The New York Times Says What We’ve Been Saying about Sex Offenders


This fantastic eeazydayik
says what we have been saying: Enough with the post-incarceration demonizing of all those convicted of sex crimes, as if merely being within 2500 feet of “one of them” means our kids are likely to be kidnapped and raped.

As they stand now, the laws regarding where a “sex offender” can live are as cruel as they are worthless. Banning folks who’ve served their time from living anywhere near a park or school assumes that they are driven to pounce on random victims. But we know that the vast majority of crimes against kids, including rape, are at the hands of someone the child knows. Not a stranger in the bushes.

We also know, I hope, that the vast majority of people on the sex offender registry do not pose a threat to kids. My favorite illustrative stat is from Georgia, where the Sex Offender Registry Review Board did a study and concluded of the 17,000 people on its registry, “just over 100” represented dangerous “predators.”

100 out of 17,000.

And yet 17,000 human beings are treated as scum.

Hats off to the New York Times, which I hope will not mind me reprinting its wise words in their entirety:

The Pointless Banishment of Sex Offenders – The New York Times

It’s a chilling image: the sex predator skulking in the shadows of a swing set, waiting to snatch a vulnerable child.

Over the past two decades, that scenario has led to a wave of laws around the country restricting where people convicted of sex offenses may live — in many cases, no closer than 2,500 feet from schools, playgrounds, parks or other areas where children gather. In some places, these “predator-free zones” put an entire town or county off limits, sometimes for life, even for those whose offenses had nothing to do with children.

Protecting children from sexual abuse is, of course, a paramount concern. But there is not a single piece of evidence that these laws actually do that. For one thing, the vast majority of child sexual abuse is committed not by strangers but by acquaintances or relatives. And residency laws drive tens of thousands of people to the fringes of society, forcing them to live in motels, out of cars or under bridges. The laws apply to many and sometimes all sex offenders, regardless of whether they were convicted for molesting a child or for public urination.

Lately, judges have been pushing back. So far in 2015, state supreme courts in California, Massachusetts and New York have struck down residency laws.

The Massachusetts ruling, issued on Aug. 28, invalidated a residency restriction in the town of Lynn — and by extension, similar restrictions in about 40 other communities statewide — in part because it swept up so many offenders, regardless of the actual risk they posed. Acting against a whole class presents “grave societal and constitutional implications,” the justices wrote. That unanimous ruling was based on the State Constitution.

The California Supreme Court went further, holding that a San Diego residency restriction, which effectively barred paroled sex offenders from 97 percent of available housing, violated the United States Constitution.

Far from protecting children and communities, the California court found, blanket restrictions in fact create a greater safety risk by driving more sex offenders into homelessness, which makes them both harder to monitor and less likely to get essential rehabilitative services like medical treatment, psychotherapy and job assistance.

Residency laws often lead people to live apart from their families, obliterating what is for many the most stabilizing part of their lives.

If the state wants to block someone from living in certain areas, the California court said, it must make that decision on a case-by-case basis.

The United States Supreme Court has not yet weighed in on residency restrictions, although a 2003 ruling upholding mandatory registration for sex offenders suggested that such laws may violate the Constitution.

It is understandable to want to do everything possible to protect children from being abused. But not all people who have been convicted of sex offenses pose a risk to children, if they pose any risk at all. Blanket residency-restriction laws disregard that reality — and the merits of an individualized approach to risk assessment — in favor of a comforting mirage of safety.


Won't you be my neighbor?

Won’t you be my neighbor?



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27 Responses to The New York Times Says What We’ve Been Saying about Sex Offenders

  1. Katie September 13, 2015 at 8:42 am #

    If California and th NYT are talking this way, then it’s no longer a fringe stance. which is good.

  2. Brian September 13, 2015 at 2:03 pm #

    I never thought I’d hear myself say this, but “Bravo, New York Times!”

  3. fedupwith it September 13, 2015 at 2:06 pm #

    One misnomer that I would like to address is the word convicted. What people don’t realize is not everyone on the registry has been convicted, like my husband. He was on probation for 8 years but when that time was up he was considered non-adjudicated, non-convicted. I am sure there are others on the registry who have not been convicted.

  4. Papilio September 13, 2015 at 2:34 pm #

    “the New York Times, which I hope will not mind me reprinting its wise words in their entirety”

    Well even if they mind, *I* still thank you, dear Nerdy Housewife (LOL!!!). I hate how I can never read an article in the NYT because of their password-protected everything. Grrr!

