Saturday, August 07, 2010

Balko debates sex offender registries

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Here’s a segment where Radley Balko (The Agitator) went on John Stossel’s show on Fox to debate the US’s sex offender laws and their oft-needlessly destructive effects on the many innocents who get caught up in the system. His opponent is former prosecutor Wendy Murphy, who decidedly comes across as a rather condescending idiot. He pretty much wiped the floor with her non-arguments, which essentially amounted to “sex offenders are bad and we should lock them up forever”, in blithe dismissal of the excellent points Balko was making.

My translation of Balko and Murphy’s arguments:


  • Adults need to deal with minors who have sex with subtlety and nuance.
  • If cases where innocent minors are locked up for having sex “almost never happen”, then we should change the law so that they never happen.
  • A 19-year-old who has sex with a 15-year-old is not the same as a 40-year-old having sex with an 8 or 9-year-old, and they shouldn’t both be called “sexual assault” and go on the sex offender list.
  • Sex offenders are being increasingly forced to live in isolated areas (under bridges, woods, etc.) due to anti-sex offender zoning laws.
  • Some sex offenders are convicted solely for urinating in public.
  • Predators who actively seek out and molest children should be locked up forever.
  • Making it impossible for sex offenders to live a normal life in society due to overly harsh laws is a prime factor in heightened recidivism.


  • About 2% of sex offenders are on sex offender registries [citation needed] and “that number should be higher”.
  • The public should be allowed to “judge rapists harshly”.
  • Sex offender registries helps promote social forgiveness. [WTF?]

I think it’s safe to say that we’re all relieved that Wendy Murphy is, indeed, a former prosecutor, with thinking that muddled.

Sex offender registries can be a useful and protective tool, when used wisely and with proper discretion. But just lumping anyone who so much as moons in public in with rapists and child molesters is not just clumsy and stupid, it’s dangerous and even sadistic as it just about ruins the rest of their lives. Not to mention that a staggering number of those who are on the list are only declared sex offenders because they had the “Romeo & Juliet” scenario as Balko described – see this post if you haven’t already.

(via Dispatches from the Culture Wars)