It has happened once again. A beautiful young girl has been stolen from her own bedroom at night and killed. We all watched with sadness as news reports flashed her smiling face on our screens only to announce that the search for her had yielded no results. Finally, nearly a month after she went missing, our sadness turned to horror as police announced that a registered sex offender, John Couey, had admitted to abducting and killing young Jessica Lunsford. Yet this happened in the state of Florida, which in addition to a sexual offender registry law (Megan’s Law), requires sex offenders to notify police before they move as part of their probation and has its sexual offender registry publicly available over the Internet. Why is it then, with all of this legislation in effect to protect the innocent that young Jessica was still the victim of this awful crime? The answer is quite simple: Megan’s Laws are not, and cannot ever be, effective. They provide a false sense of security whilst violating the United States Constitution.
What are Megan’s Laws for?
The first sexual offender registry law — the original Megan’s Law — was promulgated in the state of New Jersey, largely due to the efforts of the parents of Megan Kanka. Their efforts were a result of the 1994 killing of Megan by a neighbor who had served prison time for sexual offenses. Since the New Jersey law was passed, all of the other states have followed suit and passed similar legislation of their own. The purpose of the laws is simple: to require convicted sex offenders to register their place of residence so that police (and the public) know where they are. The prevailing logic believes that if law enforcement can keep track of sex offenders, they will be unable to simply move to another locale where they are unknown and commit further crimes.
Public pressure has pushed states to make sex offender registries ever more public, and forty-three states now have their registries available online for the perusal of anybody who is interested. The public, worked into a frenzy by sensational media reports, wants to know where sex offenders are so that they can warn their children where not to go trick-or-treating, or harass the sex offender until he decides to pack his bags and move elsewhere.
Despite all of this “protection”, Jessica Lunsford was still taken from her home in the middle of the night by a registered sex offender and killed. Until February 23, Couey, who has a long history of violent crime, was playing by the book. He was fulfilling the terms of his probation. He was properly registered and the police knew where he was. His name and details were publicly available on the Internet. John Couey has shown us all quite clearly that, if somebody so desires, he can find a way to commit crimes regardless of what laws might be on the books to keep tabs on him. Furthermore, the ease at which he left the area after he killed Jessica shows that, despite restrictions on his movement, it is not at all difficult for a sex offender (or anybody else) to move to another part of the country.
Further examination of the Lunsford case shows us yet one more fact: the successful manhunt that ensued for John Couey could have been achieved even without the existence of Megan’s Law. Couey was ultimately arrested in Augusta, Georgia on a parole violation. Florida law mandates that sex offenders inform police of their residence as part of their parole. They must inform police at any time that they move. In other words, regardless of whether there is a publicly-available registry, these offenders are required to report their movements to the police.
Is there a Better Way?
If Megan’s Law did not protect Jessica Lunsford, what could have? Is there another way to prevent violent offenders from preying on the innocent? I am convinced that there is. I believe that the following steps need to be taken:
- The criminal justice establishment needs to make a clear distinction between violent and non-violent sexual offenders;
- Violent offenders need to be classified as either pedophilic or non-pedophilic;
- Pedophilic offenders need to have therapy made available that allows them to accept and deal with their sexual orientation in non-violent ways
- Society needs to stop stigmatizing amaros and begin a dialogue about ways to support and accept non-violent amarsi
If our judicial and law enforcement organs were to take these steps, the following things would occur:
- Violent offenders would be treated the same as any other violent criminals and perhaps receive longer custodial sentences if they are a threat to society;
- Those offenders with true pedophilic feelings would have the opportunity to realize that violent offenses are contrary to true childlove and that there are other ways to express that love;
- People with pedophilic feelings would feel less isolated and marginalized and would be more likely to learn to accept their feelings, seek counselling to deal with their feelings and less likely to develop anti-social or pathological behaviors.
As an amarso, I am just as outraged and saddened as any other person about the terrible crime that was perpetrated against Jessica Lunsford and I am just as eager as anybody else to do everything possible to prevent these things from occurring again. On the other hand, however, I do not believe that populist, misguided and ineffective legislation is the correct solution to the problem. Indeed, law enforcement already have at their disposal tools to deal with the problem without the need for unconstitutional legislation.