Essay Example: Are Sex Offenders Wrongly Labeled?

Published: 2021-08-15
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Sewanee University of the South
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Research paper
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A sexual offense is one of the significant crimes in the United States, taking a toll on the offenders and the victims. The federal and state laws regarding the regulation of sex offenders continue to expand and increase in severity as compared to laws on other laws of even a greater magnitude. These laws apply to both minor and the adult offenders who have already been convicted (Cohen, Michelle, and Elizabeth, p. 370). The challenge in these laws is that most do not specify the severity of the different sexual crimes, yet the punishment applies to all. For instance, an individual could have convicted of kidnapping which in itself does not have a sexual element yet falls under sex offenses while another is convicted of rape. A ten-year-old could be convicted of touching another teenagers genitals. The laws apply in equal measures for the three mentioned offenders. The label sex offender is associated with the person for decades, if not their entire life even after they have done their time in prison and probably reformed. Critics have argued that some regulations put in place result in more harm than good. This discussion will be answering the question of whether sex offenders are wrongly labeled for punishments that do not fit the crime.

The most expository law for sex offenders is the so-called Meghans Law that was passed in 1996. The law is applied in all the 50 states and requires that all sex offenders register with the law (Zgoba and Kristen, 2008). The registration involves providing personal information on publicly accessible databases for the duration of their entire lives. This includes juveniles in 37 states. The registry provides a former offenders criminal history, current photograph, and home address, as well as the place of employment. Besides the online registration, a significant number of states prohibit such people from living within a designated distance of areas where children gather. Some states such as California have seen an expansion of and reintroduction of civil commitment laws that allow for certain sex offenders to be frequently sent to mental hospitals for indefinite periods, even after serving their prison terms. Some states, including California, have laws that allow for castration. The laws call for the administration of female hormones to the male offenders to lower the levels of testosterone and eliminate the possibility of arousal. The treatment requires no medical oversight despite the procedure resulting in health issues such as gallstones and diabetes. Additionally, it can be continued for an indefinite period. Some states such as California and Texas, the law also allows for surgical castration, a decision made voluntarily by the offender or decided by a judge.

The big question is whether these punishments fit the crime committed by the offenders. Many of the laws were founded on a misconception that individuals convicted of sexual offenses are likely to re-offend. However, research carried out shows that most of the sex offenders, and particularly those who commit these offenses as children are least likely to re-offend (Caldwell, p. 199). A 2010 research indicated a recidivism rate for youth offenders to be as low as one percent. For instance, a situation where two minors are sexually experimenting does not guarantee that they will be sex offenders in future. A drunk youth who ends up urinating in a public place will also end up in the registry branded as a sex offender for the better part of his life although the offense was not committed against anyone. While these offenses are distasteful, they do not warrant the stringent and life-long punishment of being labeled a sex offender.

The labeling for sex offenders can have devastating impacts on their lives, particularly those convicted of crimes committed in their minor years. Being placed in the registry exposes them to public display which results in untold social and psychological harm. They are often stigmatized and isolated, leading to a state of depression. In some instances, they are physically assaulted or threatened with violence. Some are denied access to education facilities since residency restriction laws prohibit them from being in or near a school. The youths and their families often cannot find housing that fits the residency restriction rules causing them a lot of struggle and periods of homelessness. The families also face enormous obstacles living together as a family since the registrants are not allowed to live with other children. Many registrants have difficulties finding employment since they are seen as threats. The challenges continue even in their marriages. As parents, former youth sex offenders cannot drop their children at school and may even be banned by law to hold functions such as birthday parties involving other children. In some cases, their children would be ridiculed for mistakes done by their parents in the past.

The restrictions imposed on the registrants are onerous and difficult to adhere. They are required to frequently update their personal information any time they make a change such as relocating as well as provide a current photo, throughout their lives. Failure to register or update the information can attract severe punishments such as lengthy prison sentences. This is much difficult when the offender began registering when as a child and is required to continue registering as an adult. Youth offenders are often subjects to retroactive registration requirements for offenses committed decades ago despite having led a safe life in the community. Laws introduced in the recent past, such as the Adam Walsh Act, reserve the harshest punishment for offenders targeting children (Freeman and Jeffrey, p. 35). This is controversial since these penalties are often applied on children themselves since their crimes almost always involve other children.

