States Are Rushing to Curb Sex Crimes California Leads Way with Crackdown on Statutory Rape, Use of 'Chemical Castration'

Article excerpt

Despite statistics that show a decline in rape and other violent sex crimes nationwide, a wave of preventative and punitive laws is sweeping the country to put the public at ease and sexual offenders in their place.

In the vanguard of these controversial initiatives is California. Second in the nation for unwed teenage pregnancies, the state is beefing up enforcement of rarely used statutory rape laws, cracking down on adult men who sexually exploit young girls.

Last week, California also became the first state to mandate the use of sex-drive-suppressing drugs for molesters - a move that is expected to spawn similar measures in other states despite the threat of constitutional challenges. The so-called "chemical castration" law requires repeat offenders to be periodically injected with substances shown to curb libido. "As has happened in the past with assault and kidnapping laws, the country is racing to get tough on sexual psychopaths after a wave of high-profile cases," says Dean Wright, a professor of sociology at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, and chair of a state criminal and juvenile justice advisory council. "Anything that involves sexual deviance and children hits a raw nerve and you can expect lightning-bolt reaction." Cause of the crackdown One lightning bolt that has spurred much of the recent legislation struck in July 1994 after the murder of seven-year-old Megan Kanda by her New Jersey neighbor, a convicted child molester. The federal crime bill signed that year by Bill Clinton mandated states to require sexual offenders released from prison to register with law-enforcement agencies. It also encouraged states to authorize release of "relevant" information to the public when necessary for protection. Because the law set a two-year time limit, and the deadline is up in January, states are rushing to implement various forms of registries requiring sexual offenders to notify authorities in the communities where they settle after prison so that neighbors are aware of their presence. Twenty-six states have adopted some form of registry in the past 24 months. All 50 states now have some form of registry. "We are seeing a flurry of activity right now by states who need to make the deadline so they don't lose crime-control funds from the federal government," says Scott Matson, a researcher for the Washington state Institute for Public Policy, which tracks sex-offender registry laws. National registry The Clinton administration is also pushing for an FBI-administered central data-bank that tracks offenders from state to state. "That will make it much more difficult for child predators and sex offenders to operate - because secrecy has always been a major weapon in their ability to continue," says Bob Lee, director of the Jacob Wetterling Foundation, a group that supports community notification. Legal challenges to registration in some states have led to court decisions upholding their constitutionality. Judges have found that registration is not a form of punishment and therefore not subject to eighth amendment prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment, though the practices remains controversial among civil libertarians and others. …


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