Opening Statements

Exposed: Louisiana Law Has Sex Offenders Listing Their Crimes on Social Media

A correction has been made to this story.

Posted Oct 1, 2012 3:40 AM CDT
By Stephanie Francis Ward

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Louisiana forbids registered sex offenders from operating buses, taxicabs and limousines. And now, if they use social media, sex offenders have to list their crimes on their social media account profiles along with their physical description and address.

A new law that took effect this summer mandates the disclosure. It replaces one struck down earlier this year for being overly broad. That law forbade Louisiana sex offenders whose crimes involved children from accessing social networking sites, chat rooms and peer-to-peer networks.

While lawyers say the law will likely withstand any legal challenge because the required information is already public record, some question its usefulness. Registered sex offenders rarely meet new victims online, they say, instead targeting people they know. Also, many social media terms-of-service agreements forbid registered sex offenders from joining. According to Facebook spokesman Fred Wolens, automated systems search the site for suspicious activity. Facebook also works with law enforcement to check registered sex offender databases against user registrations, he says.

University of Michigan law professor J.J. Prescott agrees. He has researched the effect sex offender registration and notification laws have on the frequency and incidence of sex crimes and says some state sex offender laws actually encourage recidivism, because they prohibit sex offenders from becoming invested in society. “There’s a significant debate on whether it’s appropriate to restrict people this way, considering how much the economy and regular life require access to the Internet,” Prescott says. “Many scholars and policy advocates believe we are misspending our resources on this problem, compared to the much larger sex abuse that goes on among families and people we know.”

Lawyer Jeff Thompson—the Louisiana state representative who sponsored the law—says he sees it as a tool for prosecutors when convicted sex offenders don’t follow parole rules. “If we catch you in the process of soliciting minors on the Internet, even under a fraudulent account, that is a violation and you go back to jail,” he says.


Sidebar

Did You Know?

That in Huachuca City, Ariz., registered sex offenders are banned from all public places?

That the state of Florida bars registered sex offenders from public emergency shelters?

That both Kentucky and North Carolina prohibit registered sex offenders from using social networking sites, instant messaging, chat rooms and websites that allow minors?

Source: J.J. Prescott

Correction

A request by the ABA Journal to interview Louisiana state Rep. Jeff Thompson went to an outdated email address. Because of that error, a quote from Thompson has been added to the story posted at ABAJournal.com.

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