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Sex offender photo register counter-productive and unnecessary

Sex offender photo register counter-productive and unnecessary

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Critics say Victorian opposition leader Matthew Guy's proposal for a photo register of sex offenders is misguided, will undermine the value of the sex offenders register and encourage vigilantism.

Mr Guy has suggested that parents be able to apply to search the sex offenders register for photos and other information about sex offenders in their neighbourhood.

The deputy chair of the LIV’s Criminal Law Section executive committee Martine Marich says the proposal undermines the original purpose of the sex offender register, which was to centralise the capacity of Victoria Police to collect intelligence about sex offenders in order to reduce the likelihood they would reoffend.

Under the Sex Offenders Registration Act 2004, convicted sex offenders who are living in the community are required to keep police informed of their whereabouts and other personal details to facilitate the prosecution of any future offences they may commit, and prevent them working in child-related employment.

Registration is mandatory for the most violent of sexual offences, while for statutory offences or relatively minor offences it is discretionary.

But the purpose of the sex offenders register was never to encourage fearmongering or vigilantism, she says. “The information is collected in a way that provides offenders with their privacy in accordance with their rights under the human rights charter.”

“The only reason to publish photos would be to foster fear in the community and speak to a very basic public need for retribution that will encourage vigilante action,” Ms Marich says.

Liberty Victoria has also criticised the proposal, with president Jessie Taylor dismissing the proposal as “an irrational and expensive attempt to make political gain out of a highly emotive issue without reference to any available evidence”.

“We understand that there is anxiety around the presence of sex offenders in the community. However, studies have shown sex offender registries have no impact on rates of re-offending and the addition of photos is likely to create needless confusion and suspicion in our community by over-emphasising the threat of ‘stranger danger’”.

Given that most abuse is familial, points out Ms Marich, “giving a face to ‘stranger danger’ doesn’t really go to the heart of risk of abuse by trusted adults which is far more common than stranger adults.”

Accredited criminal law specialist Emma Turnbull says a publicly available photo register would undermine the rehabilitation and reintegration of offenders without providing any additional protection to the community. “The risk of vigilante behaviour is significant.”

"Could you imagine every milkbar owner with a wall of photos watching and waiting to see if ‘one of them’ dared come into their store?" she says. "It has the potential to be very divisive to the community and in fact increase violence against those on the register by community members who take a certain view of them."

There are also a large number of minors who are on the register, their cases having been dealt with in the Children's Court where the primary sentencing purpose is focused on rehabilitation not protection of the community, Ms Turnbull points out.

"A photo register would completely undermine that Court's inherent jurisdiction to make rehabilitation the primary goal and blurs the separation of powers as it there applies."


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