There also exists a faulty assumption when implementing the sex laws. The registration and publicizing of sex offenders are done under the assumption that sex crimes are committed by strangers. While in some cases this is true, evidence has shown that a significant percentage of the offenses are committed by people known to the victim. According to the Department of Justice, 93% of children abused sexually are assaulted by family members, close friends, or acquaintances. Registration may not offer adequate protection from family members.

The labeling theory gives a prediction that criminal justice interventions amplify offending behavior. The effects of labeling are stronger on children of convicted parents than of those not convicted (Besemer, David and Catrien. p. 2) . This theory, coupled with theories of intergenerational transmission indicate that children of convicted parents have a higher likelihood of offending. The criminal justice system through the government has a part to play in the intergenerational transmission of criminal behavior. Labeling, such as that exercised by the US government through registration and the restrictions that come with it, can be a cause for sustaining this behavior in the future. This is perpetuated by the official justice systems such as the police or the courts, who tend to be biased against known criminal families. As a result, much attention is paid to these families, creating a likelihood that these family members are more likely to be arrested and thus appear more often on official statistics. This will be translated to the children of past convicted parents who are at a higher risk of being arrested owing to the family records as compared to those of non-convicted parents. This is seen as official bias.

Punishment applied for any offense should fit both the offense and the offender. A good public policy should have the capacity to deliver measurable protection to the community and measurable benefits to the victims. Legally, the country purports to see all its citizens equal before the law, forbids cruel and unusual punishment, and that allows people to move forward and leave their past behind them upon serving their time. This does not seem to apply to the sex offenses. As much as sex offenders deserve punishment, the punishment should fit the crime. Some of those living as registered sex offenders committed crimes that were of far less implications, such as urinating in public. The punishment of a life-time branding as a sex offender in a public database does not seem to fit the offence, but instead, have devastating life-long effects on the offender and their families. There is need to critically analyze the current sex laws to determine whether they are effective and worth the collateral damage they produce.

In summary, punishment for sex offenders in the United States is one of the most stringent. Besides serving a sentence, an offender is required to register on a public database detailing personal information all their life. Registration comes with residency restrictions while other laws allow castration. These regulations have proved to result in more harm than good since they generalize crimes and apply same punishments for all irrespective of the magnitude. Youth offenders, in particular, carry the stigma throughout their lives since they are labeled sex offenders irrespective of whether they are reformed. Therefore, it is evident that sex offenders are wrongly labeled and imposed with punishments that do not fit the crime.

Works Cited

Barbaree, Howard E., and William L. Marshall, eds. The juvenile sex offender. Guilford Press, 2008.

Besemer, Sytske, David P. Farrington, and Catrien CJH Bijleveld. "Labeling and intergenerational transmission of crime: The interaction between criminal justice intervention and a convicted parent." PloS one 12.3 (2017): e0172419.

Caldwell, Michael F. "Study characteristics and recidivism base rates in juvenile sex offender recidivism." International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology54.2 (2010): 197-212.

Cohen, Michelle, and Elizabeth L. Jeglic. "Sex offender legislation in the United States: What do we know?" International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology 51.4 (2007): 369-383.

Crylen, Laura Marie. "Badgering Sex Offenders: Problems with Wisconsin's Sex Offender Registry and the Mandatory Registration for Non-Sexual Crimes." J. Legis. 36 (2010): 375.Freeman, Naomi J., and Jeffrey C. Sandler. "The Adam Walsh Act: A false sense of security or an effective public policy initiative?" Criminal Justice Policy Review 21.1 (2010): 31-49.

Raised on the Registry: The Irreparable Harm of Placing Children on Sex Offender Registries in the US Offender Laws in the US offenders are among the most harshly punished criminals in the state, but how often does the punishment fit the crime?, Kristen, et al. "Megans Law: Assessing the practical and monetary efficacy." National Criminal Justice Reference Service (2008).

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