Colorado state commission proposes change to ‘sex offender’ law over ‘stigmatizing’

The Colorado Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice is examining whether to delete ‘sex offender’ from state law’s policies, noting it is the ‘least offensive’ term – but it would seem to be confusing…

Colorado state commission proposes change to 'sex offender' law over 'stigmatizing'

The Colorado Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice is examining whether to delete ‘sex offender’ from state law’s policies, noting it is the ‘least offensive’ term – but it would seem to be confusing for an already stigmatised population.

A state commission is looking into whether to change Colorado’s law that labels people convicted of sex crimes as “sex offenders”, recognizing it is “the least offensive” term for a group already stigmatised by society.

However, the plan has met strong opposition from advocates of the LGBT community, who say the current label is accurate.

The Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice, part of the state’s executive branch, said at a July meeting that they are interested in finding alternatives to sexual predators as the group to which people sentenced to sex-offender registries are assigned.

Attorney Lisa Rice, the gay rights director for Colorado Voices for Children, told the Guardian that she is working on changing the Colorado law.

“We believe that as a matter of fairness and equity it is highly offensive and dehumanizing to be called a sexual predator,” Rice said, adding that a separate complaint has been filed over the term “sex offender”.

Rice also noted that there is no evidence that sexual predators are particularly violent.

On a website for the Colorado victim’s advocate, a list of nearly 3,000 people convicted of sexual offenses since 2005, “sexual predator” is the most common name on the list. Most defendants have less than a year in prison but some have 20 to 40 years and few have had their status reduced.

As mandated by Colorado’s Sex Offender Registration Act, about 40% of the people on the registry have more than one conviction. Many have multiple offences, and sex offenders have been convicted of such crimes as murder, rape, robbery, child pornography and arson. But a spokesperson for the Colorado Department of Corrections said “sexual predator” was not common.

Dan Buckelew, executive director of Colorado’s criminal justice commission, which is made up of the chief justice of the Colorado supreme court, sheriffs and district attorneys, noted at the July meeting that it is not very useful to people who are not currently classified as sexual predators.

“A lot of them have had their lives turned upside down,” Buckelew said of the 1,015 inmates currently in Colorado’s sex offender registry. “Some of them have scars all over them.”

Buckelew said that changes to the law would also be helpful for people who are part of the rising number of people diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder. People with these conditions might still fall into the category of sexual predator, he said, but not necessarily identify as such.

Buckelew said that the state law is no doubt “stigmatizing”, but that while “it is used to best characterise people who commit sexual crimes, I don’t think it’s necessarily accurate”.

It is possible, he said, to have both an accurate description of a person who commits a sexual offence and avoid “the name or term … because it’s just so unusual”.

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