Monday, February 3, 2014

Should victims have a say in sex offender legislation?

During a trial for any offense against a person, and most definitely when the charge is of a sexual nature, the testimony from the victim is the strongest factor in conviction. At sentencing, much credence is given to victim impact statements. When an inmate is eligible for parole, statements from the victim can make the difference between parole being granted or not.                  

But how about when former victims are involved with legislation affecting persons totally unrelated to the harm done to them and with the potential to affect persons far into the future? Sounds ridiculous, doesn't it? Yet with the victims of sexual crime, it happens. Lauren Book has built a career by being involved with legislation, not only that which is appropriately focused on prevention but also that which targets registered sex offenders even though her abuser was not on the registry.

One has only to look at the alphabet soup listing of bills and legislation named after children who were murdered to see the impact that victims' families have. Yet the legislation pushed by these people do not target those who murder but rather those who commit sexual offenses, and there is no evidence that the motivation for the most notorious of these, the Adam Walsh Act, was even connected to a sexual crime.

And now a victims' group is protesting that the "victim's viewpoint" was not given enough consideration in a thorough examination that was done by an independent agency into the Colorado sex offender management program and procedures. The report emphasizes that  facts and empirical research were not considered or followed and that, therefore, a great deal of money was wasted monitoring low level former offenders who didn't need it. At least one victims' advocacy group takes umbrage at this finding.

I would ask what valuable input former victims have in helping develop policy for the future? Virtually all of them were victimized by those who weren't on the registry. Virtually all of them were victimized by those who were in their lives in a trusted capacity. Two or three may have been the victims of prior offenders but most likely no more.

What would they be bringing to the table other than a desire for revenge against the generic group of registered persons? If they wish to be truthful and admit that nothing that affects former offenders would have made any difference to their victimization, a statement to that effect could be submitted. If they want to be honest and say that nothing that affects former offenders will prevent 97% or more of future sexual offenses from occurring, they can issue a statement to that effect. If they want to be honest and say what the Kansas SOMB said in a report to its legislature, that “Right now, it appears that the best alternatives are in the form of community wide education and training regarding steps that can be taken to educate parents . . .," the Colorado report already suggests that.

Former offenders were included because they were able to answer questions pertinent to the investigation. Former victims have no such ability. Former victims who haven't healed and are seeking something to help them feel better will not find it in negating the fact that they were victims of people in their lives that they trusted and quite possibly loved, not of people who were on a registry. That was true yesterday. It will be true tomorrow.

The people that these laws will affect tomorrow are not the people who will be committing tomorrow's crimes.


  1. Well said! However, I would be interested to know how much money from federal grants and donations, not to mention lawsuits and restitution, these victims groups are afraid of losing. I would also be curious to know what political ambitions some of the "objectors" cherish. Then I would know how much of their objections are based on simple revenge. Displaced revenge, but still revenge.

    When a man is convicted of possessing child pornography there is no direct victim to testify. Some people are identified in photos and notified by our government so that they may seek huge settlements as restitution, but most of the "outcry" comes from advocate groups, who rely on grants and donations, and those who work for government agencies as victim advocates (e.g. DOJ).

    You are absolutely right when you say that any new, or old, laws will not affect 97% or more of future offenses. The California Dept. of Corrections stated in 2012 that only 1.9% of offenders commit a new sex offense. Therefore one must look at other reasons to object to sensible policies regarding ex-offenders.

  2. Excellent article. We've posted an excerpt on our blog.

    1. Just so you know, I was involved in those focus groups and discussions with the evaluators. The victims groups were given just as much time and access to the evaluators as everyone else. In fact, there were 33 victims that took place in the focus groups and the evaluation. Now they cry wolf because it didn't go the way the SOMB and the victims groups wanted the report to go. Shame on them...

  3. I believe this topic needs to be talked about, however, I think we must be fair in how we do it. I do not think your argument is well received when you juxtapose sex offenses with murder. The way you handled this in the article seems to diminish the suffering that victims of sex offenses have encountered. I am not sure that as we fight for balanced and fair legislation for offenders that we should ignore or even minimize what victims have suffered. Any citizen should have the right to be part of shaping our Country, that is why our nation is so great. We are supposed to embrace many voices on these topics, which is the only way we will achieve real fairness. For many, many years in Colorado sex offenses in this state were hardly taken seriously. it is only since 2000 that this State has really started cracking down on this particular area of crime. And it shows by the high and rising level of sex offenders in prison.
    Now, with every post like this, those who disagree with me will want to try to figure out my angle, they may even think that I am a victim of crime and that is why I am defending the rights of victims over offenders. I will help you in this endeavour by saying that I am a Pastor in Colorado Springs. My full time job is Prison Aftercare, helping those folks who have done their time, paid their debt, and now need help transitioning back into our communities. I help more sex offenders than I do others. I am acutely aware of the difficulties they face, but these are the consequences to the choices they made in their lives. That may sound harsh, but I believe I am the perfect one to say it, because I spent over 20 years in prison myself for the choices I made when I was 17. I want to help people be successful, I don't think we do that by lessening the consequences for their bad behavior. We do it by helping them to make better choices.
    Every citizen has the right to be part of the legislative process, the premise question of this article is a question that should not have even been posed by those who love the freedom our Country affords. Of course victims should be allowed to be part of the process, just as much as any other citizen who has no first hand knowledge of the topics they are passing laws about. the issue is fairness, so victims who appear to have an axe to grind, will have to be tempered by all of us highly educated folk who "know better" than them! Not trying to be rude here, but surely we do injustice to the very core of society when we pose questions like this one. It should never be asked. I did open by saying we need to talk about this, but not should they be part. Of course they should have that freedom, but their zeal should be evaluated and tempered if necessary by others who are part of the process. Last time I checked, no one citizen can impose their sovereign will on all others with no intervention.

