LETTER TO THE EDITOR
Sir – I support the NT Law Society’s concerns about the proposed public sex offender register.
The problem with a public register is that it causes an enormous amount of collateral damage just to give the appearance of getting tough on crime.
The first issue is the privacy and safety of victims. Victims of child sexual offences are overwhelmingly someone close to the offender, so publicising the offender’s identity will frequently make it possible to guess the victim’s identity.
The new legislation requires child victims and their carers to make a case to a board of senior government executives for a person not to be placed on the register, adding an additional traumatic process to the “life sentence” the victim already suffers as a result of the offending.
Then there are the risks to innocent persons connected to offenders. It is well documented that families of offenders on these registers are often bullied and their homes are attacked or defaced. There is no ability for the needs of an offender’s family to be taken into account before a person is published on the register.
This will impact ordinary parents of teenagers who make unwise choices. A 17 year old who is found guilty of two consensual sexual encounters with his 14 year old girlfriend will have his photo published on the register once he turns 18. The consequences to him and his family are likely to be devastating.
There is also a risk of vigilante abuse for people who look like someone on the register, particularly if they are from a different racial group, when mistaken identity can more easily happen.
Although there are offences for vigilante behaviour, it will be difficult for police to protect families or individuals against random acts of abuse or violence, or to prove the vigilantes were motivated by the register.
These risks to so many innocent people cannot be justified when research shows that public sex offender registers do nothing to protect children, and may actually increase the rate of child sexual abuse.
The evidence shows that sex offenders are less likely to re-offend when they live in a supported environment. When public sex offender registers are introduced, many offenders are forced to leave stable residences. Which is safer: a sex offender being quietly monitored by Police at a fixed address, or a marginalised sex offender with no support network and no fixed address?
Finally, many sex offences are never reported and charges can be difficult to prove. The public register will only show persons who have been found guilty of offences. This limits its usefulness to parents, and may even cause people to underestimate the risks posed by persons who are not on the register.
The community wants children to be genuinely safer, not just to be given an illusion of safety.
NT Information Commissioner
LETTER TO THE EDITOR