  5. Dave September 13, 2015 at 2:37 pm #

    Not mentioned is the fact that sex offenders have, by far, the lowest re-offense rate of all serious crimes.

  6. Siobhan September 13, 2015 at 4:02 pm #

    Not only is the recidivism rate quite low, many of the offenses for which sex offenders are sent back to prison are technical violations of the onerous rules involved in adhering to restrictions of registry.

  7. Curious September 13, 2015 at 7:44 pm #

    Is something amazing happening? The WASHINGTON POST claims there has never been a safer time to be a kid in America. The NY TIMES follows up with a “fantastic” article about the politically-motivated deception the public has swallowed hook, line and sinker, since 1995, about sex offenders being one great large huge class of criminals who, alone in the annuls of crime, are beyond redemption.

    And in South Bend, Indiana, a journalist named Virginia Black recently did an old fashioned in-depth job of investigative reporting to help obtain what may turn out to be a U-turn in the tragic case of 19 year old Zachary Anderson, highlighting injustice and judicial arbitrariness in nearby Michigan.

    In New York, the State Senate’s highest official has risen to the top of the heap doling out favors to fellow politicians willing to join him in sponsoring and passing ever-more draconian restrictions against those on the registry. There no basis in fact regarding the efficacy of these measures, which have been a drain on the State budget, but a major boon to the politicians. The individual behind all this since about 1995 is currently under investigation by the US Department of Justice for corruption. So one wonders: Has all this criminalizing of others been a smoke screen?

    I haven’t been following this registry social-justice issue very long. I have a friend on the sex offender registry and I became aware two years ago that people reacted irrationally when they learned of his legal status. I went with him, after a rather unpleasant encounter, to discuss his situation with his Pastor and the Chief of Police in the town where the incident occurred. Both made it very clear that he posed no danger to anyone. But he will be on the registry the rest of his life. And these nasty happenings cannot be prevented. “The public is about evenly divided”, we were told by Chief, two years ago. As he ages and is less able to defend himself, his fears for his physical safety grow.

    So, how close are we to a “tipping point”? I have a sense that we are very close. I do not know enough about the law to guess what is next for Zachary Anderson. I do feel he got a raw deal. He served a lot of time. He lost a job, and two semesters of college, so far. His home. His family. When it comes to letting the punishment fit the crime, how much is enough? Wasn’t he well behaved in prison? Isn’t it likely an intelligent officer of the court could make a reasonable assessment of his likelihood to reoffend? Then, perhaps, tell him, once and for all, “sayonara”?

    And the others? The nearly one million on the sex offender registries who are no more a threat to the public than Zachary or my older friend, what about them? Are we getting to a point of public awareness of our inhumanity to them that we can rearrange the system to “assess” them as well? Projections indicate that the risks to the public are very low, and the monetary savings humongous in doing the right thing. I am not suggesting we do the right thing for the right reason–that is probably a political impossibility given the present political climate… But to save the tax payers unnecessary costs…that might fly…

    And what about the Supreme Court? Is it true that some cases are purposely settled at a lower level to keep them out of the Supreme Court to protect the privileged interests of those politicians, like the one in New York, who are milking the cow that lays the golden egg?

    Maybe. But then, there’s the NY TIMES. And Virginia Black, And the Washington Post. “You shall know the truth. And the truth shall set you free.”

  8. Dhewco September 13, 2015 at 9:21 pm #

    Okay, weird thought: There is always the possibility that people who abuse children may use adjacency to schools and parks to insert themselves not into their target’s lives (the children) but into their target’s parents lives.

    For example, a predator taking the long view could notice a woman struggling with her kids at a park and be friendly, inserting themselves into the woman’s life. Boom, the perv is not a stranger anymore and is now a ‘family friend’. Devil’s advocate, if the perv wasn’t allowed at the park, he wouldn’t have been able to use that situation to befriend mom.

    All that said, I’m not saying this is happening, I’m saying it’s a possibility and I’m sure it’s happened somewhere.

    The problem with restrictive laws and rules, is that it loops too large a group into it. For example, the rules against unaccompanied adults might prevent a stranger with ill intent or noncustodial situations; but it also stops adults who really like Legos from playing. In a possibly more relevant example, the 2500 feet rule stops dangerous child abusers (maybe) but also stops the high-school streaker from taking his siblings or future children to school and particpating in their school functions.


  9. marie September 13, 2015 at 11:20 pm #

    For example, a predator taking the long view could notice a woman struggling with her kids at a park and be friendly, inserting themselves into the woman’s life. Boom, the perv is not a stranger anymore and is now a ‘family friend’. Devil’s advocate, if the perv wasn’t allowed at the park, he wouldn’t have been able to use that situation to befriend mom.

