Written by Bill Doogue. Partner, Doogue O’Brien George Criminal Defence Lawyers.
Today I read an article on a News Limited media site about publishing a national sex offender registry.
As defence lawyers who appear regularly for people charged with sex offences, both those found guilty and those pleading not guilty, this is a topic we have great insight into and also one we have written about a number of times.
I understand that people want simple answers to the scourge of sex offending. We all want it to be stopped. And I have great compassion for victims and families who have been affected by sex offending.
But, that does not mean we must sit by and accept simplistic and nonsensical proposals put forward as being some form of cure-all. Which, realistically, would never prevent the people who have committed the offending from committing the offending that has propelled these simplistic and nonsensical proposals.
Surely, we can all agree that firstly, the aim of any change in this area is to reduce the chance of sex offending? And secondly, the entire objective is to ensure that more people are not victims of sex offending?
If you agree with those propositions then you really should not be jumping on board the ill-conceived national sex offender registry bandwagon. In fact, you should be out there marching to dispense with the ones in place in the various states.
The actual reality is that sex offender registries do not solve, nor prevent crime. They vilify people and punish them longer after their sentence is finished.
Our best hope to stop sex offending is to treat people properly with psychological and psychiatric help. We also need increased education for kids in schools.
The last thing we need to do is marginalise those people who have finished their sentences. Do you really believe that a person who is harassed by their neighbours, assaulted, dismissed from their employment is more likely to make healthy and rational decisions? If you do, then you are just kidding yourself. It is an inconvenient truth, but having a national register that is publicly searchable condemns more of our children to be unsafe.
Also, ask yourself; what do you do if you search your address to find a sex offender is living next door? Panic? Put the house on the market? Prospective buyers will have the same information as you do, which might make that process that bit more complicated. Do you flinch every time your neighbour checks the mailbox? Do you let your children go out the front door to check theirs? Do you let them laugh and play outside, knowing full well they can be seen and heard? Do you allow this knowledge to creep into every decision you make regarding your home life? Do you allow your neighbour to go about their life? Do you feel like a prisoner in your own home? Do you make your neighbour feel like a prisoner in his own home? Do you understand the nature of the offending that had him placed on the register and if that person is really a threat to you?
I will conclude with a very real example of a person who could be listed on the sex offender registry for life as a paedophile. One that that we as sex offence lawyers often see.
An immature 18 or 19-year-old boy meets a girl online and has consensual sex with her (in the common meaning of consent) on one occasion, but involving a couple of sexual positions. She is 15 years old. He is from a kind family and is at Uni. Sometime later her parents make a complaint to the police.
He is found guilty of Sexual Penetration of a Child Under 16 and is then sentenced to prison for a while or to a community corrections order. The kicker is that he is then placed on the sex offender registry for the rest of his life. No getting off, no moving forward, no putting it behind him.
Without context or knowledge of the events surrounding his conviction, he is a man convicted of child sex offences and that fact is published online. I do not see that helping him to be a productive member of our society.