In a 2010 episode of the television show Louie, comedian Louis C.K. caused some controversy when he performed a bit of stand-up comedy centered on the premise that perhaps if the outrage and hatred for pedophiles were lessened, it might ultimately help protect children. Like any good comedy, it started a conversation about the salient points in the bit (without excoriating the comedian himself) amongst writers at The Washington Post, Salon, and Jezebel.com, specifically with regard to teachers and their students. However, despite the dialogue, the prevailing attitude of society-at-large towards sex offenders and child molesters/rapists is drawn from a deep emotional place of disgust and (sometimes homicidal) anger.
Sex offenders are required to have their identities and home addresses published on websites as a community service. Now, according to a report by The Associated Press, Michigan sex offenders have to pay a yearly fee of $50 in order to fund the maintenance of the statewide sex offender site.
Still there are some people, such as Utah criminal defense attorney Darwin Overson, who believe that “having [sex offenders] personal information placed on a police website for all to see is anything but rehabilitative. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say it’s cruel and unusual punishment designed only to shame and ostracize.” Overson’s post is written from a perspective that sex offenders can be rehabilitated, which is something many do not believe is possible.
According to a 2003 study published by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 5.3 percent “of sex offenders (men who had committed rape or sexual assault) were rearrested for another sex crime.” Two-thirds of male sex offenders released from prison since 1994 were tracked, which amounted to 9,691 men, of whom 4,295 were child molesters.
While Overson may be correct that those identified as sex offenders are both shamed and ostracized by their communities, it is disingenuous to suggest that was by design. Instead, the rights of the community to “protect” themselves from predators were deemed more important than the released offender’s right to privacy. The question the altered Michigan law (and similar laws in Ohio and Indiana) raises is who should pay for that protection.