Editorial

Do sex offenders deserve a scarlet letter on their passport?

After rousing themselves from the 30-plus-year bad trip that was the war on drugs — or rather, the war on drug users — many Americans in and out of elected office looked around for someone else to persecute. Someone, somewhere, must be so depraved and hateful that liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans could join in common cause to vilify them.

They appear to have found their target: sex offenders. The current case in point is a congressional proposal to alert the nations of the world that particular U.S. citizens who have committed sex offenses against minors are planning to visit. Passports would be specially marked so that other countries could turn travelers away at the border because of old crimes for which they have already served their time in the U.S.

This vindictive bill has been wisely rejected numerous times in the past, but now it's heading to President Obama's desk. He should veto it.

Sex offenses against minors are particularly horrendous crimes. But when offenders have completed their sentences and periods of supervision, there is no more reason to continue hounding and harassing them than convicted murderers or drug traffickers, who don't bear scarlet letters on their passports.

But wait, some supporters argue, people who commit sex crimes against children are a special case. As soon as they've done it once, they'll want more, posing imminent danger to any underage person anywhere. Their front doors should be marked to warn trick-or-treaters. They should be banned from park benches.

This blatantly false argument thrives on ignorance. There are indeed mentally disordered sex offenders whose conditions make them extremely high risks to commit more crimes of the same variety. Some may target minors. But that is far different from saying that anyone convicted of a sex offense against a minor falls into that very narrow category. Corrections officials in California report that most sexual crimes committed by adults against minors occur among family members, and that the rate of recidivism is fairly low.

Sex offenders, sex traffickers, sexual predators — these terms are now routinely conflated by some of the same people who now apologize for waging the war on drugs and who favor efforts to “ban the box,” which would eliminate questions about convictions on employment applications. They would be wise to put down their torches and pitchforks, put on their thinking caps, and remember the value of punishment that fits the crime and allows perpetrators who no longer pose a threat to move on when their debt to society has been paid.

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Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
A version of this article appeared in print on February 03, 2016, in the Opinion section of the Los Angeles Times with the headline "Scarlet letters on passports? - A proposed bill that would make it harder for registered sex offenders to travel is vindictive and unfair." — Today's paperToday's paper | Subscribe
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