False Perceptions Lead to Housing Restrictions
Housing Restrictions on Sex Offenders Spread Even as Evidence Shows They Don’t Work
Psychologists who have treated sex offenders, such as Gerry Blasingame, chair of the California Coalition on Sexual Offending, say the impetus behind the laws — the belief that offenders who have been released will continue to seek out child victims who they do not know — is more perception than reality. Most perpetrators abuse children they know; just one in 10 perpetrators of child sex abuse is a stranger to the victim.
There may be merit in restricting housing for sex offenders who victimized a child they did not know, Socia said. But these laws often apply to all registered sex offenders, including anyone convicted of a sex crime, even nonviolent offenses such as indecent exposure and statutory rape.
California stopped enforcing its blanket rule requiring offenders to stay 2,000 feet from schools and parks statewide last year, after the state Supreme Court ruled in March 2015 that the law imposed unconstitutional restrictions on paroled sex offenders in San Diego County. The restrictions made 97 percent of rental housing there unavailable to offenders. And, the court found, that contributed to homelessness, and hindered the parolees’ access to medical, drug and alcohol treatment, counseling and social services.
Following the court decision, the state started to enforce the rules on a case-by-case basis. As of October, a third of the 5,901 offenders in the state needed restrictions and the rest didn’t, the state found. From February 2015 to October 2015, the number of transient sex offenders without a permanent address fell by 20 percent, from 1,319 to 1,057.
In the last couple of years, the number of sex offenders living on the streets of Milwaukee has skyrocketed, from 16 to 205. The sharp increase comes as no surprise to some. There are few places for them to live.
Cities and states continue to enact laws that restrict where convicted sex offenders can live, applying the rules to violent offenders such as pedophiles and rapists, and, in some cases, those convicted of nonviolent sex crimes, such as indecent exposure. [Palm Coast, Ormond Beach, Deltona and Daytona Beach, among others locally, all enacted 2,500-foot restrictions in the late 2000s.]
They are doing so despite studies that show the laws can make more offenders homeless, or make it more likely they will falsely report or not disclose where they are living. And though the laws are meant to protect children from being victimized by repeat offenders, they do not reduce the likelihood that sex offenders will be convicted again for sexual offenses, according to multiple studies, including one from the U.S. Department of Justice.
Restrictions can have the opposite of their intended effect, encouraging offenders to abuse again.
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