May 01, 2013
Child safety activist questions the wisdom of sex offender laws
"An early advocate of sex offender registration laws has expressed doubts about the increasing severity of such laws in recent years.
Eleven-year-old son Jacob Wetterling made national headlines after he was abducted at gunpoint in 1989 and never seen again. In the years following the abduction, Jacob's mother, Patty Wetterling, was instrumental in the widespread enactment of sex offender registration laws in the United States. In a recent interview, however, Wetterling explained her growing concerns about how these laws have evolved and the negative impact they may be having on public safety -- as well as on many of the individuals required to register as sex offenders. Given Wetterling's personal history, her criticisms of the current sex offender laws carry particular weight.
The Jacob Wetterling Act
The Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Act was passed in 1994, requiring each state to maintain a registry of convicted sex offenders and their whereabouts after they are being release from prison. At first, the law allowed states to decide for themselves whether to make the information in the registry publicly available. Two years later, however, Congress passed an amendment, known as Megan's Law, which requires states to notify community members when a registered sex offender moves into an area.
As described by City Pages, an alternative news weekly in Minnesota, Wetterling's home state, early sex offender registration laws were vastly different from those in effect today, and their application was substantially more limited. In their original form, sex offender registration laws were to be used only by law enforcement as a tool for narrowing down potential suspects. Over time, however, these laws have grown increasingly punitive and expansive in their scope -- to such an extent that Wetterling herself has grown increasingly critical of them."