Megan’s Law, Does it Protect Children?

(“Some spelling changes have been made within this quoted article by SOSEN Staff, to reflect the US English spelling of words rather than the British spellings. Click on link to see original full article.” -Sosen Staff)
Megan’s Law Review is a report from the Australian Government in Queensland. This report was used in the argument against implementing a Megan’s Law in Queensland and is located in the Queensland “Managing Sex Offenders in the Community” section of their Probation and Parole section. The report was researched and assembled by the NPCC; National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children; in 2006. For more information from the NPCC about Public Disclosure of Sex Offenders visit Child Sex Offender Disclosure Scheme.

This is a report from an organization whose primary focus is to end cruelty to children. It is a detailed report about the failure to reduce or eliminate Child Sexual Abuse because of Laws and Legislation related to Sex Offender Public Notification. It is not an organization which is directly in favor of the Sex Offender, nor is it an organization that lobbies against the Registry or Registration laws. It is not an organization that is involved with NAMBLA or any other group that favors Child Sexual Abuse. It is an organization which has taken facts and science, and proved beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Megan’s Law is a failure. It is a failure because it did not and does not deliver what was promised.

It is interesting in the fact that they do not have Public Registries in Queensland and they based this prudence upon the evidence provided by reliable research.

Megan’s Law has been systematically reviewed by Pawson (2006) and the UK’s National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (Fitch 2006). It was found that the evidence base for the law was weak and that it was developed largely as a response to community agitation (Pawson 2006).

-Is notification of sex offenders in local communities effective?

This speaks loudly to those with rational ears. It is apparent that Queensland used our Megan’s Law as an example of what not to do. What a message to proponents of the Registry that have marred the name of a child who was brutally raped and murdered.

The NSPCC published this report that they used to determine if public notification would be useful.

The NSPCC’s purpose is to end cruelty to children. It therefore wishes to help ensure the creation of the best possible child protection system. This paper examines evidence about the outcomes and impact of Megan’s Law, to discover if there are any lessons which can be applied to the UK.

Apparently Queensland took heed to the lesson, and it was this report which influenced their decision.

Megan’s Law was not evidence-based legislation, but was adopted in response to a series of high profile crimes against children (Farkas and Stichman, 2002). After the abduction of eleven-year-old Jacob Wetterling from his home in Minnesota, in 1994 the Jacob Wetterling Crimes against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Registration Act mandated the compulsory registration of convicted sex offenders. In 1996 following the abduction and murder of seven-year-old Megan Kanka in New Jersey, this act was amended, and all states were ordered to publicize information about offenders listed on the registry.

Part one of the report takes us on a journey of the history behind sex offender legislation and examines a case study of California, Washington, Minnesota, Louisiana and Vermont. Part two examines subjects like Protecting Children, it’s actual usefulness, it’s impact on Sex Offender management and it’s legal, practical and ethical use and finally recommendations and conclusion.

Most states have very little evidence on the actual impact of community notification on their jurisdiction. Most of the understood benefits of the laws are based on assumptions about the nature of sexual offending and the behaviour of parents and community members. Such assumptions are rarely supported through research, but continue to legitimize the law for law enforcement workers and members of the public.

At the time these laws were passed, the news media continued to propagate propaganda which only served to stir up anxiety and anger to the public. This is because at that time, the Key Buzz Words to increase a journalist’s story ratings included words like pedophile, Sex Offender, Child Molester, Predator and associate them with “Your Children” the result was an easy story with high ratings.

There is currently insufficient proof that the community notification practices of Megan’s Law makes children safer. Registration and notification alone cannot solve the problem of child sexual abuse. Policy-makers should ensure that sex offender management policies are based on objective evidence of what makes children safer and not on popular responses to high-profile sex crimes such as Megan’s Law, however tempting it is.

Politicians got a free ride. While the impassioned public was being fed with elusive and deceptive propaganda, politicians could bear down on the only visible villain, and that was of course the Registered Sex Offender. It was rather a simple and easy method to get a bill passed with very little opposition because everyone hated the villain. Any politician opposing a Sex Offender bill would risk losing popularity and backlash.

