Sex Offender Registries invite vigilantism

At his Life on the List blog, Steven Yoder has a couple pieces detailing how sex offender registries lead to vigilante attacks against registrants and their families.

In one post, Yoder lists some of the more egregious examples of vigilantism that occurred in 2017 and explains how the government lists themselves tacitly encourage such actions.

First, the public display of registrants’ personal details—photos, names, addresses, make and model of vehicles, employers–implies that we should consider registrants an ongoing threat. (In fact, their re-offense rates are lower than nearly all groups of ex-offenders.) Second, the public display of their details makes it easy for those bent on doing harm to track them down.

In another post, Yoder asks whether a newspaper’s reporting contributed to an attack on the registrant in Wisconsin.

Last July, the Hudson Star Observer in western Wisconsin wrote a story about a man moving into a building in town. His name was Brandon Langel. He was on the state’s sex offender registry for crimes he’d committed in 2008, for which he spent four years in prison. The paper ran the story because now he’d be moving into a building where three other registrants also lived. 

The paper interviewed a neighbor who lived right across the street. “It’s really concerning,” said Daniel Steltz, who had a wife and child. “The fact that four convicted sex offenders all live about 25 feet from his family’s doorstep is a chilling one for Steltz,” the reporter noted. Steltz said his family hadn’t experienced any problems with them. But now Steltz said he was exploring selling their home. 

Further down in the article, the writer inserted more information about Langel. He was a small man: 5-foot-5 and 152 pounds. A giant photo of him ran at the top of the story. 

Yoder says journalists need to do a better job reporting these stories when fear and emotion often trump facts and logic, often leading to tragic results.

 

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