    What we know is that registered sex offenders commit new sex offenses at an extremely low rate, so they aren’t the ones hanging around the park waiting for single moms to show up. The vast majority of the time, the ones who are taking advantage of families are not on the registry. When most arrests for sex offenses are of first-time offenders, it is obvious that the registry is a list of people unlikely to commit a sex crime.

  10. J.T. Wenting September 13, 2015 at 11:34 pm #

    ” I am sure there are others on the registry who have not been convicted.”

    Many end up on it after plea bargains as well. No conviction, no day in court, just a lawyer who convinces an innocent man that taking that 2 years in prison and 25 years as a pariah are the best he can do for him because the prosecution has threatened to throw in another bunch of fake accusations (or real ones completely unrelated, from minor traffic offenses to jaywalking) to show what a serious criminal he is and that he should get 10 years to life…

  11. hineata September 13, 2015 at 11:46 pm #

    I made the mistake of watching Tyra Banks interviewing one of the Westboro Baptist church people yesterday (the Lord only knows why it appeared on our screens, cable maybe ). Anyway Ms Banks was talking about the ‘millions’ of pedophiles out there…..presumably grossly misinterpreting the meaning of the SOR.

    So keep going, NYT and Lenore, obviously still a lot of misinformation out there.

    By the way, off topic but I was truly surprised at how sensible the Westboro woman came across as being. She probably needed to be pitted against a real journalist /interviewer.

  12. sexhysteria September 14, 2015 at 4:53 am #

    Lenore, we were ahead of our time!

  13. common sense September 14, 2015 at 6:59 am #

    those in the “justice” system don’t want sex offender reg. to change. think of all the money the poor souls on it have to pay for their monitoring. think of the extra employment of those who monitor them. unfrotunately it again comes down to money and gimme mine.

  14. MichaelF September 14, 2015 at 9:07 am #

    “For example, a predator taking the long view could notice a woman struggling with her kids at a park and be friendly, inserting themselves into the woman’s life. Boom, the perv is not a stranger anymore and is now a ‘family friend’. Devil’s advocate, if the perv wasn’t allowed at the park, he wouldn’t have been able to use that situation to befriend mom.”

    There is a long road to being friendly at the park to “family friend”, boom, notwithstanding.

    Without all the “what ifs” involved that is a real fringe case, which doesn’t mean it will never happen, just that the chances are very small.

  15. James Pollock September 14, 2015 at 9:42 am #

    “Many end up on it after plea bargains as well. No conviction, no day in court”

    I hate to tell you this, but when you take a plea bargain, you get convicted.

  16. EricS September 14, 2015 at 11:58 am #

    Common sense and reason lives! Hopefully it spreads like paranoia has in the last couple of decades or so.

  17. EricS September 14, 2015 at 12:01 pm #

    @fedupwith it: I’m sure many in the registry are there because of a plea bargain. Never actually convicted. People get coerced into taking a deal to avoid courts and jail time. Personally, if I know I didn’t do anything wrong, I’d never take a deal. I’ll take my chances.

  18. EricS September 14, 2015 at 12:08 pm #

    @James Pollock: Taking a plea isn’t a conviction. But it is deferred adjudication.

    Here is a good explanation from a criminal lawyer in Colorado. May vary in different States, but pretty much the same meaning.

    “In Colorado – about 95% of all cases are plea bargained.

    If you plea bargained a case — that does not tell me whether you were convicted or not.

    If you received a deferred judgement and sentence in Colorado — this is not a conviction. It is sometimes used in first time offenses that are not serious. It is a contract for what I call a “temporary guity plea.” You are required to plead guilty and remain on probation for a period of time – that amount of time depends on the nature of the charge and the agreement – but can run as long as four years in felony cases.

    the Deferred Judgement is like a contract between you – the judge and the DA. If you live up to the terms of the contract – your plea is withdrawn and the case is dismissed WITHOUT a conviction – if you violate the terms of the agreement and that is proven or you admit to that in court – the conviction then enters.

    if the question on a job application is – have you been “convicted” and the plea agreement is a deferred judgement and sentence — my position is this – for those purposes – is NOT a conviction. There are some circumstances – such as at a trial for new charges – where the deferred judgement can be treated as a conviciton for cross examintion purposes at the new trial.. H. Michael Steinberg – Colorado.”

    So in other words, depending on the “crime”, taking a plea is not a conviction.

