I’m taking a break this weekend from talking about internet sex offenses, and I just want to mention something many people don’t know: There is only one other nation with a public sex offender registry, Australia, and it didn’t go public until late last year.* Only dangerous, repeat offenders get put on Australia’s public list.
Let me just repeat this: Until late last year, no other country had a public sex offender registry. Not a one. Now, only the U.S. and Australia do, and Australia includes far fewer offenses than the U.S. does. It includes about 50 people, as opposed to the 750,000 and growing people on the U.S. registry.
This is important. We have very little perspective in the United States. I’ve often heard Americans respond, when somebody argues that our public sex offender registry should be abolished or even that it should only contain dangerous violent offenders, “Let’s just ignore sex crimes entirely!”, as if not having a public registry entails not taking sex crimes seriously.
This is especially troubling when it comes from Americans on the Left, and shows how completely ignorant of the rest of the world they are. Would most Americans leftists really, truly believe that their children would be less safe in Germany, Italy, or Spain, where 14 (in Spain, 13) is the age of consent and there is no public sex offender registry? Would they truly believe that those countries are teeming with sexual predators and that parents should be frightened to allow their children to leave their house? Are children in those nations less safe than children in the United States?
No sane person with any awareness of the actual situation of children internationally would believe that. The U.S. has a far higher rate of death from abuse for children than any of those nations. The number of children who die from gun violence is exponentially higher. The U.S. is one of the seven countries with the highest rates of sexual abuse for women: Germany, Italy, and Spain do not make the list, and overall Europe has a significantly lower incidence of sexual abuse than the U.S.
We are not safer. So why are we doing this? Why have we come to believe that these registries are so indispensable that we now want to expand them to other crimes: animal abuse, elder abuse, even drunk driving? We in the United States have far harsher punishments for nearly every crime than the rest of the world, and then, for sex crimes (and, in the future, no doubt many other crimes), we continue to punish people long after their sentence through the use of public humiliation. To what end? Not safer children, because European children are safer, even though they have no public registries and, in general, lower ages of consent. Not less crime, because we have rates of violent crime much higher than the rest of the western world.
We need to admit that we are on the wrong track. Punishing more things, for longer, is not the way to a safer, healthier society. And all we need to do is look to the rest of the world to realized that’s the case. It’s only because so many Americans, including those on the left, are willfully, entirely ignorant of how the rest of the world handles these matters that we have gotten to the place we have. I hope it’s not too late to turn things around.
* Australia, Canada, Ireland, and the UK have registries for some sex offenders–far fewer crimes qualify than in the U.S.–that are, except in Australia, for law enforcement use only. The information is not made publicly available.