Would it surprise you to hear that politicians are aware that the Canadian sex offender registry is ineffective; that online registries have resulted in the murder of former offenders; that they have reduced compliance rates and have likely increased recidivism? Of course, you're unlikely to hear any of these facts from their lips. In fact, regardless of the research, Conservative politicians propose that the information contained in the sex offender registry be made public and accessible online; a situation which may actually undermine community safety.
Here is what the Conservatives are not telling you:
THE CANADIAN REGISTRIES ARE INEFFECTIVE:
Although Canada's sex offender registries have one of the highest compliance of any registry in the world (c. 97%), in 2007, the Ontario Auditor General observed, “there is little evidence demonstrating the effectiveness of registries [in operation now for over a decade] in reducing sexual crimes or helping investigators to solve them and the Ministry has yet to establish performance measures for its Registry.” [http://www.priv.gc.ca/parl/2010/parl_20100415_e.cfm].
The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada recommended, in 2010, a formal evaluation of the effectiveness of the legislation and the Registry by an independent third party. This has not happened; rather, the Conservative federal government has simply proposed an expansion of the existing regime.
Why has the registry been ineffective? One simple reason is that most individuals on the registry do not re-offend:
In a 2000 report, Public Safety Canada concluded:
"Very few sex offenders were granted a pardon and the vast majority who are pardoned did not reoffend sexually. Thus, automatic denial of pardons to sex offenders would unnecessarily curtail the liberties of the many ex-offenders who remain crime-free."
The low recidivism rate of those having received a pardon, supports the research conducted by psychologist R. Karl Hanson, PhD, Senior Research Officer with Public Safety Canada:
"Most sexual offenders do not re-offend sexually over time. This may be the most important finding of this study as this finding is contrary to some strongly held beliefs. After 15 years, 73% of sexual offenders had not been charged with, or convicted of, another sexual offence.The decreasing rate of offending with age suggests that the rates observed after 15 to 20 years are likely to approximate the rates that would be observed if offenders were followed for the rest of their lives."
In the United States, officials have reached the same conclusion:
"... if we are to believe even half of the research that has been conducted across this nation in this field, then we can only conclude that, in general, sex offender registration… have little or no discernible effect on recidivism or public safety. The most prevalent threat to the public comes from those who have not yet offended or have not yet been identified and caught."
Report of Iowa Sex Offender Research Council to the Iowa General Assembly, Appendix 2, January, 2009 http://www.humanrights.iowa.gov/cjjp/images/pdf/SOTF%201-15-09%20Final%20Report.pdf
Canadian politicians are certainly not ignorant of the research; much of it having been established by its own departments. Rather, some politicians have chosen to simply disregard the evidence in their bid to appear tough on crime and they do so by exacerbating society’s fears and misconceptions.
THE REGISTRY DISTRACTS US FROM THE REAL THREATS:
It has been said by some that the registry will help police investigations. This argument has been rebutted by critics. In 2004, Richard Zubrycki, then special adviser to the Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Canada, had advised the government against this type of sex offender registry. He has been researching international sex offender registries for 10 years, and uses the example of the case of 10-year-old Holly Jones, who was abducted and murdered in Toronto in 2003.
"In the Holly Jones case, you had a couple of hundred former sexual offenders in that neighborhood," Zubrycki says. "The perpetrator ended up being someone who wasn't on Ontario's registry. Going through the registry takes police resources that would otherwise be spent investigating clues and tips and going door to door."
Four weeks after the disappearance of Holly Jones the Ontario government announced that it would give Toronto police an extra $700,000 to monitor sex offenders. Security Minister Bob Runciman says Holly's murder was the catalyst for the additional resources. Unfortunately, these resources would have been wasted even if they were distributed a year before the disappearance of Holly Jones- Michael Briere, the individual responsible for the murder of Holly Jones, never had a criminal conviction and so would never have been on the sex offender registry.
When a seven-year-old American girl named Somer Thompson vanished 2009 police immediately questioned registered sex offenders living in the area. Eventually a man named Jarred Harrell was charged with her murder
Predictably, Harrell is not a convicted sex offender.Why “predictably”? Because most people who abduct, molest, and kill children have no previous criminal records for crimes against children.
According to Department of Justice studies and professor David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire, sex offenders have a lower recidivism (re-offense) rate than people convicted of other crimes (the idea that sex offenders can’t be cured, or often commit further sex offenses, is a common myth).
It may seem counter-intuitive, but the fact is that a convicted sex offender is far less likely to assault a child than a person who has never been convicted of a sex crime. The vast majority of crimes against children are committed by the child’s parents, family, or friends—not a stranger.
When looking for a suspect in a child abduction or molestation, it’s natural for the police and public to focus first on convicted sex offenders. But more often than not the concern about sex offenders only distracts from the more likely suspects. Children need to be protected, and that means understanding where the real dangers lie.
