Whale-watching: Interesting Names and SHAME

The fiesty blogger Whaleoil has ramped up his campaign to reform New Zealand’s name suppression laws by launching a (so far) online crusade called SHAME.

It’s a shame to mix up Whale’s campaign for justice – ie. his legal defence – with this campaign to reform name suppression laws,which has a focus on sexual offending, rather than the broader debate about name suppression. There has to be more intellectual rigor around any campaign to change suppression laws, rather than the simplistic and moral-panic inducing call to expose alleged and/or convicted pederasts.

The Whale is also publishing “interesting names” on his Gotcha blog. They are mostly convicted and registered US sex offenders who have been arrested on serious charges in the last few days. The exception is Scott Ritter – former UN weapons inspector – who was recently arraigned on charges laid after a police online sting operation.

But for at least one of the Whale’s “interesting names” there’s more than one prominent individual at the top of the Google list. An indication of how releasing and publicising common names can also create accidental victims.

Whale is probably trying to make the point that NZ suppression laws prevent the establishment of a public sex offender registry like those operating in many American states and nationally, such as Family Watchdog. In Britain there is The RatBook, Unofficial and the no vigilante disclaimer seems a little hollow in tone and intent.

But I’m sure Whaleoil would not want New Zealand to adopt anything from the good’ol US of A without thorough research, debate and consideration of how it might play in local conditions.

We also need to understand the downside risks of naming and shaming as a form of punishment.

The background to the American system is “Megan’s Law”. This is from Wikipedia, but you can research more thoroughly if you like.

Megan’s Law is an informal name for laws in the United States requiring law enforcement authorities to make information available to the public regarding registered sex offenders. Individual states decide what information will be made available and how it should be disseminated. Commonly included information includes the offender’s name, picture, address, incarceration date, and nature of crime. The information is often displayed on free public websites, but can be published in newspapers, distributed in pamphlets, or through various other means.

At the Federal level, Megan’s Law is known as the Sexual Offender (Jacob Wetterling) Act of 1994, and requires persons convicted of sex crimes against children to notify local law enforcement of any change of address or employment after release from custody (prison or psychiatric facility). The notification requirement may be imposed for a fixed period of time – usually at least ten years – or permanently.

Some states may legislate registration for all sex crimes, even if no minors were involved. It is a felony in most jurisdictions to fail to register or fail to update information.

Megan’s Law provides two major information services to the public: sex offender registration and community notification. The details of what is provided as part of sex offender registration and how community notification is handled vary from state to state, and in some states the required registration information and community notification protocols have changed many times since Megan’s Law was passed. The Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act supplements Megan’s Law with new registration requirements and a “three-tier” system for classifying sex offenders according to their risk to the community.

It seems like a simple commonsense solution. Name and shame to protect children from predators and prevent nasty sex crimes.

But you know, the world is not such a simple “happy place”.

There’s a huge debate raging in the US about Megan’s law registries and their effectiveness.

Perhaps Whaleoil has inadvertently suggested this with his “interesting names”.

I still have to type with one finger and I’ve just about had enough here, so just some links so you can be better informed:

Laws aimed at people convicted of sex offenses may not protect children from sex crimes but do lead to harassment, ostracism and even violence against former offenders, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Human Rights Watch urges the reform of state and federal registration and community notification laws, and the elimination of residency restrictions, because they violate basic rights of former offenders. Human Rights Watch

The HRW report No easy answers

Discussion of Megan’s law success and failures by psychologist and therapist Robert E. Longo.

Outline of issues with Canadian laws fom Canadian government site.

Meanwhile, the ever vigilant(e) Sensible Sentencing Trust maintains an unofficial database of dangerous New Zealanders. Check it before you go to bed tonight…you could be sleeping with an armed offender. However, make sure you read, understand and sign this waiver first:

Corrections and Additional Information
We endeavour to make this database as accurate as possible, but we are at the mercy of whatever information we can find in various online and offline archives. We rely on the public – that is, people like you – to fill in the gaps that we cannot. If you wish to submit additional information or a correction to this file CLICK HERE . If you wish to see a file removed from this database certain conditions must be met by the offender set out HERE

Or you could listen to this instead.

One Response to Whale-watching: Interesting Names and SHAME

  1. whaleoil says:

    One of the main reasons I want some change on name suppression is that often sex offenders who [get] name suppression ostensibly to protect victims (which we both know doesn’t work) also have court orders preventing them or restricting them from approaching children, areas where children are located like schools and playgrounds.

    Now this is where name suppression has the potential and in fact real possibility of causing even more harm.

    As the public has no right to know who these people are how then are we to know that the fellow over there by the playground is in fact a convicted or accused kiddy-fiddler and is not allowed to be there. The police surely can’t monitor the person 24/7. Because of name suppression he can happily stalk children with no-one having the ability to wander over and suggest perhaps he might like to go elsewhere lest the authorities be informed of his breach of bail or parole conditions.

    We can’t do that simply because the establishment have decided that we as the public have no right to know in case we further victimise the victims????

    Instead we create the possibility that we create even more victims.

    Sexual Offenders never have done it just the once, they are habitual.

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