Arkansas: Sex Crime Lawyers
Some of the conduct reflects the impulsiveness and perhaps difficulty with boundaries that many teenagers experience and that most will outgrow with maturity. In some cases it seems nothing short of irrational to label children as sex offenders. Human Rights Watch spoke with a father whose year-old son was adjudicated for touching the genitals of his five-year-old cousin. He told us, "My son doesn't really understand what sex is, so it's hard to help him understand why he has to register as a sex offender.
According to child development experts, many children move past the misdeeds of their youth, although some will require special support and treatment to do so. Although there is little statistical research on recidivism by youth sex offenders, the studies that have been done suggest recidivism rates are quite low.
For example, in one study only 4 percent of youth arrested for a sex crime recidivated. Research also indicates that most adult offenders were not formerly youth offenders: less than 10 percent of adults who commit sex offenses had been juvenile sex offenders. Applying registration, community notification, and residency restriction laws to juvenile offenders does nothing to prevent crimes by the 90 percent of adults who were not convicted of sex offenses as juveniles.
Search Missouri Sex Offender Registry
It will, however, cause great harm to those who, while they are young, must endure the stigma of being identified as and labeled a sex offender, and who as adults will continue to bear that stigma, sometimes for the rest of their lives. Current registration, community notification, and residency restriction laws may be counterproductive, impeding rather than promoting public safety. For example, the proliferation of people required to register even though their crimes were not serious makes it harder for law enforcement to determine which sex offenders warrant careful monitoring.
Unfettered online access to registry information facilitates-if not encourages-neighbors, employers, colleagues, and others to shun and ostracize former offenders-diminishing the likelihood of their successful reintegration into communities.
Residency restrictions push former offenders away from the supervision, treatment, stability, and supportive networks they may need to build and maintain successful, law abiding lives. For example, Iowa officials told Human Rights Watch that they are losing track of registrants who have been made transient by the state's residency restriction law or who have dropped out of sight rather than comply with the law. As one Iowa sheriff said, "We are less safe as a community now than we were before the residency restrictions.
Arkansas man given probation in child-sex guilty plea
Many child safety and rape prevention advocates believe that millions of dollars are being misspent on registration and community notification programs that do not get at the real causes of child sexual abuse and adult sexual violence. They would like to see more money spent on prevention, education, and awareness programs for children and adults, counseling for victims of sexual violence, and programs that facilitate treatment and the transition back to society for convicted sex offenders.
As one child advocate told Human Rights Watch, "When a sex offender succeeds in living in the community, we are all safer. Sexual violence and abuse against children are, unfortunately, a worldwide problem. Yet the United States is the only country in the world that has such a panoply of measures governing the lives of former sex offenders.
It is the only country Human Rights Watch knows of with blanket laws prohibiting people with prior convictions for sex crimes from living within designated areas.
Common Arkansas Counties
To our knowledge, six other countries Australia, Canada, France, Ireland, Japan, and the United Kingdom have sex offender registration laws, but the period required for registration is usually short and the information remains with the police. South Korea is the only country other than the United States that has community notification laws. Officials in Australia, Ireland, and the United Kingdom have considered and in each case rejected the adoption of universal community notification laws although in some cases, police are authorized to notify the public about the presence of a convicted sex offender in the neighborhood.
After reviewing the experience of the United States, they concluded that there is little evidence that community notification protects the public from sex crimes, and that such laws are often accompanied by vigilante violence against registrants. Increasingly severe registration, community notification, and residency restriction laws have encountered little public opposition. Given the widespread belief in the myths about sex offenders' inherent and incurable dangerousness, it is perhaps not surprising that very few public officials have questioned the laws or their efficacy.
Proponents of sex offender laws say their first priority is protecting the rights of victims. Yet few public officials who have supported registration, community notification, and residency restriction laws have done so based on a careful assessment of the nature of sex crimes and the best way to prevent sexual violence.
And few public officials have acknowledged their responsibility to protect the well-being and fundamental rights of all residents-including those who have been convicted of crimes. Protecting the community and limiting unnecessary harm to former offenders are not mutually incompatible goals. To the contrary, one enhances and reinforces the other. In Minnesota, state legislators and government officials, in consultation with child safety and women's rights advocates, have constructed carefully tailored evidence-based laws that aim to prevent sexual violence by safely integrating former sex offenders into the community, restricting their rights only to the extent necessary to achieve that goal.
Before they are released from prison, convicted sex offenders in Minnesota are assessed by a panel of experts, who determine whether an individual should be subject to registration and community notification, and if so for how long. The panel has the authority to periodically reassess the convicted sex offender's level of dangerousness and adjust his or her registration and community notification requirements accordingly.
Community notification is on a need-to-know basis. As the Minnesota community notification law states, "The extent of the information disclosed and the community to whom disclosure is made must be related to the level of danger posed by the offender, to the offender's pattern of offending behavior, and to the need of community members for information to enhance their individual and collective safety. Instead, law enforcement and the assessment panel jointly assess whether an individual on probation or parole should be subject to residency restrictions and what those restrictions should be.
The recently passed federal Adam Walsh Act forces states to either dramatically increase their registration and community notification restrictions or lose federal law enforcement grant money. While some states have rushed to amend their sex offender laws to comply with the Act, other states are considering not adopting the provisions, citing a concern that they will not benefit public safety. As a human rights organization, Human Rights Watch seeks to prevent sexual violence and to ensure accountability for people who violate the rights of others to be free from sexual abuse.
We are convinced that public safety will be as protected, if not more so, by modified registration laws targeted only at former offenders who pose a high or medium risk of reoffending, as determined through an individualized risk assessment and classification process, and by community notification that is undertaken by law enforcement on a need-to-know basis. We are also convinced that there is no legitimate basis for blanket residency restrictions. We do not object to time-limited restrictions that are imposed on individual offenders on a case-by-case basis, for example, as a condition of parole.
But a wholesale banishment of a class of individuals should have no place in the United States. Reforming sex offender laws will not be easy. At a time when national polls indicate that Americans fear sex offenders more than terrorists,  legislators will have to show they have the intelligence and courage to create a society that is safe yet still protects the human rights of everyone. Human Rights Watch reviewed the sex offender registration, community notification, and residency restriction laws of the 50 states in the United States and the District of Columbia.
We ascertained the offenses that triggered mandatory registration requirements, the period of time for which the offender must remain registered, whether states classify registrants by level of risk, and what types of review procedures exist either to alter a registrant's level of risk or allow him to be relieved of reporting or notification obligations. We cross-checked the offenses that trigger registration and notification requirements with each state's criminal code to identify precisely what kinds of conduct triggered registration requirements. We also searched each state's juvenile code for specific provisions dealing with the obligation of young offenders to register and be subject to community notification.
Human Rights Watch visited all 50 state sex offender registry websites and that of the District of Columbia to determine what kind of information about registrants is available to the public. We communicated with law enforcement officials from 30 states about their state registries, in particular about whether the states had mechanisms for reporting vigilantism or harassment against registrants.
State laws and online registry information are constantly being modified. The information compiled in this report is accurate, to the best of our knowledge, as of July 1, States are constantly changing the information distribution format of their online sex offender registries, and some of the information in this report may already be outdated. For the most current registration and community notification requirements and distribution policies regarding a particular state's online sex offender registry, Human Rights Watch encourages readers to check their state's most current policies.
In addition to an exhaustive review of the published scientific and legal literature about sex offenders, we interviewed sex offenders and 90 of their loved ones, all of whom are referred to in the report by pseudonyms, given their concerns about privacy. We spoke with a number of survivors of sexual abuse, members of victims' rights and child sexual assault prevention groups, child safety experts, and sex offender researchers.
Finally, we interviewed state officials responsible for enforcing sex offender laws, including probation and parole officers and county sheriffs. With the goal of increasing the effective protection of children and others from sexual violence while protecting former offenders from unnecessary, unjust, and even counterproductive laws, Human Rights Watch makes the following recommendations for changes in federal and state legislation. Former offenders who have committed minor, non-violent offenses, such as prostitution between adults; non-lascivious indecency offenses, such as streaking and public urination; and consensual sexual activity with a minor who is within five years of age of the offender statutory rape should not be required to register.
No offender who was under the age of 18 at the time of his or her offense should be required to register.
If states do require child offenders to register, then they should do so only after a panel of qualified experts determines that the child poses a high risk of sexual reoffense, and that public safety cannot be adequately protected through any means other than the child being subject to registration. A determination that registration is necessary should be reviewed at least on an annual basis for as long as the registration requirement lasts. States should institute mechanisms by which offenders are removed from registries if they are exonerated; their convictions have been overturned, set aside, or otherwise vitiated; or if their conduct is no longer considered criminal.
Registration should be limited to former offenders who pose a high or medium risk of committing a serious crime in the future, either of sexually abusing children or committing a violent sex crime against adults. The risk should be assessed on a case-by-case basis for each convicted sex offender, using tools that have predictive validity and take into consideration a variety of factors found by research to be associated with recidivism, including the nature of the crime, prior offending history, the age of the offender at the time of the crime, treatment or therapy history, and the length of time an individual has remained offense-free.
Former offenders considered low-risk for reoffending, on the basis of individual assessment, should not be required to register. The period of inclusion on the registry for former offenders assessed as medium- and high-risk should be initially determined by his or her individual risk assessment and then be subject to periodic review with a view to extension or termination.
An initial determination of lifetime inclusion should not be permitted. At periodic review, registrants should be able to present evidence of rehabilitation, change in life circumstances, incapacitation for example, disease or disability or substantial time living in the community without reoffense in order to obtain termination of the requirement to register or to have their assigned level of risk changed.
After a fixed period of time, the burden should shift from the registrant to the state to prove that a registrant poses a public safety risk and must remain on the registry. Patty Wetterling, a national child safety advocate whose son was abducted in and is still missing, has aptly identified the core problem with US registration, community notification, and residency restriction laws for sex offenders: "People want a silver bullet that will protect their children.