Is it Time to Toughen Up Sex Offender Laws?

Sex offender laws are a hot button issue that often evokes polarizing responses. The public reaction to sex offense cases is much more pronounced and dramatic than it might have been several decades ago because of a pervasive yellow tinge to journalism in a media environment dominated by 24-hour news and social media. The debate over whether sex offense punishments are fair has no clear-cut answer, but new evidence gathered by human rights watchdog groups warrants further discussion.

Megan’s Law

On July 29, 1994, a New Jersey man by the name of Jesse K. Timmendequas strangled 7-year-old Megan Kanka in his home and sexually assaulted her before dumping her body in a local park. But what really shocked audiences around the nation was that Timmendequas had already been convicted twice for other sexual assault cases in 1979 and 1981, spending more than six years in jail for his offenses — and he lived right across the street from Kanka, luring her into his home by offering to show a puppy.

A month after the Kanka incident, the New Jersey legislature passed bills requiring sex offenders to register on a database available to the public and tracked by state officials. It also required sex offenders to notify their new neighbors when they relocate. The body of legislation became known as “Megan’s Law,” and is the modern-day cornerstone of sex offense punishment.

(Note: At the federal level, sex offense laws are also referred to as the Jacob Wetterling Act)


Proponents of maintaining current sex offender laws generally point to incidents like the assault and murder of Megan Kanka — if Megan and her family knew about Timmendequas’ history, then she would most likely be alive today. Parents for Megan’s Law, an organization with little tolerance for sex offenders, sums up views millions of others share:

“Convicted sex offenders do not have the right to slip away unnoticed because of the risk they pose to communities,” they said. “Convicted sex offenders pose a risk to the community and the community should be given the opportunity to decide what precautions they take to protect themselves. Providing all information to the community will prevent bureaucratic blunders and theoretically based assessments from taking the lives of women and children in our nation.”

Public Stigma

Kentucky man Guy Hamilton-Smith admitted to possession of child pornography in 2007, qualifying him for the public sex offender label under Megan’s Law. However, Hamilton-Smith said he wanted to rehabilitate himself and pursue a career in law at the University of Kentucky. Despite graduating in the top third of his class, the state supreme court prohibited him from taking the bar exam.

“If you don’t give people a way to pay their debt to society then I don’t think that breeds anything good,” Hamilton-Smith said. “I think society pays for that in the end.”

However, Hamilton-Smith’s public shaming pales in comparison to the thousands of other registered sex offenders who became victims themselves. According to Human Rights Watch, registered sex offenders “have been beaten, burned, stabbed, and had their homes set on fire.” They argue that offenders live the rest of their lives burdened with social stigma, regardless of the nature or severity of their crime. For example, a teen who may have exposed himself as a prank will be grouped into the same category as a child rapist.

Possible Reform

Regardless of the case entities like Hamilton-Smith and Human Rights Watch make, it’s unlikely lawmakers will be swayed by a vocal minority in favor of leniency for sex offenders — the fact of the matter is millions of Americans admittedly hold little to no empathy for sexual offenders. Rather, some lawmakers are working toward closing sex crime loopholes they say allow many offenders to avoid lengthy prison sentences. Others, however, seek to reform laws to separate the more dangerous predators from less severe offenders like Hamilton-Smith, recognizing that even a well-intentioned system can be broken.

While most agree a violations of sexual law are heinous crimes, not all people agree on how to approach punishment for those offenders. As offenses continue, so too will the debate.

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Posted by on March 30, 2014. Filed under COMMENTARY/OPINION. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
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13 Responses to Is it Time to Toughen Up Sex Offender Laws?

  1. James Smith

    March 30, 2014 at 7:50 am

    From a view from outside the system, it seems that sex offenders have become the ‘niggers’ of the age. Blacks can no longer safely be ostracized with impunity, gays are reaching that level, so what’s left? Woo can defend a sex offender?

    After all, aren’t they all child molesters?

    Actually no. An 18 y/o male having sex with a 17 y/o girl can be labeled a sex offender and forced to be labeled and ruined for life. Less than half of all sex offenders are charged with child molestation. If you remove incidents such as the example above, what would be the rate?

    From what I have read, sex offenders have a far lower recidivism rate than most other felonies.

    According to the Bureau of Justice figures 67.5% of felony offenders were rearrested within 3 years for another felony or serious misdemeanor.

    For sex offenders, the figure was 5.3% for the same 3-year time frame.

    Yes, it’s true, some are irredeemable as are some burglars, arsonists, and almost all serial killers.

    A mature society should operate upon facts and logic, not paranoid emotion. But that would require people to be more than human, wouldn’t it?

    • Michael John Scott

      March 30, 2014 at 3:54 pm

      There’s far too much paranoia and emotion James and sometimes it’s what defines us.

    • 7522

      March 31, 2014 at 5:35 am

      Pederasty is a crime

    • Derek Johns

      March 31, 2014 at 5:44 am

      Are you talking about John Woo? I have never heard of him defending sex offenders and see no reason why he would. You better get your facts right buddy, or you’ll have a goddam lawsuit on your hands.

      • James Smith

        March 31, 2014 at 6:39 am

        Who is John Woo?

        • Cockernee Caz

          March 31, 2014 at 6:54 am

          In London, ‘John Woo’ is used a rhyming slang: “I am going for a John Woo” refers to using the toilet for crap. John Woo = Poo

  2. Norman Rampart

    March 30, 2014 at 10:41 am

    Common sense is needed as James rightly says.

    An 18 year old having consensual sex with a 17 year old is only ‘technically’ a sex offender (although in Britain it’s legal from 16) whilst a paedophile is a sick pervert. Clearly they are not in the same category.

    Should a 16 year old boy be classed as a sex offender because his 15 year old girlfriend said ‘yes’? – also allowing for the increased maturity of many young people compared to even 20 years ago.

    There needs to be a sensible scale of offense to distinguish between those who are merely young and horny and those who are evil predators of children or rapists or whatever.

    Things like this are only ever ‘rocket science’ to law makers.

  3. Bill Formby

    March 30, 2014 at 3:39 pm

    The first thing that is needed when checking into sex offender laws is for everyone to check their morals at the door and look at facts. The laws in most states include too many of the wrong people on their sex offenders list. As mentioned above, it includes statutory rape when there may be only a one or two years difference in the age of the perpetrator and the victim and often they have had an ongoing relationship. It also includes prostitutes and those soliciting prostitutes as well as someone caught peeing in the bushes as indecent exposure. None of these really present a danger to society generally speaking. The other issue is that it often keeps people looking the wrong way. Over overwhelmingly, if a child is molested it is a member of the child’s family or a close family friend as opposed to a stranger. The same is true with rape. 75% of the time if a woman is raped it is by a close friend or family member. The sex offender registry does very little good as it is, and it is a process of over reaction by the public to try to protect the children. By doing this they also ruin a greater number of other people’s lives.

    • Michael John Scott

      March 30, 2014 at 3:52 pm

      Bill you have pinpointed the problem with sex offender laws, as has Norman. Too many young men have had their lives ruined because they had consensual sex with their 16-year old girlfriend.

  4. James Smith

    March 30, 2014 at 3:42 pm

    But, but, but, you DO want to protect the children don’t you? BTW, have you stopped beating your wife?

    Same question really.

  5. Bill Formby

    March 31, 2014 at 1:06 pm

    Why do you folks turn a serious discussion on a serious topic into a chance to just annoy James.

  6. Bill Formby

    March 31, 2014 at 1:08 pm

    Children please, a little decorum. You sound like 5 year olds.