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Sunday, August 16, 2009

Abdallah Proposes Weakening Sex Offender Laws

If Patricia Stricherz is reading the news this weekend, she can e-mail me and say, "I told you so!" Stricherz, one of the GOP's unsuccessful legislative candidates here in District 8 last year, caught grief from me last October for saying one of her legislative priorities was to relax sex offender registry rules for juvenile offenders.

Now a Republican who manages to win elections, State Senator Gene Abdallah (R-10/Sioux Falls), is calling for making exceptions for juveniles and maybe others on the sex offender list:

"We're looking at the possibility of making exceptions to get off the list after a certain period of time depending on the seriousness of the offense," Abdallah said.

Senator Gene Abdallah is the chairman of the committee looking at the changes. Abdallah says some of the offenders on the sex offender registry don't deserve to be on it their entire life.

"We've had examples of 16 and 18 year olds dating, and he's considered an adult at 18, and she's not, and something happens and he gets on the sex offender registry and is on there for life," Abdallah said [Ben Dunsmoor, "Changes to Sex Offender Registry Considered," KELOLand.com, 2009.08.14].

Something happens... um, Gene, since when did you stop believing in free will and personal responsibility? This sounds dangerously like sexist (yes, check the senator's pronouns) boys-will-be-boys excuse-making. Just how well will "something happened" fly as an excuse for lighter sentences for other crimes?

More hilarity ensues as Abdallah tries to avoid headlines like mine:

Abdallah doesn't want to call it weakening the laws, he says he is still in favor of keeping some of the most serious offenders on the registry for life.

"I'm not in favor of weakening or diluting any laws when it comes to sex offenders or crime for that matter, but I do feel we should be fair," Abdallah said.

Being fair to some of those that are serving an online life sentence, on the sex offender registry* [Dunsmoor, 2009.0814].

I'm o.k. with fairness. I'm willing to have a discussion about whether we can fairly impose on certain criminals lifelong restrictions on where they can live and work. Maybe fairness does require weakening the law (although SDCL 22-24B-19 already spells out a number of criteria that allow offenders to get off the list). But Senator Abdallah does language and logic harm (once again!) with his clumsy word games. Right now, an adult having sex with a child is a sex offender. If Senator Abdallah wants to declare that such an adult is not a criminal, or is a less heinous criminal, just because the adult is dating that child or is in love with that child, then he should just say so and call his proposal what it is: a weakening of the sex offender law.

*Dang it, there's another one of those sloppy KELO sentence fragments!


  1. I never thought I'd find myself completely agreeing with Gene Abdallah and totally disagreeing with you, but the injustice of our current sex offender laws troubles me to no end. Punishing someone for a lifetime -- making them a pariah who can't live or work in a whole host of places, putting their picture on a website for their neighbors to see without any real context -- for engaging in a consensual relationship serves no social or penal purpose.

    Unfortunately, too much is mandated at the federal level and can't really be changed by our legislature. If I had my way, we'd completely do away with the registry all together. If someone is a rapist and such a danger to society that they need to be monitored for the rest of their lives (not something we do for released murderers, BTW), we should make the sentence for rape life in prison. But too many of our "sex offenders" are actually just victims of our puritanical sex laws.

    Judith Levine's "Harmful to Minors" is a great book that addresses the unfairness and inherent sexism present in so many of these archaic laws and sentencing structures.

  2. Fear not, Kelsey: our disagreement may not be total. As I said, I'm open to a discussion of what constitutes fair punishment. You make a very strong case for why the punishment we dish out on sex offenders is absurdly strict compared to what we do to other criminals who pose an equal or greater threat to the general welfare. You also make an interesting point that our laws and sentencing structures may be as sexist as the apparent "boys will be boys" thinking in the example that leaps to Abdallah's mind when justifying this weakening of the current laws.

  3. How can you weaken something that is already totally ineffective and protects no one.

    Sex offender laws that "Do More Harm Than Good!"

    Every one of these laws have not one iota of "evidence based research."

    They are all "knee jerk,"feel good" laws that ENDANGER children and the whole of our society.

    When ever a child is abused sexually, I am holding the law makers responsible because they have all failed the children and we are totally wasting millions upon million of dollars of our hard earned money.

    These laws ALL need to be scrapped and laws based on research as their foundation need to take their place.

    States need to form a "Task Force" to study all the research in order that the law makers be advised as to how to better write sex offender laws.

    Just how dangerous these laws are to children and society is mind boggling. These laws lack even common sense. It is time to start laying the blame for murder and child sex abuse on out law makers because the laws as they are written ENDANGER our children, They do absolutely nothing to protect even one child.

  4. Christine Nelson8/17/2009 9:42 PM

    Note about above commenter:

    Scary people read your blog.


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