Someone sent me a link to a sex offender registry in a mass email recently. The registry maps your address and shows you the location of your local sex offenders' homes and workplaces. If you click on one of those links, it shows you a name, photo and vague category of crime. Suddenly people I barely know are hitting "reply all" to discuss who lives near them. I was a little surprised by how upset this made me, even before someone started making jokes.
First and foremost, I have very little faith in our criminal justice system. Just because someone was convicted of something doesn't mean they actually did it. Just because someone hasn't been convicted of something doesn't mean they haven't done anything wrong. Don't forget that sexual assaults are notoriously under-reported.
Secondly, sex offender registries frighten people, but do they really help people identify others as potential threats? The majority of sexual assault victims already know their attackers, often intimately. Doing a background check on someone you know is far more likely to produce useful information than looking at a map of your neighborhood.
Also, if we take a prison term to have some sort of meaning, then once someone is released, shouldn't they be able to move on with their lives and be able to retain some rights? Like not having their photographs, names, home and/or work addresses posted on the Internet putting them at risk for vigilante justice?
Lastly, and probably most importantly, sex offender registries are anathema to the idea of rehabilitation. Our justice system is already overly dominated by ideas of retribution and punishment which, in my mind, correlates strongly with the absurdly high rates of recidivism.
I'd like to see a world without violence, sexual or otherwise, but sex offender registries aren't helping to build that world.
P.S. Don't make jokes about sex abuse, especially to strangers. Chances are pretty high you're talking to a survivor.