Concerns have been expressed that victims of intra-familial abuse may be deterred from speaking out because of community notification guidelines (Freeman-Longo cited in Lane Council of Governments report, 2003, p. 13).
Victims of this sort of abuse may be reluctant to report their family member as an offender to the rest of the community as they may not want to put their relative at risk of retribution and exposure. They may also be concerned that they may inadvertently expose their own identity as a victim. Non-offending family members may be subject to the same stigma and ostracism as the offender and may also become the victims of vigilantism. This may have lasting negative effects on the children living within such families.
Although there is no published research to prove the link between notification and reduced reporting of intra-familial abuse, there is some strong evidence to demonstrate this link. When the Stop it Now! organisation launched its pilot site in Vermont in the summer of 1996, almost 60 per cent of the calls received were from sexual abusers or those at risk of abuse. When news of Megan’s Law emerged in the Vermont press, the number of phone calls from these groups fell to zero. In subsequent years these groups have comprised only 12-16 per cent of calls (Written communication from Deborah Donovan Rice, Stop it Now! Vermont). The Stop it Now! organization describes the problem in the following way:


“The specter of notification, the accompanying shame, the potential
vigilante response from the community, the inability to restore life to
some level of normalcy post-release, the potential for the humiliation of
other family members besides the abuser him/herself are all deterrents
in a very direct way.”

(Written communication from Deborah Donovan Rice, Stop it Now! Vermont)


 

Megan’s Law has inhibited both abusers and victims from help because of the very law that was supposed reduce Child Sexual Abuse. So now the abuse continues and will quite probably go unreported, all because politicians have refused to accept science and statistics and exploit the unnecessary and unjustified hysteria and garner the spoils of public ignorance. I hold you politicians personally responsible for every Child Sexual Abuse that occurs as the result of this Law. There is no excuse for this folly and your greed for popularity in place of prudence will eventually be your own undoing because now, people are beginning to wise up to it. It will eventually become that when you cry “Get Tough on Sex Offenders!!” people will peer at you with narrowing eyes. You will have pandered yourself into your own political peril. Had you been honest with us in the from the beginning, maybe then your words would have some integrity, but now there is a breach in the hull and your ship is sinking.

A major concern with a system of sex offender notification is that it will create a false sense of security for parents and community members. Assault by strangers accounts for a very small percentage of cases of child sexual abuse. This figure is estimated at five per cent (Philpott, 2002). By focusing on a small number of offenders, the system detracts from far more common crimes such as intra-familial abuse (Interview with Max Schuleter, Vermont Department of Public Safety). Also, due to the low level of reporting and conviction of sexual crimes, the registry will not even contain information about all the strangers who pose a threat to children.

This is a bit confusing, but I understand the concept. Our politicians have concentrated their efforts on the myths that a stranger abducting a child for sexual abuse and that all sex offenders fit this description and that all sex offenders have a high re-offense rate. Yes, there are stranger abductions, however they are rare and do not apply to the over 800,000 on the registry. By concentrating their efforts on this myth, only distracts our attention on the far more common Child Sexual Abuse which occurs within the family or close friends.

At the opposite end of the scale, there is limited evidence that some parents and community members may suffer unwarranted levels of fear as a result of the publicity around Megan’s Law. Zevitz carried out a study into sex offender community notification and its impact on neighborhood life. Information was gathered from 147 households and community enterprises in Wisconsin, within a four-block radius of where notification of the placement of a notorious sex offender had occurred (Zevitz, 2004). He recorded parents” reactions to notification  immediately after notification, and then followed this up a few months later, finding the following:
• 35 percent claimed they were fearful and anxious (27 percent in later survey)
• 26 percent felt angry (reduced to 14 percent in later survey)
• 19 percent were indifferent/not worried (21 percent in later survey)
• 7 percent of parents felt powerless (increased to 20 percent in later survey)
• 4 percent resolved to remove the offender from the area.
Zevitz argues: “Notification … unintentionally resulted in inciting fear among the general public and undermining people’s trust in the security of their immediate surroundings” (Zevitz, 2003, p. 58). Caputo and Brodsky claim that community notification can cause undue stress for parents unless it is accompanied by advice on how to use the information to enhance safety (Caputo and Brodsky, 2003).

