Davis: Sex offender laws unjust, disproportionate

The media love crime. We thrive on it; a reporter hears about a murder and his first instinct isn't to say, "That's terrible," but rather to ask, "What's the victim's name? Age? Circumstances of murder? What a scoop!"

Of course, such a fascination with crime arises from the more general public fascination with crime. It sells. And no crime sells better than sexual crime.

The U.S. in particular has something of a fixation on sex offenses; we want to track sex offenders and keep tabs on who and where they are at all times. We made pedophilia into a primetime television show hosted by Chris Hanson. We treat sex offenders like the scum of the earth, somewhere between Nazis and terrorists on the scale of general evil. Sometimes our disgust and rage is justifiable. And sometimes, we're wrong.

Consider the sex offender registry. Why do we have it? Ostensibly, the registry exists to protect the public from rapists and pedophiles by making their whereabouts public record. The registry exists in tandem with statutes requiring convicted sex offenders to make their presence known when they move into a new neighborhood, and law enforcement agencies carry out the responsibility of notifying communities that a sex offender is in their presence – consider the e-mail all students recently received from University Police.

Taking a dispassionate perspective, though, this policy doesn't make sense. First, crimes are not specifically delineated, but instead lumped into broad categories. A 19-year-old man who has sex with his 16-year-old girlfriend can end up on the registry next to a serial rapist with no differentiation given to the casual observer. Essentially, the "time" does not always fit the crime, and in this case the time is life and the crime is being on the wrong side of an age gap.

This informs the second objection: Placement on the sex offender registry is a life sentence. Once you're on, you aren't coming off until you're dead, and any potential employer, love interest or state agency can quickly call up your name and perform a spot judgment. Essentially, your quality of life is severely and permanently diminished, a punishment that doesn't fit any but the most heinous of crimes.

Finally, there exists a striking double standard regarding other crimes. If there must be a sex offender registry, why is there no registry of those convicted of aggravated assault? There is no registry of robbers and burglars, and no list of those who've defrauded others or committed murder – supposedly the ultimate crime. If a perpetrator of domestic abuse moves into your neighborhood, he isn't required to come around to your house and say, "Hi, name's Jim, and I'm required by the state to tell you that I broke my wife's nose."

The reason these registries don't exist is that there's a philosophy of "do the crime, do the time" in the American judicial system. Once you've atoned for your crime, we consider your social debt abjured in all cases unless your crime was sexual, in which case apparently no amount of rehabilitation or time can lessen the chance of repeat offense. This fallacy predicates unjust policies that need to be critically considered and, quite possibly, amended.