Sexual offenders are people who have committed sex crimes. They are also called sex offenders, sexual abusers, or sex abusers. However, these sex crimes are relative to culture and legal jurisdiction. Most law systems bring together their laws under sections like assault, murder, or even sexual offenses amongst other sections. Most of the sexual offenders are convicted for crimes that are sexual, while a few others have been convicted for breaching a law outlined in a sexual category.
There are crime titles that lead to mandatory sex-offender classification such as second prostitution, “sexting” referring to sending obscene messages in SMS form, sexual relationships between teenagers and young adults where there is any evidence of an age gap exceeding one thousand and sixty days, sexual predators, and child molestation (Duwe, et.al, 2008, p.486). There are also other serious offenses, which comprise rape, statutory rape, sex assault, sexual predation, pandering obscenity, child sex abuse, and sexual imposition. This paper is thus an exploration of the issue of sex offenders in the state of Florida by looking at the main problems being faced. Later on in the paper, the management and solutions of the problems will be discussed.
Sexual offenses bill in Florida
In Florida State, the terminology sexual offender is used to describe those offenders that are subject to registration as stated by the Florida statute. This is also inclusive of the juvenile sex offenders delinquents required to register as per the requirements of the federal Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006. In Florida, each qualifying sexual offender and predator must register. Failure to register as a sexual offender or predator as per provisions of the law, one is charged with a crime classified as a third-degree felony. The title or the description of an individual as a sexual offender or even predator is not a ruling nor a sentence but a status emanating from the conviction of particular crimes. This is according to the Florida statutes section 775.21, 943.0435, and 944.607.
According to a Florida law that was effected on 1st July 1996, which provides that the Florida Department of Law Enforcement shall keep an up-to-date record of Sexual Predators after a written designation from the courts as a sexual offender according to the definitions of the Florida statute. According to chapter 97, section 299 of the Florida laws, some specified sexual offenders are required to forthwith register with or even enclose information brought together by the Department of Corrections or the Department of Juvenile Justice, which will be presented to FDLE. Florida law avails this information to the public. The site then gives the public information as regards mutually Sexual Predators as well as Offenders.
According to the Sherriff or chief of the police, section 775.21, community notification of recorded and listed sexual Predators is mandatory. In this case, the sexual predator sets up or upholds either a lasting or a temporary abode, in a way considered suitable by the sheriff or chief. However, for sexual offenders community notification is only authorized but not legally mandatory according to section 943.
Notice of criminal violation also arises from the use of those materials of the available public records or information or distribution of false information. This is defined as any individual who misuses information in the public records regarding a sexual offender or predator as per the definitions of sections 943 and 944.607, to obtain payment from the sexual offender or predator. It also includes any individual who deliberately circulates or publishes information involving an offender or a predator, which the individual feigns as authentic information in the public records.
Finally, materially changing information from the public records to misrepresent information amounts to a first-degree misdemeanor according to section 775.21, article 10 of the Florida statutes. This includes documents or abstracts of public records, supplied through law enforcement agencies or information shown on websites or presented in any other means of communication by the law enforcement agencies.
The main problems facing the state and the causes of the problems
Challenges facing the state in the management issues of sexual offenders are ranging from registration, recidivism, technology, conflict of interests, and so on. To start with, even though the cases of sexual abuse especially for children have slightly gone down and similar increase in the number of state legal jurisdictions there remains a lot to be done. For instance, most sexual offenders are punished by parole supervision or probation. They, therefore, remain in the community even after the incarceration. As a result, identifying these offenders from amongst the community remains a challenge in developing measures to ensure public safety.
Therefore, the lawmaking agencies still struggle on the ways and means of keeping unintended consequences or outcomes to a minimum and at the same time developing laws that guarantee the safety of the public. The biggest problem has been clear-cut ways of distinguishing these sex offenders from the public to eliminate fear from the public. Several legislations have come through that require registration of sexual offenders, display of their names on websites and so on but physically there are still some gaps. However, the legislative bodies should be careful not to be overzealous in this quest to control sexual offenders, which could end up creating new victims (Sample, & Kadleck, 2008, p.45).
