Our Best Defense
In May of 1997, President Bill Clinton signed the Jacob Wetteriing Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Registration Act. This law arose from New Jersey s Megan s Law that came about after seven-year-old Megan Kanka was raped and murdered by a twice-convicted sex offender who was living in her neighborhood. This federal law mandates that released sex offenders must register as such with local law enforcement. The state will be responsible for maintaining a data bank of the offenders, annual re-registration, and information regarding registered sex offenders will be released as deemed necessary to protect the public. Sex offender registration and notification laws are necessary and just.
Relapsing into criminal behavior rates for sex offenders are alarmingly high. Studies conducted in Washington State discovered that thirteen percent of adult offenders and twelve percent of juvenile offenders were rearrested for sex crimes within seven years (Wurtele and Miller-Perrin 15). Likewise, a California study showed that nearly twenty percent of adult offenders commit another sex crime within fifteen years. (Bernstein 24). Supporters of these laws feel that that alone is reason enough to have them enforced. Opponents, however, do not give this point of view much merit. They feel that it is wrong to continue punishment on all sex offenders when not all of them will repeat their crimes. The problem is, some of them will repeat and experts agree that there is no way one can be sure of who will recommit and who will not. Don McQuay, a cold-blooded, convicted child molester stated just before his release:
I got away with molesting 240 children before getting caught for molesting just one little boy. With all that I have cold heartedly learned while in prison, there is no way that I will ever be caught again. I am doomed to eventually rape, and then murder my poor little victims to keep them from telling on me. Will your children be my next victims? (Wetzstein 9)
Don McQuay is every parent s worst nightmare, someone who will stalk, beat, rape, and eventually kill an innocent child. The truth is a child molester may molest hundreds or even thousands of children in a lifetime. Gene Able, a sexual disorder expert, found in a study that pedophiles who targeted boys outside the home committed the greatest number of crimes, with an average of 281.7 acts with an average of 150.2 partners (Wetzstein 11). With notification and registration laws the public can be made aware of potential danger in their neighborhoods and avoid situations which would be related to a repeated crime.
Supporters feel that the public has a right to know if a sex offender is living in their community, while opponents feel that these laws are an infringement on the rights of the offender. Feminists and Columbia University Law Professor Patricia Williams states that Megan s law adds a punishment on top of the sentence already served (Bernstein 25). Opponents throw out terms like cruel and unusual punishment in regards to the legality of these laws. However, in terms of what the offender is likely to do to an unsuspecting victim, these laws Wurtele can hardly be considered cruel and unusual. These laws are intended to inform the public so that protective measures may be taken. No one was concerned about infringing upon a burglar s rights when neighborhood watch programs started; sex offenders should be treated no differently. We have signs along our roads warning us of railroad tracks ahead, merging traffic, speed limitations, and areas that have the potential to be icy. These warnings are intended to protect us. The sex offender had the same inalienable rights as the rest of us until that moment when he or she committed a crime against an innocent victim who had no warning. At that moment, the sex offender denied his or her victims of their rights. Our children, the potential victims, have the right to be protected from individuals who would cause them harm.
Rehabilitation of the sex offender is an issue that is widely debated by both the proponents and the opponents of these laws. Opponents of these laws have stated in the past that regulations such as these can interfere with the rehabilitation of the sex offender. Social Service workers fear that public exposure decreases the possibility of rehabilitation through a stable life. As rehabilitation is not a reliable form of protection, the registration and notification laws are the logical answer to this problem. Another argument regarding this issue concerns the prison sentences of the offenders. Adversaries feel that the sex offender has served his or her sentence and henceforth should no longer be punished for his or her crime. Most people will agree that prison terms for sex offenders are revoltingly inadequate. Of all prisoners convicted of child sexual abuse, only nineteen percent receive more than one year of incarceration (Wetzstein 8). Don McQuay served six years of only an eight-year sentence for his crime. McQuay s victims will suffer for a lifetime because of his crimes. Supporters of these laws feel that with the prison terms being so short, the offender has not been suitably punished. Because our current system of punishment of these criminals lacks in the ability to keep them off of the streets, the registration and notification laws are a valuable form of protection.
Sex offender registration and notification laws are needed to protect children from criminals destined to repeat their crimes. These laws have allowed parents to become aware of potential dangers. They have allowed schools and daycare centers to adopt better screening processes by providing an extra measure of security. Seven-year-old Megan Kanka was called over by her neighbor to see his new puppy. Her life was forever changed and tragically ended because of this single encounter. No one knew that he had been convicted of sex crimes on two prior occasions. She went along trusting in the kindness of her neighbor. Megan ended up raped, sodomized, killed, and buried in a shallow grave. If Megan s parents would have known the history of this man, they could have told her to stay away from him. They could have spared their daughter from this heinous crime. Megan was only one of thousands of crimes that are committed every year. These laws could have saved Megan and countless others. Sex offender registration and notification laws protect the innocent and preserve their right to life.