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Public Sex Offenders Register Will Not Protect Children

Sensible Sentencing Debate Told “Public Sex Offenders Register Will Not Protect Our Children”

17th July 2014

“Criminal justice professionals invited to speak at the Sensible Sentencing Trust debate to launch a campaign for the establishment of a Public Sex Offenders Register, told the audience that such a register will do more harm than good” said Kim Workman, spokesperson for Rethinking Crime and Punishment. “We were grateful for the opportunity to speak, but our message was clear and unequivocal – don’t go there”.

The debate is reported in Rethinking’s latest blog “Protecting Children from Sexual Abuse – or Insisting on the ‘Right to ‘Know’? The Great Public Sex Offender Register Debate” The debate had a strong Public Register advocate in Derryn Hinch, the well- known Australian broadcaster.

But others were strongly against the idea. DrGwenda Willis, a clinical psychologist and specialist in the prevention of sexual offending said that advocates for the idea had focused on the ‘right to know’ who the offenders are, rather than on strategies to protect children. “The overwhelming majority of studies find no differences in rates of reoffending where public registers have been introduced. They can actually increase the risk of future harm through blocking ex-offenders’ access to stable housing and employment. Research shows that ex-offenders without somewhere to live, without people to be accountable to, and without employment opportunities are at a heightened risk of reoffending.”

Ian Tyler, a retired UK detective chief inspector,who helped found the UK’s Child Exploitation & Online Protection Centre, and is an expert in the investigation of childsex rings, agreed. In a recent Listener article he said “An open register, I believe, would lead to mayhem somewhere down the line … I think it would lead to some cases of vigilantism, without a shadow of a doubt.”

Kim Workman took the view that the focus and resources should be directed toward primary prevention strategies, similar to the “It’s Not OK” campaign. “There are three things we know about sex offenders that distinguish them from other offenders. First, 90% of sex offenders will not be on the register, because they have not been reported – a statistic identical to people who commit domestic violence. Second, unlike violent offenders, about 80% of sex offenders in prison have no previous sex offender convictions. So they will not have been on the register at the time they were arrested. Third, and unlike most other offenders, sex offenders respond extremely well to treatment programmes; of those treated offenders, only about 7% are likely to reoffend, particularly if their offending is against people they know. In other words about 75% of those on the register are very unlikely to reoffend. The register has a further disadvantage – families who have a sex offender in their midst, will be even less likely to report them to the Police, for fear of having the offender and the family, being exposed to public shame and ridicule.

Rethinking has proposed a different approach to reducing child sex abuse. “The goals for the BPS Reducing Crime and Reoffending strategy are up for review at the end of the year. Rather than have a goal which directs the Justice Sector to reduce reported child abuse, they should be directed to:
1. Increase by 20%, the number of child sex offenders, who are reported as offending for the 1st time, by 2020.
2. Increase by 20% the number of previously unknown sex offenders, who seek funded support and treatment for their offending, by 2020.

Myths and Facts About Sex Offenders: http://www.rethinking.org.nz/assets/GeneralPDF/myth_fact.pdf


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