The sex offender registry makes people aware of individuals in the surrounding area, whether it be their neighbors or employees, who have been convicted of a particular subset of crimes. However, the Nebraska Legislature might be looking to change that. A Lincoln Journal Star article reported that the Judiciary Committee is considering changing the law concerning the sex offender registry. There are no definite plans in action to change it, but on Sept. 27, registered sex offenders and their families spoke in front of the committee about why they believe the registry is, in their words, discriminatory toward sex offenders.
According to the article, senators will work to discuss changes to modify the registry law. This could include creating a private sex offender registry as opposed to the current public one in place, as well as making it a “risk-based” process or one that involves an appeal process for convicted sex offenders who believe they should not be put on the registry.
However, these changes seem like a dangerous first step in the normalization and trivialization of sexual assault and crimes against children. People deserve the right to know if a sex offender lives near them because of the danger those crimes constitute, furthermore, the existence of the sex registry provides a necessary deterrent.
Sex offense crimes are especially heinous, and the sex offender registry is the main way of holding sex offenders accountable. According to the Nebraska Sex Offender Registry, nearly all of the crimes that require the perpetrator to register as a sex offender involve crimes against children. The only offenses automatically requiring one to register that aren’t connected with children are sexual assault, incest and abuse of a vulnerable elder.
Incest is the only crime that may be misplaced on the list of offenses that can land one on the sex offender registry, seeing as some adults can engage in consensual incest. However, this singular offense does not constitute a revamping of the entire sex offender registry, which will create a far too lenient culture around the rest of the vicious crimes on the registry. There can be a case made for removing incest from the registry, but that case should be made separate from discussions about the registry itself.
Furthermore, any abuse or crime against a minor is unjustifiable. Minors are not responsible for their actions to the same extent adults are and they are much more vulnerable and reliant on adults. For an adult to abuse their power over a minor (or a vulnerable elder) is a serious offense, one that necessitates extra measures of precaution, such as being listed on the registry.
The main argument of those on the sex offender registry and their families who testified in front of the Nebraska Legislature last month was that their lives were unfairly impacted, as they were unable to attain jobs or were denied housing because of their status on the registry. However, it seems reasonable that people who committed these vicious crimes continue to be affected by their actions, and landlords and employers have every right to know about these crimes and make decisions accordingly.
Even if the people on the registry are not likely to re-offend, a 2010 study from Medical University of South Carolina showed that the existence of the sex offender registry correlated with a decrease in first-time sex offenses, likely because of the consequences associated with the crime.
Sen. Steve Lathrop, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee that heard the testimonies, said the sex offender registry shouldn’t create a new level of punishment. However, legally, it isn’t. There are no restrictions on where sex offenders can live, who they can interact with, what they can do online or anything of the sort. Sex offenders simply must register and be fingerprinted, and any additional punishment that stems from that comes from individuals in the community and their biases toward sex offenders.
Frankly, those biases are justified. Nearly every crime on the sex offender list is a depraved crime, and every precaution taken to cause deterrents toward those types of crimes are completely justified. The families of the sex offenders said they were negatively affected by the social ramifications of their presence on the registry, and it caused excessive complications in their lives, but this does not take into account the ramifications and complications suffered by the victims of these crimes.
There is little focus on the perspectives of victims and their families who have suffered because of the acts of the people on the sex offender registry. Any alteration of the registry law to provide leniency and sympathy for convicted sex offenders will deeply and negatively affect the victims, and create even more suspicion, anxiety and fear for some of the most vulnerable people in society.