Another challenge lies in the complexity and the diverse nature of the sexual offender population. Despite the widely known description of sex offenders as a single group, the population consists of varied natures of persons who have been involved in a different and wide range of sexual crimes. For instance, while generally referring to the title sexual offender, it may be used to mean both the grown-up serial rapist and similarly be referring to a much young relative who got involved in a sexual play with a much younger relation (Sample & Kadleck, 2008, p. 54).
These differences between various groups of sexual offenders are however quite significant. CSOM (Center for Sexual Offenders Management) reports that re-offense rates differ between various types or groups of sexual offenders as they are linked to the particular distinctiveness of both the offender and the offense. This variation is also recorded in the case of recidivism patterns between different types of sexual offenders. For instance, child molesters are twice more likely to be reconvicted for non-sexual offenses than sexual offenses.
Additionally, rapists are even more prone to re-conviction of non-sexual offenses. Therefore, there are different groups of sexual offenders and they pose varying risk levels to the community. Therefore treating them as the same may lead to the failure of achieving both justice and public safety because they are heterogeneous groups whose treatment should not be individualized.
The state faces a challenge in the monitoring of sexual offenders amid the technological changes in the modern world. Technological innovations occupy center stage in the management and monitoring of sexual offenders. Florida and several other states have authorized the use of devices of the Global Positioning System to monitor the movements of sexual offenders. However, the challenge lies in the constant evolution of ever-rising technologies.
Therefore, there is a dilemma as to what specific technology will be used in tracking and monitoring sex offenders. On the other hand, policymakers and lawmakers are skeptical of the specifying of the technology to be used in the monitoring with the current high-tech innovations. Today’s technology may not be appropriate tomorrow therefore; it has been left to the corrections officer to decide on the technology or the suitable tracking device. Furthermore, the application of such expertise places massive resource demands on state resources. Equipment to track and watch offenders, such as GPS devices, is usually rather costly. Moreover, its application requires extra resources, as well as staff to keep an eye on the position and location of offenders, increased human resource requirements in the justice system to take action against offenders in proscribed areas, and further resources for wide-ranging protection of offenders and maintenance.
Inter-jurisdictional issues pose extra unique challenges for lawmakers and policymakers. These pose challenges in terms of tracking and monitoring, registration, and legal jurisdiction of the laws governing sex offenders. For instance, when more than 2000 registered sexual offenders were removed from the Gulf Coast at some stage in Hurricane Katrina, it brought to light the difficulties emanating from cross-jurisdictional boundaries to ensure monitoring and tracking.
Different states have different laws governing sexual offenses and therefore are their laws. Dissimilar state sex offender acts generate further challenges in tracking and monitoring sexual offenders transversely along the state lines. With the new passage of regulations, there is a concern that sexual offenders will move to other states where sexual crime laws are less strict. According to various researchers and officials, this has already been recorded and evidenced. For instance, Nebraska once reported a high influx of sexual offenders relocating from Iowa. For instance, Iowa legislated that people who have victimized or molested children should not live at least 2000 feet from a childcare center or a school (Duwe, et.al, 2008, p.500).
Therefore, there is a need for coordination between Florida and other states. If the laws are strict in a given state, sexual offenders will move to other jurisdictions whose laws are less rigid and without complying with the registration requirements of the state. For each high-risk sexual offender, the state loses track of, the capacity to watch and control unsuitable actions is lost, and there is an increased risk of a recur of the sexual offense crime in Florida as put by Lloyd.
Lack of confidence from the public has been the key policy challenge facing the state. Despite increased efforts and legislation since the 1990s, the state has not been able to win over the confidence of the people especially regarding their willingness and commitment to fight sexual crimes as well as enhancing the safety of the public (Roberts and Stalans, 1997). Many people still believe that the state makes it easy for the sexual offenders to get away with criminal activities and has not guaranteed the safety of the people, especially children. The memories of Jessica Lunsford a nine-year-old girl who was abducted, assaulted, and murdered by a convicted sex offender in Florida in 2005 and the 11-year-old Jacob is still fresh in the memory of Americans. This saw the enactment of the Jessica Lunsford Act that saw the minimum penalties for child sex abuse increase.
