By Tamara Lave . . .
What sounds like a good law in a twenty-second sound bite sometimes turns out to be less clear when one digs below the surface. Such is the case with International Megan’s Law, which President Obama recently signed into law. International Megan’s Law requires those who committed a sex offense against a child to have a permanent stamp placed on their passport. While this may sound like a no-brainer if we consider the media’s portrayal of the sexual predator, reality is far more complicated.
International Megan’s Law means a teenager who was convicted of distributing child pornography for sexting with her boyfriend may not be allowed to do a semester abroad in college. A budding architect who plead no contest to child molestation for having sex with his freshman girlfriend when he was a high school senior may never be able to marvel at the Grand Pyramids. A father may not be permitted to cheer on his daughter as she competes for her country in the Olympics because he touched a 12-year-old boy over the clothes some thirty years ago and has remained law abiding ever since.
The stated rationale for International Megan’s Law is two fold: (1) Individuals who have offended against a child pose an extremely high risk of reoffending, and (2) Megan’s Law will stop them from doing so.
The first premise (dangerousness) is demonstrably false. Study after study has shown that sex offenders actually have a low recidivism rate. A 2003 Department of Justice study followed 9,691 sex offenders released from prison in 15 states across the country. It found just 5.3% were rearrested for a new sex crime within 3 years, and only 3.3% of child molesters were rearrested for a new sex crime against a child.(Source.) Juveniles pose even less of a risk. A 2009 study of 1,275 juvenile male sex offenders in South Carolina found just 7% were rearrested for a new sex crime within nine years of original offense.(Source.) Women pose the lowest threat. A 2010 meta-analysis of ten studies found only 1% to 3% of women recidivated sexually.(Source.) This premise also ignores that what counts as a sex offense against a child can include a high school senior having sex with his 15-year-old girlfriend, behavior that should be discouraged but which does not deserve the designation of international pariah.
The second premise (effectiveness) is wrong as well. Studies show that Megan’s Law has had little to no impact on the incidence of sex offending. Indeed a 2008 analysis by the Department of Corrections in New Jersey concluded, “Given the lack of demonstrated effect of Megan’s Law, the researchers are hard-pressed to determine that the escalating costs are justifiable.” (Source.)
Read the rest of the article at the Huffington Post.