As of March 1, there were nearly 63,000 persons on Texas’ sex offender database, which adds 100 names each week, reports the Austin Chronicle. The database includes not only serial rapists and pedophiles but also thousands of offenders whose conduct, while considered criminal because the girls involved were younger than the legal age of consent (in Texas, that’s 17), is hardly as alarming as that of a middle-aged man with a demonstrable sexual penchant for prepubescent girls – the sort of predator that in theory the laws target.
The registry includes “Romeo and Juliet” cases – youthful, consensual relationships – but others caught in the criminal justice web for offenses like indecent exposure.”The public in general only hears, ‘He’s a registered sex offender.’ Through ignorance, they believe that is synonymous with ‘sexual predator,'” says Austin Police Department Lt. Greg Moss. “Registered sex offenders are not only sexual predators.” Of those on Austin’s list, Moss estimates that just 10% are “your sexually violent predators,” those folks who “we should be proactively monitoring, to ensure they’re abiding by probation and parole.” A growing body of research on the effect of broad sex offender laws reflects that requiring thousands of individuals to register for increasingly long periods of time actually undermines public safety. “That’s what the current science is telling us,” says Liles Arnold, a sex offender treatment provider and chair of the state’s Council on Sex Offender Treatment. Research reflects that the restrictions placed on individuals by the municipalities where they live – such as barring individuals from living near schools, parks, or in a home with young children, even if they’re the offender’s own children or siblings – create extensive collateral damage. “There are a growing number of registrants, not just in Texas but across the country,” says Arnold. But there’s no “delineation of who is dangerous or not.”