Unofficial sex-offender registry raises risk of vigilantism

The unofficial registry of convicted sex offenders is nothing more than harassment and more punishment for former offenders who have already served their time (Unofficial registry of sex offenders draws mixed views; July 15).

It needs to be removed so that people who have this stigma attached to their name can have a hope of living a normal, law-abiding life, just like other released offenders.

Unless they are recalcitrant and violent offenders, why should they be forced to wear the scarlet letter even after they have served their time?

Such an unofficial registry is based on the myth of high sex-offender recidivism and that all sex offenders pose a risk to children.

Of course, no one wants to be seen as soft on sex crime and who doesn't want to protect children from harm?

But, there is little evidence that this form of community notification prevents sexual violence.

Publishing the names and personal information of sex offenders, who may never commit another sex crime, opens up the offenders and their families - including minor children - to vigilante violence. The registry can also hinder the rights of former offenders, and make it difficult for them to integrate back into society in a productive way.

Unfortunately, the media has ignored the extensive, empirical research on the subject of sex crime, choosing instead to highlight the many problems with a broad-brush approach, and the public is incorrectly led to believe that such a registry will somehow protect children from harm.

On the other hand, publishing the names and personal information of sex offenders, who may never commit another sex crime, opens up the offenders and their families - including minor children - to vigilante violence.

The registry can also hinder the rights of former offenders, and make it difficult for them to integrate into society in a productive way.

We shouldn't think that sex offenders have some mysterious psychopathology that makes them inevitably repeat the offences.

We should not terrorise ourselves with the wild fantasy that they pose an ever-present danger.

All of us have made unconscionable and deeply hurtful mistakes. It is a mark of maturity if we can look back at them with humility and remorse.

Most sex offenders are exactly the same: They change. Giving them a second chance is not grace; it is simple decency.

Cheng Choon Fei

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 26, 2018, with the headline 'Unofficial sex-offender registry raises risk of vigilantism'. Print Edition | Subscribe