Saturday, August 16, 2008

Tennessee Gets Tougher on Sex Offenders

I am ashamed to admit that I was unaware of this particular legislation in Tennessee. Chalk that up to all the attention that the Johnia Berry Act of 2007 received, especially since it went into effect at the beginning of this year. While the Johnia Berry act addresses violent felony arrests, additional legislation went into effect the beginning of July designed to further protect children from sex offenders.
Registered sex offenders in the state will be required to register any e-mail address, user name or instant message screen name, along with their given name, place of residence and any crime for which they’ve been charged.
It certainly makes sense to me, although I do worry about registering "any crime for which they've been charged". I'd go along with any sex offense that they have been convicted of, but not necessarily any charged crime. That aside, why not require sex offenders to register how they access the computer? Without that, a pedophile can move into a neighborhood by complying with the buffer zone requirements, register as a sex offender so the neighbors know they are there, and then happily continue to prowl for children from the unmonitored safety of their home.

No doubt sex offender registry requirements create a slippery slope. Non-repeat offenders who have served the time are lumped into the same category as the most dangerous of repeat pedophiles. It isn't ideal, but as I write this I cannot come up with a better idea to protect children from the wide open candy shop that the internet has created for those who seek to prey upon children.


Habladora said...

I just don't see how a law like this would be enforceable. I also have a problem with the 'anyone charged' clause - aren't kids caught streaking the lawn back at UVA sometimes charged with a sex offense?

Mächtige Maus said...

No doubt enforcing this legislation will be tricky. Considering what a sex crime task force sees fly across the internet on any given day though, I'd say it might be worth a shot.

Renee said...

I recently had a convicted pedophile move into my neighborhood while he was awaiting sentencing. Unfortunately the newspaper didn't publish his picture so we had no idea what he looked like. They simply furnished a general description. What ended up happening is all the children were locked in their homes leaving the park across the street from me completely empty. Eventually do to neighborhood complaints he was forced to move. Now I understand that there are some that don't repeat their crimes but I am unwilling to risk the safety of my child. If it comes down to their rights or the ability of my child to remain unmolested guess who wins every time? I support anything that keeps children safe from these predators. What they do cannot be undone.

runningeric said...

This law is not enforceable. Trying to regulate what happens on the internet just makes the offenders that much more sophisticated. You can already get anonymous email and blogs from sites like gmail and thepiratebay, which if you use a proxy server, no one (except the person running the proxy server) will know what you are doing. (Encryption anyone?) Not to mention if you are savvy enough to use an unencrypted wireless connection, of which I can currently see 5 from my apartment, no one will know that it isn't your neighbor who is surfing online.

The state of TN won't have much success regulating how individuals use the internet (except maybe the unsophisticated ones who aren't trying to break any laws anyway), regardless of if they are on a watch list. This is the kind of pointless legislation that gets passed because politicians think it looks good and they want to get more votes in an election year.

One final point @ machtige maus: Law enforcement will only have success if they go after the providers of content such as this...they will fail miserably trying to catch the viewers.

daedalus2u said...

I think this type of legislation is counter-productive. Most sexual abuse isn’t from strangers. It is from people known to the victim.

Legislation like this deludes people into thinking they are doing the most important and significant things to keep themselves and their children safe by keeping track of people who have been convicted of sexual abuse. It could make people less safe by relaxing vigilance because the few known stranger-perpetrators are kept track of so carefully when the vast majority of sexual abuse is by non-strangers (90% according to the linked to article).

I think the most important method is educating children that in virtually all circumstances they have agency and control over their own bodies (dealing with necessary medical care is a difficult issue). That means teaching that to children, and then respecting their decisions about it. If a child doesn’t want to give a hug to grandma, it should be the child’s absolute right to not do so. Parents and grandma need to absolutely respect that. No means no.

Mächtige Maus said...

I think that members of the sex crimes units would disagree that this law is not enforceable. You'd be surprised at what they can monitor.

Sure, go after the providers, I'm fine with that. No, you are not going to catch the people who are simply watching what goes on at these sites, but are they the ones who are enticing underage girls to come out of state for a meeting with the man they "love"? They are no better, I will grant you, but they are not the ones ultimately preying on innocence. I also understand that a lot of the sexual abuse that goes on is not from an unknown individual. However, I fail to see how this legislation is pointless. Hard to enforce, undeniably...pointless, hardly.

Let me point out that I work in this field. A disclaimer if you will. Society does not want to know what comes across my desk on a daily basis. Sexual predators are creative. I get that. However, if this legislation can keep just one pedophile from recidivism, isn't that worth it?

Anonymous said...

I think there should be a limitation to length of registration. I'm not sure what the statistics are on repeat offenses, but I would assume they occur within a certain time frame. Especially in the interest of someone who made a bad move in his/her childhood (such as kids streaking), 7-10 years should be a good limit for a single-time offender to be released from the registry.

Mächtige Maus said...

I will absolutely sign on to the concept of limitations to the length of registration. It is an idea that has not, as far as I know, been explored. Nonetheless it should be.

Maggie said...

The problem is that the vast majority of sex crimes are committed by friends and family members. In addition, the vast majority of sex offenders never re-offend. By creating a belief that sex offenders are lurking around every actual and virtual corner, I think we're avoiding the actual issue.

I find sex offender registration in its current form abhorrent. This comes from someone who's actually met and represented several people whose names will be on those lists.

Maggie said...

Sorry to do two comments in a row...

Passing this kind of electronic monitoring law avoids the issue. Currently, sex offender registration is causing actual offenders to go into hiding and law enforcement has been virtually unanimous that different measures need to be taken. States enacting civil commitment laws are attempting to keep offenders in prison for an unlimited length of time. In addition, mandatory minimums for sex offenses have been increased to such an extent that even an innocent person has a stronger incentive to plead guilty to a lesser charge than to go to trial, lose, and get sent to prison for the rest of their natural life. All of it avoids the actual issue.

I'm surprised Tennessee doesn't take the more traditional route, which bans offenders from the internet all together. Most states seem to take whatever actions in their offender requirements that is best guaranteed to send offenders back to jail as soon as possible.

The best way to protect children online is for the responsible parent to enforce and observe their interactions. Most children young enough to be preyed upon unknowingly shouldn't be online unsupervised anyway. Those old enough to know better are usually savvy enough to figure it out. I think it's all a lot of smoke and no fire.