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    1. Mr. Close, thank you for your thoughtful commentary.

      There are several points I will address. First, thank you for the re-entry work you do. It is needed and extremely valuable.

      I agree with your point about choices and consequences. I do not believe, however, that when it comes to everything under the umbrella of sexual offending that all the consequences are appropriate and commensurate with the choices. I fully agree that those who break the law should receive appropriate punishment.

      I in no way belittle the results of sexual abuse to victims. I have close family members who were victims. If I conveyed in my post that I do not recognize the results to victims, I apologize. I do not feel that way.

      And now we get to what my post was intended and I believe does convey. The connection is drawn between murder and sexual offending because the small, select group of which I spoke had children who were, except possibly for Adam Walsh, sexually assaulted and then murdered. These were anomalies. Sexual offenders very seldom murder their victims. When they do, they are murderers. Yet the family members did not lobby for laws that address those who murder children but those who sexually offend against children, and, as it has turned out, what they set in motion affects those who have sexually offended against everyone all the way from minor to heinous infractions.

      Colorado's report is relevant to everyone on the sex offender registry. Laws will be made or not made that affect all registrants. The desire of former victims to be part of that process--and it appears that they were to a greater degree than originally reported--is not appropriate because their abusers were not registrants. Most registrants do not re-offend. Almost all people, adult and children, who are victims are victims of those to whom the laws will have no application or relevance.

      Your general point is certainly true; any citizen is free to involve himself, insomuch as he is able, with decision making and legislation on any topic. And they did. But I maintain that victims of sexual crime unrelated to those on the registry expecting to have a major role in the formulation of legislation that affects those on the registry and then being disturbed that the final results do not please them is inappropriate.

      Thank you for reading and for writing. Blessings to you in your work.

  5. just have to say, this is a superb piece. There is no reason to have victims or anyone else chime in on legislation. Justice is not a zero sum game, where victims win and offenders lose or vice versa. It is especially offensive in this arena, where "attractive" victims are trotted out (and laws named after them) to remind us of the special and perpetual suffering endured when sexual offenses are perpetrated.

    In the real world, when a crime is committed, justice is supposed to be blind and meted out if the elements of the crime are proven by the State. Period. End it. Perpetrators of crimes upon or toward pretty or attractive victims should not be punished more severely than perpetrators of crimes upon or toward ugly or criminal victims. But they are. When was the last time you heard someone say ...he was such a GOOD drug dealer, so honest? His death is such a loss to the community. She was a kind, sweet street whore. Ugly as sin, hooked on crack, but a nice girl. Mean drunk, but we will miss her, etc. When was the last time a law was named after someone over 16? We don't need victims reminding us of their specialness, because we are all unique, just like everyone else.

    Having former victims remind us of their pain and suffering, only serves to inflame the legislature against former offenders. In my ideal world (smokin' that crazy pipe again), crime harms the whole community and restorative justice heals the entire community. Having victims talk to the legislature about their pain, regardless of who caused it - perpetuates apartheid. It allows victims, via the legislature - to cement their control over offenders. If the victim can not control the person who harmed them, they can continue to act out pain, rage, fear -- by controlling others like him.. This is the essence of apartheid. It must stop, for the victims' well being as well as society's.

    We can not have a world divided into two parts - victims and offenders. Punishers and punished. Ostracizers and ostracized (yikes! Blenders!!!) That center will not hold. We have to stop punishing at some point and stop revictimizing. The battle cry NO MORE VICTIMS must be turned on the very people who use it. Indeed, no more victims. Let those who would use their victim status as a weapon, stop. You may not use the fact that you were subjected to a crime, to harm others whom you never saw. You may not bring others down. You may not victimize others because you were harmed. Let it stop here. Let the healing begin.

  6. ...these are the consequences to the choices they made in their lives.... I want to help people be successful, I don't think we do that by lessening the consequences for their bad behavior. We do it by helping them to make better choices.

    Mr. Close, what if the consequences are out of line with the crime? The sentences given to sex offenders are much more severe than they used to be, lasting years and decades beyond the prison sentence--many times due to the influence of victims on the legislative process.

    You say we don't help people by lessening the consequences. Do you think we help people more by increasing the severity of the consequences? When victim advocates are given much more influence over legislation, the severity only increases. Writing laws based on emotional appeals instead of reason leads to bad laws.

    I would like if we could help people make better choices before they end up in prison. Do you advocate for an end to the federal reporting mandate that prevents people from asking for help to make better choices? One cannot go to a counselor for help to stop looking at child porn, for example, because the counselor is mandated to report the crime.

    Read mostboringradical's contemplation on the increasing severity of sentences.


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