The absurdity of sex-offender free zones

This morning’s New York Times reported that a judge in Georgia has temporarily blocked the state of Georgia from enforcing a law preventing sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of a bus stop. According to the very brief item, there is virtually no housing where sex offenders could live without breaking the law, and this would result in making approximately 9,000 offenders and their families homeless.

Some questions about the Georgia law:

1. Why prevent only sex offenders from living in a neighborhood? Why not burglars or batterers or murderers as well?

2. How will this law really make children safer from sexual violence when so many instances of sexual violence are unreported, thus not resulting in the perpetrator being registered on any sex offender list, and when so many instances of sexual violence are perpetrated not by strangers but rather by trusted acquaintances?

Even if the Georgia law is ultimately revised or overturned, there are private attempts to do the same thing. The Kansas City Star reported on June 13 about a private housing development where registered sex offenders would be prevented from buying homes and where homeowners who were later convicted of sex offences would be fined each day until they moved. The article talks about a similar development in Lubbock, Texas.

This is more evidence that we treat sex differently than anything else. Here we’re treating sex crimes differently from all other crimes. If a person murdered a child he or she could move into the development or live near the bus stop, but if a person was instead convicted of fondled a child he or she could not. Which is ultimately more harmful? Why do we believe that sex offences are so much worse than any other kind of crime?

And another question to consider, and one that will come up again in future posts, I’m sure: why do we treat all claims about “protecting children” in the public sphere as if they are virtually unquestionable? I will blog about this in the future, but I will say here that I think our ability to protect children is reduced, not strengthened, when we give way to moral panics about the harmfulness of strangers.

1 Comment

Filed under News and politics, News..., public discourse, sex

One response to “The absurdity of sex-offender free zones

  1. A lawyer friend of mine reminds me that another problem with rules like this (and even like the sex offender registry lists that I’ve also written about) is that they can be construed as punishment in advance of a crime that has not yet been (and may not be) committed. Generally speaking this is anathema to our philosophy of justice that punishes people only after they have been found guilty of a crime.

    Of course you could, I suppose, try to argue regarding the sex offender registry lists that they are now built into the sentencing process so that they are linked to the past crime not the potential future crime, but certainly these housing convenents do not fit that description. This same friend also points out that housing covenents have been notoriously hard to enforce. I’d like to hear more about that.