Sentencing for Sex Offenders

by PammyMcB

Morally speaking, most of us can agree that sex offenses are immoral acts. If not, let me clarify it for you: Sex offenses are rape; rape is immoral; therefore, sex offenses are immoral. Although all people have a right to do what they want with their own body, they only have this right if and only if what they choose to do with their body does not infringe on the rights of others. Because law requires us to be a minimally decent Samaritans, then sex offenders have violated the law. According to the Texas Department of Public Safety, sex offenses occur “every one hour and three minutes.”  The U.S. Department of Justice reports that “1 rape occurs every five point six minutes” in this country, as of 2004. Most offenders do not spend a day in jail, and these sex offenders are living among us.  I will cover the statistics, how this affects citizens, the current legislation, the need for stiffer sentencing laws, and the ethics behind the need for stiffer sentencing.  I believe if we do not make stiffer laws for sex offenders, we are making our family members prey for such predators.  Many sex offenders are in the public when they should be in jail.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, “209,880 sex offenses were reported in the U.S. in 2004.” Texas Department of Public Safety’s Crime Report for 2004 states that “sixty-seven sex offenses were reported in Abilene.”  This report also states that “15,673 sex offenses were reported in the state of Texas in 2004.”  It was discovered in this same report that “ninety-three percent” of reported sex offenses in Texas were committed against children. The Texas Department of Corrections states that “fifty-seven percent of sex offenders in Texas are on probation and only forty-three percent of sex offenders in Texas are in jail.”  This seems to be a national trend.  According to a report released by the American Correctional Association, nearly “99,300 of 233,600 sex offenders are on probation or parole.”  This, too, is forty-three percent living in our communities.

Now that the numbers have been addressed, how does this affects American citizens?  Most people are unaware that the majority of those murdered by sex offenders are murdered by repeat offenders. Most repeat offenders are only sentenced to probation for their first offense.  Carlie Brucia from Sarasota, Florida was raped and murdered on February 1, 2004 by Joseph Smith, a repeat offender.  This was a senseless crime that ended a bright future of a young girl.  Had Smith remained in jail for his first offense, Carlie may still be living among us.

Surprisingly, there are fifty-two sex offenders in the 79605 zip code alone.  This is not including the rest of Abilene.  Of these, five are repeat offenders.  One of which was arrested four times for molesting seven, eight, nine, and ten year old girls.  Each of these four times he only received probation.  When he molested the fifth girl in 1996, (an eight-year-old) he finally received a twenty-year prison sentence. Unfortunately, he was released in 2004 after only serving nine years of his sentence.  It bothers me, and should bother you that this man lives only one block from an elementary school.

Now that the standard for sentencing has been addressed, I propose drastic changes in the sentencing of sex offenders. It is my proposal that a minimum sentence of twenty-five years for a sex offense with no possibility of parole be implemented.  This may seem drastic to many of you, but I feel that since a sex crime is a lifelong sentence for the victim, it should also be for the offender.  Most states have a minimum of twenty-five years for the third violent crime. In other words, they allow sex offenders to, more-or-less, get away with their first two crimes before they are taken out of society. These same states only require a sentence of probation for the first two offenses. Texas, unfortunately, is one of these states. With new laws, our family members can be better protected.  Parents would no longer have to live in fear that when their children walk out the door, they may never come home again.  Our safety and family’s safety must be the number one priority in this country once again.  The fact that the government has lost sight of this is very disturbing to many parents.

For this purpose, “Megan’s Law” was pushed through after the death of seven-year-old Megan Kanka. Megan was raped and murdered by a repeat offender, who was her neighbor. The law requires all sex offenders to register as such. Currently most states have a version of the federally mandated “Megan’s Law” enacted. However, it is not enough. According to Candice McLean in her article, “Offenders who do not register could face a 25,000 dollar fine and a year in jail” (24). There are questions that arise from such legislation. Do we value money over human life? If you cannot find the sexual offenders, how can you fine and arrest them? If we look at the ethics for sentencing of sex offenders, we may be able to find these answers.

The difference between sex offenders and the majority of the population is what we put value on. Most of us put a great deal of value on human life. Because this value is based on much more than pleasure, we have a non-hedonistic view of the world. Unfortunately, a sex offender puts a great deal of value in his own sensual pleasures. This gives him a hedonistic outlook on the world. In fact, most sex offenders are complete moral relativists. However, the majority of Americans are conventionalist. We see the world as whatever society thinks is right or wrong for society is right or wrong. As a society, we have decided that sexually motivated crimes are wrong. As a society, we feel that it is the responsibility of legislators and judges to protect us from such crimes. Current laws are not effective in protecting our children from sex offenders. In order to protect citizens, we need to keep sex offenders in jail and off of the streets. This will effectively create the most good for the most people.

From a deontological standpoint, keeping sex offenders off the street is the right thing to do. The assumption is that long term placement of sex offenders in prison violates the offender’s autonomy. Why should this not be the case? The offender has done the same to the victims. It is right to keep the offender away from other potential victims. The Kantian system may dictate that we are treating the sex offender as a means to an end. I would agree, but from a more pluralistic stance. Taking the sex offender off of the street is for the betterment of the community. No longer would we have to live in fear, and no longer would a victim be re-victimized.

I am using a Christian Pluralistic Deontology to prove that the removal of sex offenders from society is for the betterment of society. Scripture tells us that a man who rapes a woman that is married or betrothed shall be put to death. A man that rapes a virgin that is not betrothed is responsible for the permanent welfare of the woman that he had raped (Deuteronomy 22:13-29). Leviticus 18:6-18 speaks out against incestuous relations, which is the case of most molestation cases. 2 Samuel 13:11-22 tells the story of Amnon and Tamar. Amnon had forever disgraced his sister Tamar, which he had raped. “And Tamar lived in her brother Absalom’s house, a desolate woman” (2 Samuel 13:20).  The previously mentioned verses of scripture support how heinously brutal sex crimes are. They support the inaction of stiffer sentencing requirements. What America is doing today is not enough.

Because Jesus told us to love our enemies and to love our brothers, I am not proposing death for the sex offender. The cliché “two wrongs do not make a right” stands firm in this case. After all, death is the easy way out. A sex offender should have to live with the consequences of his actions. Mandatory jail terms for a minimum of twenty-five years would be in everyone’s best interest. Especially in the way the prison systems are run today. Prisoners are allowed Internet access, cable television, access to a gym, three square meals a day, mental and medical health care, and a free high school and college education. It is a far cry from the death that was implemented to sex offenders in the past. The only thing they loose is their freedom to prowl the streets and commit more sex crimes. Twenty-five year jail sentences are also in the best interest for society. Law-abiding citizens will be more apt to live a less fearful life. Such stiff jail sentences would also deter other offenders from committing such crimes. To that end, these sentences could also deter repeat offenders. As one can see, there is not much of a downside to a proposed twenty-five year jail sentence for sex offenders.

Our main conflicting duties are those of “do no harm” and “respect for autonomy. Is there a value on the life of the victim? Yes. Is there a value on the life of the offender? Yes. How do we decide which is more valued? If we run stiffer sentencing for sex offenders through the prima-facie duty system, this is how it would look:

  1. Do No Harm – Stiffer sentencing works on both sides of the issue. It does not harm the sex offender; instead it gives him all of his basic needs for survival. On the victim side, stiffer sentencing gives the victim more time to heal. It also protects others from a repeat offense. For a matter of fact, stiffer sentencing protects the sex offender from a repeat offense as well. If the offender is behind bars, then he is unable to commit another sex offense. 
  2. Beneficence – Stiffer sentencing protects the population as a whole.
  3. Tell the Truth – Does not apply unless either side is not being honest about the sex crime.
  4. Promise Keeping – Legislation has been put into place to protect the citizens. Prosecutors and judges have taken a vow to uphold such laws. If they let a sex offender escape from justice by releasing them back on the streets, then they are not upholding their end of the promise.
  5. Respect for Autonomy – Stiffer sentences for sex offenders respects the autonomy of the victim. If the offender is released on probation, the victim may shut down and live in fear. They may become a prisoner in their own homes because of such fear. The “do no harm” duty trumps the respect of autonomy of the sex offender. If a sex offender is only sentenced to probation, then the judge responsible for sentencing the sex offender has done harm to the current victim as well as future, potential victims. In essence, because the sex offender has violated the first duty, “do no harm,” he has trumped our duty to respect his autonomy. Taking away the offender’s autonomy is for the greater good. If we remove his autonomy, we preserve the autonomy and rights of others.
  6. Justice – With respect to the victim, stiffer sentencing is the just thing to do. Once a victim of a sex crime is molested, they relive the crime on a daily basis. They normally have nightmares for the rest of their lives; these nightmares re-victimize the victims. Opposition to stiffer sentencing for sex crimes state that current legislation re-victimizes the offender, and they should not have to relive their crime for their entire lives. This is not a just attitude. If the victim must live with the consequences of the crime, so should the offender. When looking at the fairness point to stiffer sentencing, we must realize that some sex offenders get prison sentences for their first offences. Other sex offenders do not. Sex offenders with low socio-economic status and from minority groups do receive longer and tougher sentencing than others. There are certainly exceptions to the rule, such as Michael Jackson. His money bought him a defense team that found him non-culpable for his crimes. Like crimes should always have the same sentencing. If one man is sentenced to twenty-five years for a sex crime, then all sex offenders must get twenty-five years as well. This premise also meshes with the principle of universalizability. 
  7. Reparations – “The time should fit the crime.” We have all heard this cliché, and must expect it to hold true when it comes to our legislative and judicial systems. Again, if a victim has to permanently deal with the consequences of the sex crime, then so should the sex offender.
  8. Gratitude – The victims and the majority of the population will be grateful for the added protection that taking sex offenders off of the street provides. 

Sex offenders obviously do not have a sense of what is right and wrong. To many of them, the sex crimes and other crimes they commit are ethical. For instance, Ted Bundy stated, “Is your life more to you than a hog’s life to a hog? Why should I be willing to sacrifice my pleasure more for one than for the other? Surely, you would not, in this age of scientific enlightenment, declare that God or nature has marked some pleasures as ‘moral’ or ‘good’ and others as ‘immoral’ or ‘bad’?” (Pojman, 30). To Bundy, the sex crimes he committed were ethical. Like Bundy, the opposition to current sex offense laws feel that the laws are unethical. They fear that Megan’s Law may cause vigilante style crimes to be committed against the offenders. In the article “Double Punishment,” “The problem, writes Sheppard, who teaches journalism at Auburn University, is that while publishing the information may alert residents to potential dangers, it may also encourage vigilantism. This is the exception rather than the rule.” Sexual predators also state that the proposed laws can result in vigilante style crimes that could be committed against them while they are incarcerated. Such crimes may include rape and murder. However, the Doctrine of Double Effect supports current sentencing and proposed sentencing. Both actions are intended to protect society as a whole from violent sex offenses, which is a positive intention. An unfortunate, and unintended consequence could be, but would not always be retaliative crimes. Offenders also feel that a national registry violates the Double Jeopardy clause in the Fifth Amendment. Many Americans disagree. Fran Koopmans, the grandmother of five-year-old Jessica Koopmans, states, “If they’re that evil, they don’t deserve privacy. I think they should be fixed. If it’s against their rights, that’s fine. Why should only the guilty have rights?” (McLean, 25). Jessica was raped and murdered by a repeat offender.

To sum up, changing laws can help there be a bigger gap between the sex offenses committed.  They can help us to protect our families.  Perhaps you are now more aware of the lack of laws protecting our families.  Now that you have the numbers and how this directly affects you and your family; it is hoped that you, too, can see the need for stiffer sentencing laws.  As you have read, it is unethical to allow sex offenders to walk freely among innocent people. It is the responsibility of citizens to stand up and do something about the need for stiffer sentencing for sex offenders.  Write to your congressman, state representative, and governor to try to get these laws changed.  One voice alone may seem weak in the middle of a crowd.  However, all of our voices together can be strong and heard, even in a large crowd.

Works Cited

Clayton, Susan L. “Most Sex Offenders on Parole, Probation.” Corrections Today. Apr. 1997: 16.

Gibeaut, John. “Defining Punishment: Courts Split on Notification Provisions of Sex Offender Laws.” ABA Journal. Mar. 1997: 36-37.

McLean, Candice. “Too Evil for Privacy.” The Report. 9 Jul. 2001: 21-25.
“Megan’s Law: Pointing the Finger of Blame.” Economist. 15 Feb. 1997: 27-28.

Pojman, Louis P. Ethics: Discovering Right and Wrong. 2006. Thomsom Wadsworth.
“Sex-Crime Laws Draw More Flack.”  Christian Science Monitor. 13 Aug. 1998: 3.

Sheppard, Judith. “Double Punishment.” American Journalism Review. Nov. 1997.

Texas Department of Public Safety. “Crime In Texas: The Texas Crime Report.” 2004. <https://records.txdps.state.tx.us/soSearch/default.cfm&gt;