Such cases have seen legislation that is more stringent but this has not been enough in winning public confidence and assurance. This has seen the state place sexual offenders and predators as one of the key public policy priorities in Florida and the whole of the United States. More suspicion and debates have been sparked by the need to ensure the clear identification of sexual offenders. At one time, there was a suggestion that sexual offenders should have pink number plates on their automobiles for identification. However, the state has the mandate to balance both the short and long-term impacts of such legislation on the people and the offenders (Duwe, et.al, 2008, p.486). Very drastic and uncalculated measures would create more problems other than enhancing public safety by creating new sex offenders or increased relocation of the offenders.
There is also a lot of controversy surrounding the assessment of risk offenders’ performance especially under Sexually Violent Persons (SVP). Some people are for the argument that they are unfair to the offenders, financially expensive for the state and simply a bad public policy (Campbell, 2007, p.304). There are also questions raised on the efficiency of the tests carried out for sexually violent persons as a section of the population argues that they have not been adequately validated and consistent in the field environment to sustain SVP commitments. There have been sharp criticisms from psychologists on the existing set of inert and dynamic risk factors applied or utilized in
SVP assessments, alleging that the assessments are incomplete and do not provide an in-depth understanding. Campbell 2007 contented that widespread troubles with the actuarial devices proscribe them from existing in either adequate scientific analysis or full admission of their weaknesses while fashioning the false impression for courts of exactitude and accuracy. According to several scholars, there is an argument that the evaluator or assessor is biased and errors are overstated when evaluators under-report threat or risk decline factors or where the evaluators get overconfident in coming up with clinical results (Campbell, 2007, p.310).
Such factors coupled with factors, low inter-rater dependability; extra weaken the trustworthiness of SVP assessments. They have also questioned the effectiveness of sexual offenders’ treatment programs. Their proponents were that there is no current accord on suitable points of offender treatment. Sexual offender treatment in a pre-release situation does not satisfactorily set up an offender ready in support of the stressors in the outside world (Lafond, 2005). These criticisms may have a greater impact on the public confidence in the judicial system regarding sexual offenses. However, some critics do not even have data or facts supporting the arguments, especially on SVP evaluation analysis and methodologies.
There are many public misconceptions when it comes to sexual offenses jurisdiction. Public perceptions on sexual offenses make it difficult for the state to have successful treatment programs and management of sexual offenders. This is also shaped by the role of media in reporting sex abuse cases. Most of the information that the public has is sourced from the media, which at times is exaggerated for selling news.
The way the media has treated the past cases of sexual violence and offenses has had a great impact on public opinion. The media has also served to escalate public fear of sexual offenses due to the mode of reporting. The attitude of the community to sexual offenders has also made it difficult to cope even after incarceration. Various researches have indicated that many people consistently view crime as ever-increasing especially during crimes of violence. They also overestimate the number of cases or crimes that have been reported involving sexual violence. They also overestimate the proportion of crime offenders recorded for re-offending (Levenson & D’Amora, 2007, p.175).
Recidivism and underreporting of sexual offenses are, however, the biggest challenges for the Florida system of managing sexual offenders. One of the major problems is that recidivism cases are highly under-reported as shown by research that revealed these cases are rarely reported to the police. In addition to this, the victims also rarely report the cases to those close to them or authorities. Recidivism refers to re-offending after one has already been defined as a sexual offender. Therefore, it is difficult to get the actual number of cases of recidivism. It is also difficult to monitor the trends of re-offending because they vary among the different groups of sexual offenders.
However, people that drop out of the treatment programs, people who have never married or attacked strangers, offenders having multiple and diverse sexual offenses, and so on record have higher probabilities. Recidivism is not as high in sexual offenses according to research but its causes cannot be established whether it is caused by the under-reporting, rehabilitation, or incarceration (Levenson & D’Amora, 2007, p.170).
Possible solutions to the challenges and their outcomes
The challenges facing the management of issues surrounding sexual offenders are many and quite intricate for any state. Despite the increased legislation, there are still many challenges to a great extent that the state has been pushed to prioritize sexual offenses as a key policy issue (Edwards& Hensley, 2001, p. 85). Definitely, policy measures are required to enhance public safety and this can be solved by widening the scope of the legislation to ensure compliance.
For instance, certain specific laws are meant to tackle multiple interests of the sexual offense regulations. This can be solved by widening the scope of the legislation to ensure that every category or group of sexual offenses has respective and particular laws that address them. Sexual offenses are wide as well the groups of sexual offenders therefore their treatment cannot be generalized (Petersilia, 2003). For instance, offenders who have recorded recidivism should not be treated as first-time offenders; there should be more stringent and severe laws for such offenders. Florida should also make community notification compulsory for sexual offenders (Craissati, 2004).
