Experts presented arguments against the broad spectrum of classified sex offenders and the stigma attached to the variety of violators at a panel hosted by NYU Review of Law and Social Change on Monday.
According to the panel, strict sex offender registration laws have impacted the lives of over 800,000 American children and adults.
Since the 1990s, most states have passed laws outlining where sex offenders should live, who they are permitted to see and what jobs they could hold.
Panelist David Feige said the number of people classified as sex offenders has increased as a result of the federal government enacting harsher and broader laws. He said even though sex crimes now constitute a wide variety of offenses, the stigma surrounding the sex offender label creates unnecessary biases toward people on the registry who committed non-sexual crimes
“The sex offender category is expanding in some troubling ways,” Feige said. “From peeing in public to being a serial pedophile, the sex offender label casts an enormous net that traps harmless people into the stereotype of child rapists.”
Feige added that these laws are rarely reformed because of the sensitive nature of the subject and a widespread lack of interest in the topic.
“Nobody really wants to look at it,” Feige said. “That is why sex offender laws in particular, despite being a wave of change, have been out of reach for most reform discussions.”
Panelists also discussed the 2006 Adam Walsh Act, which required offenders to include personal information concerning their cases in the Sex Offender Registry. David Patten, a member of the panel said the act limited individual freedom.
“These harsh laws have now become layered on top of already strict conditions such as probation requirements and federal and state regulations,” Patten said. “Some of the most extreme cases may even require offenders to wear GPS tracking devices and prohibit the use of smart phones. These people walk around with this label every minute, of every day, with a sense that they are never fully free.”
Nicole Pittman, an expert on the effects of sex offender laws on children, said 200,000 of the 800,000 members on registered sex offender lists in the United States are under the age of 18. She said placing children on the list creates a barrier that limits opportunities for education, employment and housing.
“We need to get children off of these registries,” Pittman said. “But lawmakers could never understand the harm it is causing. It’s not have we gone too far, or where do we need to go, it’s how we find our way out. We have completely annihilated generations of children and their families by placing minors on registries.”
NYU Law student Gia Park said the stereotypes involving sex offenders were not justifiable, and the discussion advocated for the fair treatment of minors.
“Lawmakers need to establish more suitable regulations in order to combat truly dangerous offenders while giving children a rightfully deserved opportunity for life outside the stigma of being a sex offender,” Park said. “Strict policies will not make neighborhoods safer when they are being implemented on peaceful groups.”
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, April 7 print edition. Email Lexi Faunce at [email protected]