it continues to become more extreme and over-reaching. It is pointlessly excessive and give politicians the easy way to act as if they care about children and safety, while actually ruining people’s lives.
Sex offender registry laws are draconian and irrational, especially given the evidence that they have little to no impact on sex offending rates. The idea that a person who is convicted of a sex offence that occurred 30 or 40 years ago and should be placed on a register today and be subject to its hardship is not only retrospective but completely goes against the rule of law. Placing a person on a sex offender register should be viewed as a punishment given the negative impact it has on an individual’s privacy, freedom of movement, economic liberty, and even playing PokemonGo and if the offence occurred prior to the register becoming law then it is unfair to impose this punishment now, this one-size-fits-all approach has pretended to answer all problems – when in reality, answers none. These severe laws and restrictions have led to suicides and executions via vigilantes, the state has become the monster under the bed for these children and is ultimately robbing them of everything for little community benefit.
These laws are now, not so much as protecting them from predators as they are perpetrating them as such. The rise of “youthful sex offenders” is not the result of our kids becoming more perverted or aggressive, but rather criminalising consensual sex between those under the age of 18. They are criminals not because they necessarily violated the life, liberty, or property of another person (unlike are the US government), but rather because politicians are defining them as criminals. People from both sides of the political spectrum are supporting these laws, all in the name of “saving the children”, and extending totalitarian policies of the state to further control people’s lives and values. The sex offender registry has turned into the new Salem witch hunts, it is the new age of McCarthyism and anyone can be the next victim.
The good thing is that most of these horror stories are the products of an American puritan regime and are in no way occurring in Australia. But, how long till our ideals mirror those of the US? Will our ‘good intentions’ get the better of us and follow the American example? Introducing sex offender registries in Australia is discrimination against one type of criminal over others, with little or no reduction in criminal behaviour.
America is rethinking the size and control of these registries and Australia policymakers and courts should follow suit before it’s too late.
Erika Salmon is a Research Associate at the Australian Taxpayers' Alliance
[This article first appeared in Online Opinion]