Bill targets rape offenders

Legislation passed by the House of Representatives in June would require federally-funded colleges and universities to release information about campus sex offenders if passed in the Senate.

Campus Protection Act, sponsored by Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.), would amend the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 to permit the release of such information. The bill would require states to collect data on sex offenders and notify college and universities and their affiliated law enforcement agencies. The schools would then distribute this data to the student body.

The legislation is designed to be an extension of Megan’s Law, named for a seven-year-old New Jersey girl who was strangled and raped by a convicted sex offender living across the street in 1994.

Every state has some form of a Megan’s Law notification, which provides information about the whereabouts of sex offenders.

It’s hard for me to imagine how (the notification process) could be done carefully and well and in a supportive way to help an individual, said Fran Henry, chair of public policy for the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers. I don’t think we should single out sex offenders.

Henry said a broad-based notification system would thwart the rehabilitation process for certain offenders. She favors a three-tier approach similar to Megan’s Law, which takes into account the individual’s circumstances and heightens the level of alert and disclosure based on that information.

Henry said most sex offenders undergo a treatment plan, which requires them to inform close friends and neighbors about their criminal background. The intent is to bring others into their rehabilitation process.

This is part of someone’s character and showing how someone overcame this can be a testament to your strength and commitment, she said.

Dr. David Silber, chair of the GW’s psychology department, said he is cautious about blanket laws like Megan’s Law and Salmon’s legislation.

I’m very, very suspicious of any kind of regulation that is a general one and doesn’t allow for specific circumstances, Silber said. It takes away discretion on knowing something about the individuals.

Under most Megan’s Law provisions, there is a three-tier system of notification. Level I offenders are considered the least likely to re-offend, while Level II violators fall in between and Level III offenders are deemed to have the highest risk factors.

Information about the individuals is distributed based on their ranking in the three-tier system.

Silber said he disagrees with the absolute categorizing of offenders.

I think is it is unproductive to make generalizations and general laws like these, he said. The trouble with all these blanket laws is that they don’t take into account the individual circumstances of the person that’s involved.

Both Henry and Silber said that repeat offenders and individuals such as convicted pedophiles should be evaluated in a manner that safeguards the larger community. A different evaluative approach should be used for first-time offenders, they said.

Salmon said no sex offender should go unnoticed.

Convicted sex offenders aren’t allowed to conceal their identity when they are off campus, he said. Clearly, they shouldn’t be allowed to conceal it when they are on campus.

The Senate has not taken up a companion measure to the bill.

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