Tng Ying Hui/Current Affairs Desk
The recent news of recalcitrant sex offender Muhammad Sufian Hussain, who outraged the modesty of three children, raises the question of whether a sex offender registry should be set up.
SEX offenders are often perceived to be among the worst criminals as their crime debases the dignity of others and cruelly scars them emotionally, sometimes for a lifetime. This lasting psychological impact on the victims has resulted in sexual offenders being treated harshly by the law.
(Photo: Registering sex offenders is a common practice in the US. Courtesy of Brian / Creative Commons)
This has led Straits Times journalist Teh Joo Lin to suggest creating “a registry of sex offenders to make it easier – and compulsory – for those whose business deals mainly with children to run discreet checks against…”
However, is this measure an infringement of human rights and personal dignity? Are we depriving them of a second chance in life, instead opening the floodgates for discrimination?
One justification for this comes from consultant psychiatrist Adrian Wang, who was quoted in the article as saying that sexual tendencies can be so ingrained in people they can be hard to change – so “the only option is to keep such people away from situations where they may offend”.
Being sexually abused has far reaching effects. These children might have their developing view of themselves and others disrupted. And with their personal integrity, safety and security violated, they might develop a sense of guilt and shame.
The impacts might persist into adulthood as research has shown that the chances for re-victimization are higher for women who have a history of child abuse then non-victims [i].
Children are vulnerable and many states resolve to take extra measures to protect them. The United Nations has set up convention on the rights of children, stating that they “should grow up in a family environment, in an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding…brought up…in particular in the spirit of peace, dignity, tolerance, freedom, equality and solidarity.”
In 1995, Singapore signed and ratified the charter, thus any sexual abuses would violate it and deserve rightful punishment.
Families who have seen their child suffer, would endeavour to protect him at all costs. When one’s flesh and blood is subjected to such perversion, it can be emotionally shattering.
Sex Offender Registry a violation of human rights
Despite these reasonings, however, the call for sex offender registry should not have materialised.
We should follow in spirit of the Yellow Ribbon project, which humanises all offenders and advocates the casting aside of prejudices. While rehabilitation of ex-offenders may be hard work for a society so driven by success and pragmatism, this should not deter our society from steering towards one of compassion and inclusiveness.
Having a sex offender registry would efface efforts to mould a more tolerating populace. Imagine the discrimination thrust upon those whose names surface in the registry; Their dignity and privacy would be robbed. On the other hand, those who lobby for a sex offender registry argue that victims of sexual abuse their privacy and dignity as well.
Cliché as it sounds, the old adage soundly reminds us: “an eye for an eye and the whole world goes blind.” Voltaire speaks of how although truth should prevail, forgiveness is still necessary: “love truth, but pardon error.” This should govern our treatment towards everyone, if not, at least these offenders.
Regardless of the hurt that may befall on us, we should not be swayed and succumb to being vindictive. To some, I may be riding on moral high horse and espousing ineffable ideals. Yet, it is noteworthy that all religion alike repeatedly exhorts us to love, forgiveness and peace.
To say that sex offenders should be registered so that businesses that deal with children can protect them from employees with past criminal history is a flawed argument. This is because Singapore’s compactness would intensify the impact of the revelation of these names to the public.
With a great multitude of agencies that come into contact with children, the names of the sex offenders would be circulated and revealed to a great amount of people. This negates the initial intention of restricting the sex offender registry to a small group.
As a result, the intrusion of privacy is a violation of human rights in itself. Sex offenders may have violated the law, but as much as they should be punished, to have a sex offender registry is insidiously biased against them. In fact, the sex offender registry increases the chances of exploitation through, to name just one, attacks hurled at those in the list.
The United Nations, Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “everyone should have the right to life, liberty and security of person” and having a sex offender registry would blatantly contravene it. With all his past records and personal details revealed to the public, his personal security would be undermined.
Punitive actions and therapy more effective
Instead of using a sex offender registry to provide a safety net for the children, punitive actions such as stricter laws coupled with therapy that has been proved useful should be applied. Behaviour modification programs have been shown to effectively reduce recidivism in sex offenders by 15-18% [ii].
Therefore, it kills two birds with one stone. Not only do stricter laws serve as a credible deterrence, therapy aligns with the aim of Singapore Prison Service to “Rehab, Renew, Restart.”
Teh Joon Lin’s article mentions that “although “moderate” and “high-risks” sex offenders are placed in treatment programmes, the “low-risks” are not. Of the “low-risk” group who did not go through the programme, 6.9 per cent of those released between 2001 and 2006 were re-arrested within two years.” It is time to reassess the grouping criteria and provide an alternate treatment for those in the “low-risk” as well.
The implementation of a sex offender registry as a precautionary measure is to violate the very notion of human rights it purports to protect. The alternative of therapy minimises cases of re-arrests and also inculcates a spirit of humanity.
Why then should we risk encroaching the rights of others when other methods of prevention could be undertaken?
[i] c indy L. Rich, Amy M. Combs-Lane, Heidi S. Resnick and Dean G. KilPatrick, “Child Sexual Abuse and Adult Sexual Revictimization,” in From Child Sexual Abuse to Adult Sexual Risk: Trauma, Revictimization, and Intervention, ed. Linda J. Koenig, Lynda S. Doll, Ann O’Leary, and Willo Pequegnat. (Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association, 2004), 49-68
[ii] Marshall, W.L., Jones, R., Ward, T., Johnston, P. & Bambaree, H.E.(1991). Treatment of sex offenders. Clinical Psychology Review, 11, 465-485