Here is something else most readers didn't know. In 1995 it was reported that 8 out of 10 female students in Ontario said they had been sexually harassed. Was it the registered sex offenders acting up again? No. Eight out of ten were sexually harassed in school.(“The Joke’s Over – Student to Student Sexual Harassment in Secondary Schools”, published by The Ontario Women’s Directorate, The Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation and the Ministry of Education, (1995)).
More than 10 years later it’s evident that our government has done nothing to keep these children safe:
In 2008, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH)'s Dr. David Wolfe, released new research on school violence, sexual harassment and bullying conducted at 23 schools in Southwestern Ontario. CAMH's Centre for Prevention Science surveyed 1819 Grade 9 and 11 students in both rural and city schools between 2004 and 2007 to measure both the victimization and perpetration of harassment and bullying and overall school safety. The data collected and released in a report today shows cause for concern:
Does it surprise you know that it's not registered sex offenders harassing your children on a daily basis, it's other children. You may be shocked at how common this is:
- Nationally, between 15% and 33% of all sex offenses in Canada are committed by persons under 21 years of age.
- In Ontario, between 1979 and 1984, nearly 1,400 persons between the ages of 16 and 19 were convicted of one or more sexual offenses
- A population survey done for the Badgley Commission on sexual offenses against children found that almost one third of suspected or known offenders against children was under the age of 21
These individuals are not strangers- they're not the monsters everyone wants to believe offenders are, and they will not, thanks to Mr. Harper, all be automatically placed on the registry. These offenders are our children. Sadly, this situation has remained unchanged for the past 15 years. It's happening today. I'm certain that most readers are shocked to know these statistics; after all, when these reports were released we never heard the Canadians politicians publicly announce that something had to be done about this deplorable situation. No, it's better, for them, to concentrate on the few offenders who have served their time and have less chance of re-offending when compared to any other group of offenders. Simply put, it's far easier for politicians to punish after the fact than it is to concentrate on the source of these continuing, prevalent problems; by doing so the government will look tough on crime without having to do any real work.
AN ONLINE REGISTRY: OPPOSED BY THE EXPERTS
Those individuals most knowledgeable about the issue, and thus best able to judge its efficiency, don't support a publicly accessible registry. Unfortunately, their views don't receive as much media attention as Mr. Harper:
- Even Federal Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, whose job it is to steer much of the Conservative government's get-tough-on-crime agenda, won't even consider public access.Toews said he's satisfied with the existing system whereby police will issue a public alert when a high-risk offender who hasn't sought rehabilitation or treatment moves into a community."It's our responsibility to not only protect society but to create the conditions for all individuals to rehabilitate themselves. Rather than have offenders trying to stay ahead of information on the Internet, I'm satisfied we've found the appropriate balance."
- “If you disclose where these individuals are living in the community, it is not unusual that they become harassed and that may cause them to move underground, so we would not be able to have any control of these guys,” said Sgt. Sue Crone, head of the Toronto Police Sex Offender Registry Enforcement Unit.Police issue an arrest warrant when an offender fails to register but Crone says the noncompliance rate is “minimal.” Sgt. Crone also said that [Hudak's proposed legislation] is “not appropriate” for the sex offender registry. “Some of these people may have committed one act and they will never re-offend again,’ she said.
- Liberal candidate Lori Holloway said Jim Stephenson, who led efforts to create it after his 11-year-old son Christopher was murdered by a convicted sex offender, is opposed the idea and calls it “poorly researched.”
As well, she said the Ontario Provincial Police opposes the idea. “Sex offenders will be driven underground and out of contact with police,” she suggested, citing information from the Correctional Service of Canada, which found GPS technology is not completely reliable.
- "I do not support public disclosure of the registry. If we look to the U.S. to make comparisons...by making the registries public, they make them ineffective. It is difficult to look at their studies and say they are effective or they help reduce crime when they might increase crime in some situations. By focusing on offenders and telling the population where offenders live, they might drive offenders underground and away from their families. ... It is not a good model to look toward for effectiveness".
Steve Sullivan, Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime
- "I think it serves several symbolic purposes, but it's not proven that it affects public safety," said Martin Horn, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York and former commissioner of the city's Department of Corrections.
"I think there's a logical argument to be made that it might, but I don't think that it's been demonstrated statistically that it does."
AN ONLINE REGISTRY: RESULTS IN MURDER AND HARASSMENT
Why would the experts not support a public registry? One reason it the certainty of vigilantism perpetrated against former offenders. Gary Ellis, a Conservative candidate, naively rejected any suggestion that a public database would lead to instances of vigilantism against sex offenders. "Good people will not break the law," he said. Obviously, Mr. Ellis did not research the effects of posting personal offender information online; if he had Mr. Ellis would have been quite aware of the brutal slayings of two convicted sex offenders from Maine, by a Canadian, in 2006.
Twenty-year-old Stephen Marshall of Nova Scotia, Canada, killed himself aboard a Boston-bound bus after allegedly murdering two convicted sex offenders in Maine, whom he'd found on the state's sex offender Web site.
