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July 29, 2013

Child Sex Offender Registration

by dankrogers

Since 2004 Queensland has had a child sex offender registry. The implementation of the register came about through a Federal law reform where in 2002 Senator Ellison who was then Federal Minister for Justice and Customs, called on Australian States and Territories to establish uniform registration schemes for sex offender registration. Senator Ellison argued that there was a need to establish a national data base which could monitor the whereabouts of convicted sex offenders throughout the country and assist in global prosecutions of child pornography rings. It was against this backdrop that Queensland implemented their registration scheme in 2004.

Very few topics provoke as much emotion and public concern as that of a released sex offender living amongst a given community. Different countries grapple with this societal anxiety in different ways. Historically, (inaudible) the sexual victimisation included mob lynching and capital punishment but more recently less violent measures have been adopted including offender registration and half-way houses.

It is understandable that the protection of our children is at the forefront of our minds but, in this writer’s view the measures adopted under sex offender registration schemes are simply an emotional response rather than a logical solution.

The Queensland Child Protection (Offender Report) Act 2004 imposes extremely onerous conditions upon any person convicted of a child sex offence. Reporting obligations for a person are mandatory including an initial report, annual reports and a requirement to disclose any changes in a person’s personal details which are listed as being quite extensive. There are ongoing reporting obligations including to notify Queensland Police of any overseas travel.

There are a number of problems with the registration scheme including:

1. The scheme is not based on any research or facts showing that it actually reduces the number of child sex offences.
2. The fact that a scheme is in existence gives the community a false sense of security because of the presumption that by knowing where a sexual offender lives we should somehow feel safer and less prone to victimisation.
3. The scheme particularly where the public becomes aware of a person or where the police target sexual offenders simply leads to their ongoing harassment which has been shown to simply increase the risk of reoffending as opposed to allowing successful reintegration into the community.
4. Family members of convicted child sex offenders become a part of this ongoing victimisation.
5. There have been some studies particularly out of the United States which show that placement on a registration scheme reduces reports of child sex victimisation because of the never-ending prejudice and punishment endured by a person convicted.
6. The schemes are costly.
7. The registration of the schemes also affects treatment opportunities where the isolation that a person feels placed on a scheme can inhibit their desire to seek rehabilitation.

The worse example of child sex registration schemes can be found in the United States where they, in addition to registration in the schemes have community notification which leads to vigilante type behaviour and more significant consequences in terms of the problems as outlined above.

There is no doubt that the protection of our children should be at the forefront of our minds. However this alone should not be a reason to implement registration schemes including community notification of sex offenders. Governments need to be receptive to the problems with registration schemes and not blindly enact populace, emotionally driven legislation which does little to protect the community and carries with it an array of negative effects.

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