This is actually an old political tactic that has been used many times throughout history. Our own Correctional system uses this very tactic to strike fear primarily to maintain funding. They will do this during a time when the prison budget goes into review and they need public support so they begin to advertise that they will be releasing “Murderers and Rapists” because of overcrowding and lack of finances.
In this case, it is a deliberate, unnecessary and unwarranted inciting of fear and anxiety. Mostly because of the myths and propaganda about Sex Offenders. Because of the myths and propaganda, there is an embedded hatred that boils within most people and the most visible villain is of course the Registered Sex Offender. This opens the opportunity to harassment, banishment, vigilantism, vandalism and has even been known as the Vigilante Hit List because there have been several murders as a direct result of the Registry.

Public education

Treatment for children who display sexually harmful behavior A large percentage of sexual assaults are perpetrated by young people and individual states in the US respond to this in different ways. In the UK young people should not be made subject to public notification, but should instead be given access to additional treatment programmes. We believe that every local authority should have in place a multi-agency assessment framework and access to any treatment services that are needed. There should be a full, welfare-based assessment of every child who displays sexually harmful behaviour. This should identify appropriate next steps to address their needs, and safeguard others from the risks they may pose.

This is something that has been ignored during all of the Sex Offender debate. There is a large number of youths which are Child Sexual Abusers. I have heard it been said, that the average age of a Child Sexual Abuser is 14. If this is true, then there will be a large number of young people who would be candidates for the registry. The myth is that some middle aged pedophile driving an old beat up van lying in wait to abduct some child from a school or a park is who is supposed to be on the registry, instead, because of society’s ignorance, we are now exposing our own children to the unintended consequences that exists to those on the registry.

This Report was used as for a valid purpose, not to publish information publicly. Queensland has a registry, however it is only used by Law Enforcement. The consequences of implementing a public registry far outweigh the benefits of keeping it within Law Enforcement.

4 comments for “Megan’s Law, Does it Protect Children?

  1. Rodney
    July 1, 2014 at 7:56 am

    I want to thank you for publishing this report. In particular the low reporting with Stop It Now was very interesting.

  2. Scott
    July 18, 2014 at 5:34 pm

    I can’t stress enough on how people will push for sex offenders to be thrown in prison the rest of their lives and refuse to offer or support any type rehabilitation. Their has to be a reason why people commit these types of crimes. No reason is an excuse to abuse others. I believe because this has long been hush hush for many years ago this is the result we get because we never had the opportunity to be free from fear for telling anyone about any abuse that was done to them.I urge all people to think about what they,re doing everyday and what consequences could come for things we might feel is right and yet, it is totally wrong. Talk to someone NOW if you’re hurting don’t wait till you act out illegally and get into major trouble and the kind you don’t want. Trust me!

  3. willb
    July 19, 2014 at 12:34 pm

    Scott while I agree with most of your post. There is a troubling part to it and that is the last sentence. You suggest talking to someone. The problem is, who a therapist, psychiatrist, your local priest all these people are required to report this information to local law enforcement whose only goal is to put someone in prison. All of these people stood by and allowed the laws to be passed stripping them of the ability to keep confidential information that was shared with them. right now today there are people sitting in prison, who never committed a crime but simply thought about it and discussed it with one of the above. until confidentiality is returned to professionals. Citizens need to be careful what they say.

    • Scott Delaney
      August 21, 2014 at 9:24 pm

      Yes that has already crossed my mind more times than you know Will B. I do agree with what you say and this is the reason why people who DO really want to break free from this cycle of behavior early on weigh in their mind, what if they call the cops, and what if they put me in jail state of fear. This is the reason why we have people who are stuck in a behavior and eventually leads up to being thrown in prison because help was not their for them.

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