One of the victims, 24-year-old William Elliott, was convicted four years ago of having sex with a girlfriend who was only days away from her 16th birthday. Elliott served four months in jail.
Marshall had earlier gone online and obtained personal information on both Elliott and Joseph L. Gray, 57, another convicted sex offender, whom Marshall is also suspected of murdering earlier that day.
Investigators also revealed that Marshall obtained the addresses and other information of 34 people from Maine's online sex offender registry.
This was not the first murder of former offenders which have been directly contributed to information derived from publicly accessible registries:
These incidents are not isolated. Other vigilante attacks on sex offenders include the following:
Don't think this could happen in Ontario? Just take a moment to look at the comments section of any online article related to the proposed registry and you'll see the following:
"Solve the problem, execute pedophiles".
"Public shaming should mandatory - they're lucky they don't have to walk around with a brand on their foreheads".
"She says making names and addresses public could lead to some unintended consequences — such as retaliation and vigilante action." ...she's saying that as if it would be a bad thing".
"I have NO PROBLEM WHATSOEVER if people use this registry to mete out the justice that our so-called "justice" system was too cowardly to do".
These murders, the ones we were able to directly link to the online registry (many former sex offenders have been murdered but we are unable to ascertain how many were killed because of their names were publicly available), serve as "a stark reminder that there's no evidence that online sex offender registries increase public safety. In fact, they might just do the opposite," said Allen Gilbert, executive director of the Vermont ACLU. "They should not be making any changes to the online registry unless they can determine that, indeed, the registry increases public safety. We think they never should have created it."
AN ONLINE REGISTRY: REDUCES COMPLIANCE RATES | INCREASES RECIDIVISM
Human Rights Watch investigated sex offender registries. They say the severity of the offense is not taken into account nor is the change in behavior of the individual. Approximately three quarters of sex offenders never offend again, contrary to widespread mythology. Yet someone who has acted responsibly for decades can still be listed. They also noted that being listed on the registry can be devastating for individuals.
Their privacy is shattered. Many cannot get or keep jobs or find affordable housing. Registrants’ children have been harassed at school; registrants’ spouses have also been forced to leave their jobs. Former offenders included on online registries have been hounded from their homes, had rocks thrown through windows, and feces left on their doorsteps. They have been beaten, burned, stabbed, and had their homes set on fire. Other registrants have been driven to suicide.
The scenario presented by Human Rights Watch is the primary reason why the online registry makes it much harder to track sex offenders. If offenders were registered with the police alone it would be much easier to track them because there would be little reason for the offenders to not comply-thus the high compliance rate enjoyed by Canadian registries:
"Today, we have a premier sex offender registry in Ontario, with a 97% compliance rate, one of the highest rates of any sex offender registry in all of North America. The OSOR is not accessible to the public, and this contributes to the high offender compliance rate."- Ron Gentle: Chief Superintendent with the Ontario Provincial Police
When the information is made public the offenders and their families are often forced from one residency to another in order to avoid harassment. One police official in the United States said: “You’ve got sex offenders getting evicted every other week, moving, coming into to make changes and by the time we’ve forwarded the data to Austin, they’ve moved again.”
As a result of posting registry information online, California has lost track of 44% of the sex offenders on its list, 40% in Iowa, Wisconsin says they lost track of 29% of their list and Minnesota says that in excess of 20% from their list are missing. In Iowa one police official said that they used to be able to track 95 percent of offenders. But as offenders are publicly listed more and more of them are dropping their registrations. Now he says they can find only 70- to 75% of these people. The rest have disappeared from the listing. Contrast this to the compliance rates in Canada, which make our registries very reliable sources of information for police.
Individuals who work with sex offenders to deal with their problems say the result of these laws is actually to encourage more offending. Psychologist Richard Hamill helps treat sex offenders and he says:
The risk of re-offense is much lower if (an offender) is employed, has safe housing, is in treatment and has a support system like a 12-step program or the support of families and friends.... What has happened is that ... some folks are now losing their jobs or being ostracized from their communities
Jill Levenson, of Lynn University in Florida, says half of registered sex offenders have trouble finding jobs. From 20% to 40% say they have had to move house because a landlord or neighbour realized they were sex offenders. And most report feeling depressed, hopeless or afraid.
The Economist: America’s Unjust Sex Laws. 2009. http://www.uta.fi/laitokset/historia/sivut/english/nam/material/SexlawsEconomist060809.pdf%20
Kent Willis, Executive Director for the Virginia ACLU says he understands why you would want to know if a sex offender lives in your neighborhood, but doesn't think that information should be made public online. "When we put them on a website, we make them targets. If we marginalize them, the tendency is for them to make the same crimes again", says Willis.
In one study performed in the United States, offenders subject to community notification were rearrested for new crimes twice as quickly as comparable sex offenders released without notification (Lieb, 1996, p. 298).