Monday, April 14, 2008

No Easy Answers

(New York, September 12, 2007) – Laws aimed at people convicted of sex offenses may not protect children from sex crimes but do lead to harassment, ostracism and even violence against former offenders, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Human Rights Watch urges the reform of state and federal registration and community notification laws, and the elimination of residency restrictions, because they violate basic rights of former offenders.

The 146-page report, “No Easy Answers: Sex Offender Laws in the United States,” is the first comprehensive study of US sex offender policies, their public safety impact, and the effect they have on former offenders and their families. During two years of investigation for this report, Human Rights Watch researchers conducted over 200 interviews with victims of sexual violence and their relatives, former offenders, law enforcement and government officials, treatment providers, researchers, and child safety advocates.

“Human Rights Watch shares the public’s goal of protecting children from sex abuse,” said Jamie Fellner, director of the US program at Human Rights Watch. “But current laws are ill-conceived and poorly crafted. Protecting children requires a more thoughtful and comprehensive approach than politicians have been willing to support.”
"Sexual violence affects tens of thousands of people each year, many of them children. For the most part, the media has tended to focus on cases where children are abducted by strangers, who were often previously convicted sex offenders. This leads many to believe that children are most at risk from strangers and those with a history of abusing kids. Perhaps it’s not surprising law-makers have also taken this view – many of us who began work on this report thought the same way as well.

But now we believe current legislation may do more harm than good. I’m Sarah Tofte, US researcher at Human Rights Watch, and for close to two years, I’ve spoken to victims, former offenders, and child safety advocates for a report on United States sex offender laws. We examined various laws – on registration, community notification, and residency restrictions –that apply to former offenders. "

Listen to Report Audio: