Sex offender registration on campus: important for public safety or counterproductive for reintegration?

ASU works with law enforcement to comply with laws for registered sex offenders

ASU works with local law enforcement agencies to ensure that convicted sex offenders who work or study on campus comply with sex offender registration and community notification policies as mandated by state law.

Those in favor of such requirements say they are important for public safety. But registered offenders and their advocates say these requirements are often counterproductive and affect offenders’ ability to get a second chance, especially in university settings. 

In February 2018, an ASU spokesperson identified 10 registered sex offenders who have been ASU employees or students in the past five years. Three of those individuals are current ASU employees. 

Sex offender registration requirements are designed to help law enforcement in sex crime investigations, and community notification requirements are designed to provide community members information about convicted sex offenders near them, according to the Center for Sex Offender Management

Whether law enforcement is required to notify the community about where a registered sex offender lives, works or studies depends on the nature of their offense.

Level one offenders typically do not require community notification, whereas level two and three offenders are subject to notification requirements, according to an ASU spokesperson. Generally speaking, level one offenders are determined to pose a low risk of reoffending or threatening the community. 

ASU’s policies regarding registered sex offenders on campus are governed by state laws that require the ASU Police Department to notify the community about students or employees who are subject to notification requirements. 

Depending on the level of the offense, notification requirements may involve posting flyers or information on ASU’s website

“The university complies with state law, as must the registered sex offender,” an ASU spokesperson wrote in a statement. 

If the registered offender is not prohibited from living with minors, he or she could apply to live on campus, and ASU PD would post flyers in the residential hall where the offender was living, an ASU spokesperson wrote. 

In the past five years, none of the registered sex offenders who were students or employees at ASU lived on campus. 

Studies show that fear is a major factor in the way people think about policies concerning sex offenders. A 2007 study by Jill Levenson indicated that 73 percent of respondents would partially or completely support strategies including community notification, housing restrictions, electronic monitoring, treatment in prison and chemical castration even if there was no scientific evidence that those strategies reduce sexual abuse. 

Patricia and Terry Borden are co-directors of the advocacy group Arizonans for Rational Sex Offense Laws, an affiliate of the National Association for Rational Sex Offense Laws

The Bordens said their organization is dedicated to creating what they call “fact-based sex offense laws” that promote public safety while honoring human dignity. 

They said that registry laws can make it difficult for a person to get back on their feet after serving time for a sex offense. 

“A lot of those who register as sex offenders, they are not sex offenders — they are people who have committed sex offenses and are trying to get on with their lives,” Patricia said. 

They said social ostracization was one of the key negative effects of the registry on former offenders. 

“It pretty much shuts a person down from being successful in college to have to be on the registry,” Terry said. 

Studies show that registration and community notification requirements can negatively affect registered offenders through loss of jobs, threats and harassment, property damage and, in a few cases, physical assault. 

Using information posted on the registry to harass or intimidate registered offenders is prohibited by the Student Code of Conduct, an ASU spokesperson said. 

Paul Hanley is an ASU alumnus and a former sex offender who said he is a survivor of sex abuse himself. In 1994, he said he pled guilty to attempted forcible sexual abuse in Utah. 

Hanley said he is one of many offenders who were also sexually abused, which is due to what he calls the “cycle of abuse.” In this cycle, he said, the abuse he suffered as a child was a factor that set him up to fail. 

Although the Center for Sex Offender Management says that some sex offenders have suffered from sex abuse themselves, many have not. Research on the link between undergoing sex abuse as a child and going on to commit sex crimes is ongoing.

Hanley said he takes ownership for what he did, but he is opposed to registry rules that perpetrate shame or ideas of incurability. 

“I won’t accept the label sex offender, I’m a former sex offender,” Hanley said. “The registry by its very nature implies that you are never cured ... it’s not even logical, let alone factual.”

Recidivism rates are hard to measure for sex offenders because a large number of sex offenses are never reported. According to the Department of Justice’s Sex Offender Management, Assessment and Planning Initiative, "The observed sexual recidivism rates of sex offenders range from about 5 percent after 3 years to about 24 percent after 15 years.” 

Hanley wrote a book about his experiences as both a survivor and former offender titled “Roller Coaster to Hell and Back: a True Story of Sexual Abuse and New Hope.” He said he wrote the book as a part of his ASU Online master’s degree in creative nonfiction. 

Hanley said it was a difficult decision to use his real name in his book and to write openly about his experiences, but that he did so in order to try to help others in similar situations. 

“Secret shame is the cornerstone of sexual abuse,” Hanley said. “It would be hypocritical not to use my real name.”

Hanley said he hopes his book will help others feel comfortable sharing their stories, which he said is an important part in raising awareness about cycles of abuse and recovery. The Bordens said they challenge people to educate themselves about the registry and sex offense laws. 

Research by Dayanne Harvey of the University of Central Florida indicated that the less aware students were of information about sex offender treatment and rehabilitation, the more likely they were to hold negative perceptions. 

Harvey suggests universities take an active role in not only in notifying students regarding sex offenders on campus, but also in educating about recidivism rates and legislation. She also emphasizes the importance of distinguishing between levels of sex offenders when providing community notification. 

Sex offender registration and community notification also depend on strong communication and coordination among local law enforcement and campus security authorities. 

An ASU spokesperson said that a comparative search of the statewide sex offender database and the ASU student and employee database found one student — who left ASU in 2015 — was not identified as a registered sex offender to ASU when he arrived on campus. 

“We have connected with the various law enforcement agencies responsible for alerting us and clarified the processes so that that does not happen again,” the spokesperson wrote in an email. 


Reach the reporter at maarmst7@asu.edu or follow @MiaAArmstrong on Twitter.

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