There is also a need to enhance public confidence and awareness in the management of sexual offenders. This can be achieved through a better level of inner confidence in lawmaking along with other policy judgments on the subject of sex offender management. There is also a need to enhance the advisory influence to external stakeholders concerning the motivation principal to sexual offenders’ management decisions, policies, as well as practices (Edwards& Hensley, 2001, p. 85).
Lawmakers and policy measures should consider coherent employment of resources that are capable of maximizing the impact and preferred outcomes in the sexual offenders’ management structure, whether motivated by objectives of deterrence, sentence, incapacitation, as well as rehabilitation (Edwards& Hensley, 2001, p. 85). The management system should enhance accountability meant for the system relating to the evaluation of the impact and efficacy of the existing policies through continuing research and observation, moreover making well-versed policy adjustments for that reason (Lafond, 2005).
The management system of sexual offenders should also be geared towards the reformation aspect of the offenders. It is not enough to incarcerate offenders, put them on parole or under probation to deter sexual abuse. Cognitively, sexual offenders have underlying cognitive, psychological, mental, and emotional problems that need to be addressed not just for their sake but also for the sake of the society; they live in (Craissati, 2004). This can be well achieved using treatment programs that factor in all these issues. Treatment programs should help them solve those problems as they equip them with the capacity to cope with society given the expected attitudes from society.
They should therefore address denial of the offenses and acknowledge the need for treatment and handling anger management. They should be equipped with social skills and personality developments that will help them form or establish intimate relationships (Craissati, 2004).
Following the new legislation by Florida, there have been cases of individuals relocating to other states that have less stringent measures. In these new regions or states, they will not be registered and will not have to comply with community notification. In other cases, they can also continue perpetuating the same offenses. Therefore, there is a need to harmonize the state laws so that they are uniform all through the United States. The management system should recommend the nature, scale, and extent of sexual victimization in different states (Miller et al., 2007, p. 489).
For instance, the character of the sexual offenders’ population, the category of sexual crimes, in addition to the persons who are mistreated should be looked at keenly. Just as there are multidisciplinary actions for sexual offenders set up by legislatures through the management boards plus committees made up of representatives from all the components of the system, there should be management committees from all states aimed at achieving a standardized system of sexual offenses provisions (Miller et al., 2007, p. 490).
Florida State has undoubtedly tried to manage issues of sexual Offenders especially in terms of legislation, community notification, treatment programs, and registration and publishing of those titled as sexual offenders. They can however improve these measures by coming up with risk-based management policies. These can take the form of pronouncing longer prison terms for sexual offenders causing a bigger risk of recidivism, and consenting to substitute sentencing alternatives for lesser risky sex offenders (Petersilia, 2003). They can also set aside exhaustive supervision, life supervision, in addition to GPS tracking tactics for greater risk sexual offenders.
They should consider instituting a range of sexual offenders’ management and treatment programs from the scale of greater intensity prison-based sentences to community-based programs, and corresponding offenders to another programming founded on the level of risk. Finally, the management system can create tiered registration systems as well as notification based on empirically derived risk levels, which take into consideration the wide range of applicability, scope, moreover the periods of doing the registration, over and above conflicting strategies for community notification.
In conclusion, Florida states management of sexual offenders has faced several challenges in terms of policy and practice. It is also notable that the state has made great strides in legislating laws as well as initiating policies that are meant to address the issues that threaten public safety and loss of lives, especially for children. Florida has come with key policies in terms of communication notification and registration of sexual offenders and other key laws especially in the memory of Jessica Lunsford. There is therefore a great need for both the officials and the public to be informed on the importance of these management policies for sexual offenders (Edwards& Hensley, 2001, p. 85).
Smart decisions have to be made regarding the principles that touch on public safety that is based on evidence, as well as a system of education that will educate the public on abuse prevention and relating to offenders as well as safeguarding patterns for parents to protect their children (Miller et al., 2007, p. 491). There is a need to collaborate between states to be able to share information and best practices in a bid to address the challenges of inter-jurisdiction.
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