The spotlight on this week's deadline for states to comply with the federal Adam Walsh Act (AWA), however, may reveal growing skepticism about the efficacy of current mainstream approaches to ending sexual abuse. The AWA creates a national sex offender registry and establishes uniform standards for registering sex offenders and notifying communities. By the July 27 deadline, only 14 states had “substantially implemented” key AWA provisions. Many argue its benefits do not exceed its costs—particularly amidst such a plethora of state budget crises.
Meantime, as lawmakers across the country contemplate how to best ensure safety in their communities, a new report [pdf], commissioned by the Ms. Foundation for Women and produced by the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers (ATSA) offers alternatives.
The report, A Reasoned Approach: Reshaping Sex Offender Policy to Prevent Child Sexual Abuse, broadens the discussion of what works to keep children safe. “Ending child sexual abuse requires a reasoned approach to sex offender management,” says Patricia Eng, Ms. Foundation Vice President of Program. “This report offers a basis for centering policies around children and communities as a way forward.”
“In fact, while the intent of current sex offender laws has been to protect children,” notes Alisa Klein, a co-author and ATSA public policy consultant, “the broad application of these laws has unintended consequences that may make children and communities less safe. This report aims to change that.” The report examines current sex offender policy including residency restrictions, community notification and mandatory minimum sentencing, and presents resources and strategies to both shift and supplement these measures, including approaches like transformative justice and others that encourage community accountability for prevention.
Co-author Joan Tabachnick explains, “By assuming all sex offenders are monsters, rather than members of our communities, we send ourselves deeper into a state of denial that makes us unable to see the danger around us. Nor are we able to see the opportunities for prevention.”
A Reasoned Approach has been presented in statehouses from Massachusetts to California. In its first week of publication, it was downloaded from the ATSA website more than 1,000 times a day; more than 300 printed copies have been delivered to sex offender treatment providers, victim advocates and lawmakers. Maia Christopher, ATSA Executive Director, notes, “The sheer volume of people reaching out to access this document demonstrates that people are eager to examine new solutions to prevent child sexual abuse but they need access to practical information to help meet that goal.”