  19. EricS September 14, 2015 at 12:11 pm #

    @sexhysteria: “Lenore, we were ahead of our time!”

    I’d like to think of it more as, “we are ahead of our time, because we think and act like we did in the past” when it comes to topics like this. 😉

  20. Puzzled September 14, 2015 at 12:47 pm #

    What are you two on about? In general, taking a guilty plea is a conviction, unless you receive deferred adjudication/rapid rehabilitation/diversion, or whatever that program happens to be called in your state. So a blanket statement that “a person who takes a plea is not convicted” is wrong.

    By the way, some states allow you to later petition for a set-aside, which has the same effect as deferred adjudication. Also, for some purposes, even deferred adjudication counts as a conviction – military, bar association, some licensing and government jobs, etc.

  21. BL September 14, 2015 at 2:57 pm #

    “She probably needed to be pitted against a real journalist /interviewer.”

    Sorry, but Edward R. Murrow died 50 years ago.

    We’re out of luck.

  22. EricS September 14, 2015 at 3:40 pm #

    @Puzzled: Most pleas have a deferred adjudication clause. That is pretty much it’s intention. Law enforcement knows they don’t have solid evidence, but they do have evidence. So they pull the old “scare tactics”, so that people will take a plea deal if they don’t confess to the crime. So technically it’s a “conviction”, but can be expunged if the person meets all requirements in the length of time penalized. A real conviction is a permanent record, that you were CONVICTED of a crime. Deferred adjudication served and completed based on requirements, CANNOT be considered a conviction in the eyes of the law. As the example from the criminal lawyer I took the quote from says, if you made a plea bargain, served the time and punishment, and applied for a job. You can legally indicate you have never been convicted of a crime. And it will hold up in court if it is ever questioned. Unless your a criminal lawyer, I’ll take this guys explanation any day. 😉

  23. Lois M September 14, 2015 at 7:14 pm #

    Lenore, I’ve been meaning to tell you how great your current picture is! You look far more like a trend-bucking firebrand than you used to!
    Thanks for covering this. I know this is not DIRECTLY related to kids being free-range, but it does say a lot about our culture that we have been promoting danger to children far in excess of the actual danger that exists. In fact, the paranoia that this one issue has been generating has probably made our children less safe. I am so glad that blogs like this one and newspapers like the NY Times and Washington Post are taking a stand for logic and reason, and against unreasoning fear.
    Keep up the good work. I always read your blog, even if I don’t always comment.
    Your fan, Lois

  24. James Pollock September 14, 2015 at 8:36 pm #

    “technically it’s a “conviction”, but can be expunged”
    Almost any conviction can be expunged if the person meets the legal requirements for expungement. See, for example, my own state’s statute on the subject, Oregon Revised Statute § 137.225¹
    Order setting aside conviction or record of arrest

    “A real conviction is a permanent record, that you were CONVICTED of a crime.”
    Pleading guilty to a crime will get you a real conviction. You were CONVICTED of a crime.

    “Deferred adjudication served and completed based on requirements, CANNOT be considered a conviction in the eyes of the law.”
    Consult an actual licensed professional, and not just their website, before acting on this, OK?

  25. Diana Auerhammer September 18, 2015 at 12:14 am #

    Although this clearly sounds like progress, this will no doubt be a controversial perspective for some time still. Data will help clarify what the reality of any risk is.

  26. Joel Arbic September 21, 2015 at 5:52 pm #

    Finally, some progress on an issue that needs attention. My children are young, so I don’t have to worry about this yet, but it is on my mind. I think back to what it was like in those teen years and how outrageous our society has become about teen sexuality. Hopefully by the time my kids are teens, we will change the laws to be more reasonable and punish only the true sex offenders.

  27. William September 24, 2015 at 9:55 am #

    I used to work as a process server (serving and filing legal documents). Many times I’d serve police officers with witness papers. Those times I’d find myself sitting in waiting rooms of police departments waiting for the officer to come to the front and accept the papers.

    There was always a missing child binder on the table in the waiting room. With nothing to do I’d look through these books. One thing that became glaringly obvious was that the vast majority of the missing child cases were because of abduction of the child by the non-custodial parent.

    Actually, in all the binders I looked through I can’t remember ever seeing a case of stranger abduction! Thats not to say it doesn’t happen but we the general public are lead to believe that there’s a stranger lying in wait behind every playground tree.

    We need to balance safety and freedom when it comes to letting our children out into the world. However, the “powers that be” who report about the thousands of abductions every year create needless fear and anxiety by not giving us the whole story.