Critics of sex offender registries often point out that such public databases unfairly target people convicted of a specific kind of crime. Ohio has a novel solution to this problem: As of January, Ohio residents don't have to be convicted of a sex crime, or any other offense, to be listed on a new sex offender registry. They don't even have to be charged.
All that's required for someone to be listed on Ohio's "civil registry," the country's first, is a complaint from an avowed victim, a county prosecutor, or the state attorney general. If a judge decides the accused would have been liable for child sex abuse charges were it not for the statute of limitations, the defendant's name and photograph will be entered into an Internet database, and he or she will be subject to the thick tangle of legal restrictions that convicted sex offenders face.
The appeals process? The law allows defendants to ask that their names be removed six years after they first appear on the registry.
Initially, the bill was targeted at Catholic priests and would have extended the statute of limitations for a one-year "look-back" period to allow victims to seek charges for long-ago cases. According to the Toledo Blade, it was the Catholic Church that proposed replacing the look-back provision with another measure of questionable constitutionality: the civil registry. The church has endorsed the new law, but many of the bill's original backers have not.
Ohio Sen. Robert Spada (R-North Royalton), who sponsored the bill, says the new law is simply an effort to provide parents with adequate information about potential sex offenders. But others worry that branding people as sex offenders without the benefit of a trial will hurt the innocent. As Lillie Coney, associate director of the nonprofit Electronic Privacy Information Center, points out, "a registry can have the weight of conviction in the minds of others."